Read Luke 24:13-35 here.
Today’s reading may be a familiar story – two people on a journey. It happens on the day of Jesus’ resurrection. They think the movement they’ve been following is over, so they’re heading home. Jesus comes alongside and walks with them, explaining how what happened to Jesus had been foretold in the scriptures of the Old Testament. When they get to their destination, they encourage Jesus to eat with them, and as Jesus gives thanks and breaks the bread, they recognize him.
Why didn’t they see that this was Jesus at first?
Sadness fogs our minds. The two people walking to Emmaus were deeply sad about Jesus’ death.
Years ago when our kids were younger, there was a morning when everyone was getting out the door to school and work at the same time. My mom was taking the kids to school, and they were in the car in the driveway getting ready to back out when my carpool ride pulled in behind her to pick me up for work. Mom didn’t see that the other car was there and she back up into their car. Afterwards, she said she thought the reason she hadn’t seen the car behind her was that she was in a fog from grief over her mother’s death which had happened the previous week.
The two walking to Emmaus are on their way home, maybe keeping up a certain pace to make sure they get there before nightfall. They’re also very intent on their conversation, talking about everything that had happened. Have you ever been so intent on what you were doing or saying that you didn’t notice someone walking up?
One day at work a coworker asked me, “Why were you ignoring me at Walmart last night?” My response was brilliant. “You were at Walmart last night?”
- Different Expectations
We have expectations of this story. For example, who were the two people walking? Luke tells us that one of them was named Cleopas. Some have said that the other traveler was Luke, but some think it was Cleopas’ wife Mary. She is mentioned in John’s account of the crucifixion (John 19:25), and if that’s who this is, then these walkers are Jesus’ aunt and uncle. Does this change how we see this story? Maybe not, but it shows us how our preconceived ideas can affect how we see, and sometimes keep us from seeing.
- Beyond Comprehension or outside our paradigm
Dead people stay dead. It’s a fact we can count on. So it’s not surprising that it would be hard for these two people to think that this was Jesus walking with them. When something is outside of our current paradigm, we can’t see it.
One of my early understandings about God leading me to become a pastor was so vague I couldn’t see it. I had a sense that God was trying to show me something but that I wasn’t getting it because it was too far outside of my current thinking. The image I had was of being in a hallway, a place of transition, and that I had opened the door to the next phase of my life and seen that there was a big mountain there to climb, and so I had closed the door and gone back into the hallway. It took a long time of pondering that image before I was able to go through that door and see what that mountain was. I am thankful that God is patient and forgiving and doesn’t give up on us, even when we’re being thickheaded and blind.
- We see what we want to see
These two disciples had probably heard all these scriptures before, but they didn’t fully see and understand because they already had a vision of the messiah based on their previous understanding. Jesus had to show them a different way to understand the prophecies, now made clearer by the fact that they had seen Jesus’s suffering and that the resurrection had happened.
We all have what’s called “confirmation bias” which means we’ll hear whatever confirms what we already believe. One way to see this in action is to ask two people with different political leanings to comment on a speech they’ve both just watched. They’ll have heard very different, sometimes even opposite, ideas because they only heard the parts that confirmed what they already believed.
Our confirmation bias is made stronger by the way social media and search engines filter what we see. The algorithms follow our likes and searches, so that what we see has been designed to fit our interests, thereby encouraging our confirmation biases.
How do we open our eyes?
“While it is possible to see traces of God in the beauty and order of creation, we need grace to recognize the truth in front of us.”
The revelation of God is an act of God, a gift of God. We cannot make it happen, but we can take steps to be more open to it.
- Repentance – turn toward God
- Nouwen – “God is the one who acts and by our repentance we can hasten God’s action.”
- We turn to God and ask God to help us see.
- Expectation – Expect God to act
- “We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aid, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn.” -Henry David Thoreau in Walden
- Bible – Reading and rereading the scriptures, as Jesus was doing with the two people in Luke’s story.
- As our circumstances change, we gain new understanding scripture.
- For example, this verse from James took on new meaning when everything changed because of COVID-19.
- Live in Kairos time
- Chronos is chronological time. Kairos time is God time.
- Being fully in the present allows us to pay full attention to the road on which we’re walking and to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and to live God’s present moment – Kairos
- We’re in some bonus Kairos time right how because we’re doing lots of waiting, which allows us to pay full attention to the road on which we are walking.
When they got to Emmaus, the two people invited Jesus to eat with them, and “…he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him” (Luke 24:30—31 NIV).
- Where it says “he gave thanks,” it’s that Greek word eucharisteo, the same word we use as a formal name for communion—the Eucharist. The word eucharisteo is the embodiment of God’s grace in a word, here made all the more powerful because it is being spoken by the one who is himself the word made flesh, and whose flesh was broken for our forgiveness.
- Thankfulness shines a spotlight on God’s action and God’s presence.
God is doing a work. God is always doing something.
- This time we’re in is different because of the pandemic, but it’s not about the pandemic, it’s about what God is doing.
- Those two walking to Emmaus didn’t see the work that God was doing. They thought Jesus was the messiah come to redeem Israel, and when Jesus died on the cross they thought they must have been wrong. They didn’t see that the cross was the way that God was redeeming Israel and all of us. That was Jesus conquering death. (2 Tim 1:10)
- Jesus’ mother Mary shows us how to respond with patient, obedient expectation when God is up to something big. In Luke 1:38 after the angel has told her that she’s going to have a child who will be the messiah, Mary says, “may it be as you have said.” And later, after Jesus is born, she continues to think deeply about what God is doing. In verse 2:19 Luke says she “pondered . . . in her heart.”
God is doing a work. What new understandings is God calling us to today?
God is doing a work in us
- We are learning to do things differently to benefit others. Acting selflessly is a way to understand God more.
Jesus’ work on the cross is a work of selfless sacrifice for others
- Jesus revealed in the breaking of bread is symbolic of his body broken for us
- Poured out for us
When he gave thanks and broke bread on the night of the Last Supper, Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” We take that quite literally when we have this sacrament together, using bread and juice just like he used bread and wine. But there is more than eating and drinking in those words. To “do this in remembrance of me” is also to do as he has done, to do selfless giving in remembrance of him.
As we break bread together today in remembrance of Jesus, may we grow in our understanding of all the ways that God is at work in us and in this time, and may the glory of God be revealed in us.
RUBÉN ROSARIO RODRÍGUEZ says this in: Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery, Cynthia L. Rigby, Carolyn J. Sharp. Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship (Kindle Locations 7831-7836). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.
 Nouwen, Henri J. M.. Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life (p. 150). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
 Voskamp, Ann. One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are (p. 216). Zondervan. Kindle Edition. “Eucharisteo—communion—that hound of heaven, He won’t relent, always, everywhere, eucharisteo, opening the eyes to God.”
 Nouwen, Henri J. M.. Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life (p. 152). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.