13 That same day two of Jesus’ followers were walking to the village of Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 As they walked along they were talking about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things, Jesus himself suddenly came and began walking with them. 16 But God kept them from recognizing him.
17 He asked them, “What are you discussing so intently as you walk along?”
They stopped short, sadness written across their faces. 18 Then one of them, Cleopas, replied, “You must be the only person in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about all the things that have happened there the last few days.”
19 “What things?” Jesus asked.
“The things that happened to Jesus, the man from Nazareth,” they said. “He was a prophet who did powerful miracles, and he was a mighty teacher in the eyes of God and all the people. 20 But our leading priests and other religious leaders handed him over to be condemned to death, and they crucified him. 21 We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel. This all happened three days ago. 22 Then some women from our group of his followers were at his tomb early this morning, and they came back with an amazing report. 23 They said his body was missing, and they had seen angels who told them Jesus is alive! 24 Some of our men ran out to see, and sure enough, his body was gone, just as the women had said.”
25 Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. 26 Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?” 27 Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
28 By this time they were nearing Emmaus and the end of their journey. Jesus acted as if he were going on, 29 but they begged him, “Stay the night with us, since it is getting late.” So he went home with them. 30 As they sat down to eat, he took the bread and blessed it. Then he broke it and gave it to them. 31 Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And at that moment he disappeared!
32 They said to each other, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” 33 And within the hour they were on their way back to Jerusalem. There they found the eleven disciples and the others who had gathered with them, 34 who said, “The Lord has really risen! He appeared to Peter.”
A few things to note in this passage. I have read commentaries and heard preaching that call into question what these two were doing leaving Jerusalem for Emmaus, as if their journey indicates a lack of faith or a break with the community of Jesus’ followers. But I don’t see where the text gives that indication at all. We don’t know the reason for their journey. But we do know their thoughts were fully occupied with the death of Jesus and the report that the women had brought regarding his missing body and the claim that he had risen from the dead. They indicate that none of this matches with the expectation they had for Jesus to be the Messiah.
The next thing we know from the text is that Jesus himself walked with them and explained to them in detail how the Messiah had to suffer, unpacking relevant passages from Jewish Scripture. This made some impression on them because they insisted Jesus stay for a meal with them. But neither the report from the women or even the explanation Jesus gives them from the Scriptures makes the light of resurrection faith go on for them.
What finally opens their eyes is when Jesus breaks the bread, just like the meal he shared with his followers before his arrest. We typically think of the Last Supper being one only for the Twelve, but either Cleopas and the other disciple were there or they had already heard a report of it from one of the apostles. Hearing a report seems less likely to me given the compressed time frame, all that was going on, and how breaking the bread opens their eyes. I am more inclined to think Luke is suggesting they were there and recalling what they had experienced.
More than that, I think Luke is placing an emphasis on what is variously called Eucharist, Communion, or the Lord’s Supper. Virtually all Christians practice this and understand it as a sacrament (in some sense). I grew up Pentecostal and the focus was very much elsewhere; we had a low view of communion and only took it occasionally (though it was serious when we did). I now think this approach lacked an appreciation for the power of the sacrament, the power to remember – to practice remembering – Jesus’ death and resurrection. In pastoring and teaching college students, I find the death and resurrection of Jesus is still a stumbling block like it was for these two followers. We grow more used to the story, but that does not mean we grow in understanding or appreciation of it. If anything, the familiarity might make it worse. I understand that we can even grow accustomed to taking the bread and the cup, that it can also become a perfunctory ritual. I’m always looking for the radical middle, and this is a place where it seems to me there is room to push for more practice, more understanding, more appreciation. Breaking bread and sharing a cup communicates the Gospel in way nothing else can, not even a master class on the Messiah in the Hebrew Bible from Jesus himself. Let’s commit to sharing the Lord’s Table more often and to grow in our sacramental understanding.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.