Signpost for Sunday May 5, Easter 3: Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Ps 116: 1-4, 12-19; 1 Pet 1: 17-23; Luke: 24: 13-35.
It’s that story that you have heard or read many times. I’ve met people who’ve been to Emmaus, too (although apparently it’s in one of at least three places). It’s Luke who claims to be the most truthful of the Gospel writers (Luke 1:1-4) and only Luke reports this journey of Cleopas and his companion. No wonder many people have been inclined to take this as one of those actual events and put themselves beside Jesus on that dusty road.
Putting yourself on that dusty road is not a bad thing to do at all because then we start to think about the two things that struck me about the story this time around.
Firstly, I always, and did again, wonder why two people whom we are told were apostles (Luke 24:13) should have to walk a good part of seven miles talking to someone they knew well, but they weren’t allowed to recognize him (24:16). They weren’t the only ones who didn’t recognize Jesus after the crucifixion (Mary of Magdala, John 20:11; some of the disciples, John 21:4-6 and Matt. 28:16-17). But the others weren’t prevented from recognising him. All I can figure it out to be is a dramatic conceit that allows Jesus and us to hear how they are feeling on this third day.
(Drama isn’t lacking in this final part of Luke either. Luke’s account of the post-resurrection period is different from the other Gospels. He makes the forty days between Jesus’ appearance in the upper room and his ascension from the Mount of Olives all happen in one day – Easter Sunday).
The third day is important, and maybe there is a clue as to why Cleopas and co didn’t recognize Jesus straight away, at least. First century Jews believed that the spirit stayed near the body for three days, but after that no resuscitation was possible, which makes the Lazarus story all the more poignant John 11:6 and 39.
How these two apostles on the road to Emmaus were feeling seems very poignant too. It’s there in verse 21, in three words that many translations render as, ‘we had hoped…’
In those three words you can feel all of the loss, all of the despair, even. Maybe it’s why we hear ourselves and others say similar words when things have gone terribly wrong.
Those three words lead one commentator (John Petty) to say, “The story is not, in other words, primarily a description of an historical event [as Luke would have us believe], but rather a story that reflects the pattern of the Christian life as it is lived out by people on their journey through life.”
I like the fact that Cleopas and his friend are allowed to express their doubts and disappointments in the story. I also like something else that John Petty has picked out from this well known story: “Unbeknownst even to those who would follow him, Jesus travels by their side.”