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Jesus is on the road again. Now post death and resurrection, his body seems to possess both tangible and intangible qualities.
Two of them were traveling that same day to a village called Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem. While they talked of all these things which had happened, Jesus Himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were restrained, so they did not know Him.
He said to them, "What kind of conversation is this that you have as you walk and are sad?" The one whose name was Cleopas answered, "Are You the only stranger in Jerusalem, and have You not known the things which happened there?" And He said, "What things?"
So they said, "The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a Prophet mighty in deed and word, and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to be condemned to death, and crucified Him. But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Today is the third day since these things happened. And certain women of our company, who arrived at the tomb early, astonished us. When they did not find His body, they came saying they had seen a vision of angels who said He was alive."
He said to them, "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe. Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things?" And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them the things concerning Himself.
Then they drew near the village, and He indicated He would have gone farther. But they constrained Him, saying, "Abide with us, for the day is far spent." As he sat at the table with them, He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him, and He vanished from their sight.
They said to one another, "Did not our heart burn within us while He talked and opened the Scriptures to us?" So they rose up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, "The Lord is risen indeed!"
Luke 24:13-34 NKJV, condensed
To Emmaus and Back
Disillusioned, sad, maybe even feeling duped, Cleopas and his companion headed home to face their neighbors who would tell them, "We told you so." Might as well get it over with. On the dusty 7-mile trek, they mourned the death of Jesus.
Speaking slowly and in cadence with their steps, they rehearsed the events surrounding the crucifixion and talked about how this great injustice could have been done to such a good man. They had hoped he would be the savior of Israel, the one promised by the Prophets.
Not expecting anything more to happen, there was no need for them to hang around Jerusalem. It was resurrection day, but not for them. Not yet. Several women among their group claimed to have seen angels that morning who said Jesus was alive. But Cleopas didn't put much stock in such crazy words because he was limited by what he could imagine. So they headed home to Emmaus.
On the road they were joined by a stranger who didn't seem to share their concerns. So Cleopas went over the story again, stressing all the sticking points that contributed to their misery. The stranger listened carefully, then led Cleopas and his companion (possibly his wife) toward a different interpretation of the events. In a story punctuated by questions, the stranger asked, "Why are you surprised that the Messiah should suffer these things?" It was a thought that had never entered their minds.
The mood of this dreary twosome began to turn around when Jesus lit a spark in their hearts as he referred to ancient Scriptures. He showed them that the theme of a meek and suffering servant could be found from Moses and throughout the Prophets. Words which they had missed in previous renditions, now amazed them as the stranger highlighted their significance.
Before they knew it, they had arrived at their destination. It was well into the afternoon. They had been walking about 3 hours. Time to stop, rest and refresh. Their newfound friend indicted he would continue walking, but they welcomed him to stay the night.
Was it his voice? Did they see wounds on his hands? Had they eaten bread with Jesus before? Whatever it was as they faced each other around the board, their eyes were opened. They saw Jesus in their midst, playing the host with the bread on the table. He prayed a blessing over it, broke it into pieces and offered it to them. Then immediately he disappeared; yet he remained very much alive in their hearts and minds.
Suddenly they didn't need further refreshment. Cleopas and his companion surged with new energy and hurried all the way back to Jerusalem with the news that they had seen the risen Lord. Seven miles of sighing became seven miles of singing!
Who was this couple? And why were they privileged to see the risen Lord on resurrection day? Was this the only such experience or were there other unrecorded appearances which Jesus made that day? We can only speculate on these matters. But one thing we know is that Jesus reveals himself in simple ways--along a dusty road, in the pits of grief, through a question, by reflection on Scripture, at the supper table.
What does it take for you to see the spirit of God in the midst of your circumstances? To recognize Jesus in the face of a stranger? Perhaps a key is contained in the concept of hospitality, which in the Bible is described as "welcoming angels unawares." In southwestern Virginia near the Appalachian Trail, lives a couple named Murray who often walk on the trail. Several years ago on Easter Sunday evening they drove to the AT for a short hike. As they were getting out of the truck, they noticed two backpackers crossing the road. One of them looked like the pictures we see of Jesus, with long brown hair and beard. After the couple chatted with the hikers awhile, the hikers turned as if to continue on the trail. That's when Mrs. Murray's face lit up and she exclaimed, "Say, it's getting late! Why don't you two come on home with us for the night?"
Sound familiar! And who receives the greater blessing--the one who provides hospitality or the one who receives it? The joy of Cleopas and his companion was so great that they ran all the way back to Jerusalem at the end of the day to tell everyone, "We have seen the risen Lord!"
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: Relate an interesting story about someone you met "along the way."
Use other words to describe what it means to have your heart burn within you. When was the last time you felt like that? Did the fire within make you melt or surge?Cleopas and his companion felt some excitement when Jesus explained Scripture to them. Are you able to relate to that aspect of their experience in any way?
Think of some times when you said, "I had hoped. . . ." Finish that sentence with the things you have hoped for but didn't get.
In all the resurrection appearances, we discover that Easter came upon the disciples as a complete surprise. They were hoping for "redemption" in terms of a political solution for Israel's problems. Discuss the differences between what these first followers of Jesus hoped for and what they got on resurrection day. Compare their expectations to ours when we ask God to save us from our problems.
For you, what would be the significance of the wounded hands that blessed and broke the bread? Is this an image that would aid your appreciation of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper? Why is it important to understand our beliefs with both heart and mind? What would it take for you to be touched emotionally as you receive bread made sacred by the crucified yet living hands of Jesus?
Which direction are you headed right now? Back to Emmaus and life as usual, or toward Jerusalem and an unknown future? Are your hopes dashed to pieces, or springing back to life again?
How do you account for the poor vision of Cleopas and his companion? Why did it take them so long to recognize Jesus? Share some examples from your own life when Jesus was with you but you were slow to acknowledge it. Is our vision today any better than theirs? Explain your answer.
Have you ever shared a simple meal with another person or performed some other act of hospitality wherein God surprised you with a holy moment? If so, put that experience into words as best you can.