Scripture Reflection: Emmaus

Luke 24: 13-35

 

During the Easter season we hear a remarkable story from the Gospel of Luke, Luke 24, 13-35. This is the account of the two disciples, traveling to Emmaus. Luke is the only Gospel in which this story appears.

Luke is a great story teller. He provides the reader/listener with a great deal of detail which makes it easy to picture the setting and the action of the story.  He begins this account by linking it to the events which have just taken place – the empty tomb, the women… He says…

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened.

We know the name of one of these travelers because Luke names him – Cleopas. The other disciple is unnamed. Most of the paintings of this scene picture two men, but, of course, we don’t know that. They could have been husband and wife. They are on their way to Emmaus – a village that has never been identified with a specific geographical location in today’s Israel. They are obviously disturbed. The reader of Luke’s Gospel will know that the text just before the empty tomb story recounts the passion and death of Jesus. These two disciples are confused. This wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. Jesus wasn’t supposed to die on the cross as a common criminal. And what about the empty tomb? Things just weren’t making sense.

As they are talking, Jesus himself joins them, but Luke tells us, “their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” The reader isn’t surprised because frequently the disciples don’t get it. And when Jesus asks them what they were discussing, they stop – a bit dumbfounded – that he wouldn’t know what had happened in Jerusalem! They then recount for this stranger the story – that which will become the theme of Luke’s Gospel – the kerygma  – the teaching that will be passed on to later disciples. They tell this stranger that Jesus was a prophet. They remember how he was arrested, condemned and crucified.  They share their hopes that he would have been the one to redeem Israel. And now it is the Third Day – the Third Day that had so much significance in the Hebrew Scriptures.  It was on the Third Day that Yahweh would come to Moses on the mountain. Battles were fought on the Third Day. On the Third Day decisions were made. Victory would come on the Third Day. And now it was the Third Day – and nothing had happened. They do remember the story that the women had told that morning – how they went to the tomb and found, not the body of Jesus, but angels, who said he was alive. However, the men hadn’t believed the women and so they had probably dismissed that account.

Jesus responds by repeating to them the teachings of the Torah. He reminds them of Moses and the prophets. And he makes the link between the scriptures which they know and the events which have just taken place. He says to them the equivalent of “Don’t you get it?”  “Don’t you zakar? ( Zakar is the Hebrew word for “remember”). But they still don’t get it!

As they approach Emmaus it seems as if Jesus is going to walk on, but they urge him to stay with them. They gather for a meal together, and as they do, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.  Luke uses here the very same language he has used to describe the Passover supper. And it is, in the breaking of the bread, that their eyes are opened and they recognize him!

Even as Jesus disappears from their midst, they realize that all the while Jesus was with them, their hearts were burning within them. They now experience zakar –they remember!

They are so excited that they return immediately to Jerusalem (probably a good day’s journey) even though it is already evening  and the road is dangerous– and they go to find the eleven. There they share with one another their experience of the Risen Lord!

Luke’s account of the Emmaus story is not only of Jesus but of church. This passage parallels our celebration of Eucharist. We come together. We bring our concerns with us. We hear the Word – both from the Hebrew Scriptures – the Torah – and from the Gospels. The Word is broken open for us. We share bread and wine, and it is in the sharing that we most deeply recognize the presence of Christ among us. We leave to share the Word with others.

Thus we, like the two disciples, relive the Gospel events, and it is in the memory, in the zakar that we become one community, one Church, one people of God.

Anneliese Sinnott, O.P.

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