The Road to Emmaus is a favorite among Easter stories (Luke 24). Read as it often is on the third Sunday of Easter, it seems as if some amount of time has passed. We need to be reminded that it was still the day of the resurrection. The tomb had been found empty, Jesus had appeared to Mary, she had told the others, they had gone to look, and Jesus spent some time with the leading disciples that evening. Between all this, Luke recorded that Jesus walked along the road to Emmaus for several hours with two of his lesser known disciples.
I find it an extraordinary episode that leaves me wondering. Following the resurrection, Jesus might have spent most of the day conferring with Peter, James and John, or maybe more time with his mother, or Mary Magdalene. But no, he spent most of the afternoon ambling down the road to Emmaus with two otherwise unknown disciples, one of whom was named Cleopas. Was the other a man or a woman? Could they have been Mr. and Mrs. Cleopas? Just to be clear about it, they were not walking with Jesus, Jesus was walking with them, and it’s an important difference.
The two didn’t recognize him even as the conversation turned to what had happened over the last week, and the astounding rumor that Jesus was reported to have been resurrected. Nor did they recognize him as he rehearsed scripture so they could better understand who and what the Messiah was called to be. They did not recognize him until he blessed and broke bread with them at dinner that evening, whereupon he disappeared. It’s such an amazing moment that one’s attention is drawn to it, to the exclusion of what went on before, and what went on before may be the more important. We’re talking about several hours of deep conversation, and that has to be important.
For one thing, Jesus went into a detailed examination of Hebrew scripture, which should be a clue to us that no one can truly understand what it means to be Christian, to follow Jesus, unless they are well informed about the Old Testament, it’s content and meaning. What might that mean for us today? Think about it. On the day of his resurrection, Jesus spent hours of walking and talking with two “unimportant” disciples explaining the scripture’s meaning to them. If he thought it was that important, should we not also?
For another, we’ve never heard of these disciples before, nor will we hear of them again. They were not among his famous inner circle. They’re not named in any of the Acts of the Apostles, nor in any of Paul’s letters. Yet Jesus took an entire afternoon and evening dinner to be with them. Does he still do that? If he does, who does he choose to walk with? If it was you or me, would we know it? The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews said we should show hospitality to strangers because some have entertained angels without knowing it (Heb. 12). What if the stranger is not an angel, but Jesus himself?
It seems one of the most extraordinary things about Jesus is how much he cares for ordinary people and their deepest needs, how much time he will spend in company with them, and how willing he is to walk beside them without making himself known. When God’s awesome omnipotence removes ‘him’ too far away, this story should remind us of God’s desire and intention for intimate conversation, humbly walking with us along the road of life.