Third Sunday of Easter
Luke 24: 13 -35 “Holy Heartburn.”
Have you ever looked for something around your house, maybe your car keys or your glasses, only to discover after a long and frustrating search that they were right there in your hand or your pocket, or even on your face? We do have an uncanny ability to miss the obvious sometimes. In fact, someone has said about playing Hide and Seek that the best place to hide is right next to the seeker – who simply takes off after counting and never guesses you’ve been sitting there all along.
I wonder if that’s something like the shock the two disciples felt when they finally realized who it was they’d been talking to along the Emmaus road. Why hadn’t they recognized Jesus sooner? Why did it take them so long to catch on?
Biblical commentators have come up with a number of interesting proposals to explain their difficulty. It was the blinding brightness of the setting sun in their eyes, they suggest, or maybe Jesus looked strikingly different after his resurrection. I wonder if it was something as simple as the fact that they weren’t expecting to see Jesus walking along beside them three days after his death.
Or maybe it wasn’t that simple. The text also says “their eyes were kept from recognizing” Jesus at first and later that “their eyes were opened.” An extra-ordinary act of God could well be happening here. After all, how else could we explain Jesus’ quick disappearing act as soon as the two disciples finally do recognize him?
But whatever the reasons for their lack of recognition, visually speaking, there’s also a deeper recognition issue at play here. Notice how much Jesus makes of the lack of understanding demonstrated by Cleopas and his friend. He calls them “foolish” and speaks of their “slowness to believe all that the prophets had spoken.” Perhaps they’d misunderstood something fundamental about the nature and the role of their Messiah. They’d certainly have been in good company if they found the news of the empty tomb hard to process.
Notice, too, that some tension develops as they wander down the road. It arises because according to [earlier verses in this chapter] the reports of the women seeing an empty tomb had not convinced the disciples, and Cleopas and his companion certainly don’t seem to have a clue that Jesus has risen. We want to tell them - Christ is risen! He’s standing right there beside you.
But of course the two disciples are as deaf to our cries as they are blind to the identity of their companion on the road. Until, and notice what it is that finally prompts their understanding. When Jesus does something as ordinary as sitting down at a meal and breaking bread with them, then “their eyes were opened and they recognized him.” Jesus had shared many meals in the three years of his ministry. With tax collectors and sinners, Pharisees and disciples alike. Sitting around a dinner table together would have been a very familiar setting to the two who encountered Jesus along that Emmaus road. So I don’t think it’s at all coincidental that this is where they had their “penny-drop aha!” moment. It may have been the familiarity of this simple action that struck a chord deep within them and triggered recognition.
What is it that triggers recognition in us? What is it that makes us aware of Christ’s presence where we are right now? It doesn’t need to be anything or complicated. It can be the simplest of things. A prayer. A favourite Bible verse. A song or hymn.a loaf of bread
But the two disciples didn’t actually understand who he was and what he was saying until he sat down with them and broke bread at their table. An ordinary act, to begin an ordinary meal, in an ordinary house, with ordinary folks. Nothing fancy. Just a simple meal. And it was then that they recognized their Lord.
And although these two disciples don’t seem to have been with the twelve at the Last Supper, Luke clearly invites his readers to reflect on that other important meal at this point in the story. The phrase “the breaking of the bread” becomes a catchword for the regular celebration of the Lord’s Supper in the early church, as Luke’s gospel story continues in its sequel, the Acts of the Apostles.
The good news in today’s text is that in spite of their “foolishness,” their “slowness of heart,” and their mistaken expectations, the two disciples who walked with Jesus from Jerusalem to Emmaus finally were enabled to recognize him. Their eyes were opened. And Luke says their hearts burned within them.
There are a couple of other interesting things about this account. Firstly, this is one of a handful of stories we find at the end of the gospels about the resurrected Christ having something to eat. This is important because it shows us that after he had died, he came back in such a way that he was able to eat. The gospel authors want to make clear that the disciples hadn’t seen a ghost. Jesus was back in the flesh. Later in this same chapter in Luke’s gospel, we find him eating a piece of broiled fish. In John 21, he hosts a barbeque on the beach. And here in Emmaus, he sits down to dinner and breaks bread. That the disciples continued to have Dinner with Jesus following his resurrection is not coincidental, but actually quite significant to the story line.
Finally, The fact that only Cleopas is mentioned by name, and that he is not identified anywhere else in the gospels, has puzzled theologians for generations. Some of the more intriguing suggestions are that Luke himself was Cleopas’ companion, or that the second disciple was Cleopas’ wife. Unfortunately none of these proposals can be proven from the text. How fascinating that Jesus would appear for the first time after his resurrection (according to Luke’s account), not to any of the twelve disciples, but to two of his lesser-known followers.
I find that encouraging for it reminds us that the way of discipleship is open to each one of us. Jesus isn’t looking for supermen or wonder women. He is looking for ordinary people, open-hearted men and women, to receive God’s gifts of grace, forgiveness and love.
May God grant to each of us ordinary disciples, in some familiar moment, clarity of vision and the “holy heart-burn” that comes from an encounter with the risen Lord. Amen.