Mark makes reference to two disciples who met Jesus “walking along on their way to the country.” (Mark 16:13) Luke picked up on Mark’s simple reference and developed it into a remarkable narrative about the connection between the resurrection and the life of the Christian Community. Let’s explore this important resurrection story.
Luke began his resurrection narrative in a way similar to Mark and Matthew. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and the mother of James came to the tomb with a group of unnamed disciples. They saw that the tomb had been opened. “While they were puzzling over this, behold, two men in dazzling garments appeared to them. They were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground. ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but he has been raised. Remember what he said to you while he was in Galilee, that the Son of Man would be handed over to sinners and be crucified and rise on the third day.’ And they remembered his words. Then they returned from the tomb and announced all these things to the eleven and all the others.” (Luke 24:4-9) At this point in his narrative Luke began to expand Mark’s reference to the two disciples who met Jesus as they were on their way to the country.
“Now that very day two of them were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus and they were conversing about all the things that had occurred.”(24:13-14) These two disciples weren’t just going for a sevenmile walk to Emmaus, they were fleeing Jerusalem. All the disciples were frightened. Back in Jerusalem a group of them were in hiding. They witnessed what the religious leaders had done to Jesus, now they feared what they might be plotting against them.
They had followed Jesus for three years and were convinced that he was the Messiah. He was going to establish a kingdom that would inaugurate a golden age for Israel. But now every shred of hope they had was crushed.
Jesus came up to them and began to walk along with them. The roads were generally safe but it was always better to walk in a group, so it wasn’t odd that a stranger would join up with them. He immediately entered their conversation asking them what they were discussing. They were shocked that he didn’t know about the events of the past few days. They poured out their hearts to him. “They said to him, ‘The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, how our chief priests and rulers both handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him… Some women from our group have astonished us: they were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body; they came back and reported that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who announced that he was alive.’” (Luke 24:19-23)
The disciples still didn’t recognize Jesus, but he began to teach them, much the same way he would have taught them in the past. “Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures.” (Luke 24:27) In this simple sentence Luke not only reported what Jesus did that day, but revealed what the Christians of his day did when they gathered. They read through the scripture with an eye on passages that gave them insight into the Messiah. It would be quite a while before the Christian canon of writings would be assembled into what would be known as the New Testament. So they read and studied the Jewish scriptures, the Law and the Prophets.
Luke continued. “As they approached the village to which they were going, he gave the impression that he was going on farther. But they urged him, ‘Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.’ So he went in to stay with them.” (Luke 24:28-29) Luke was doing so much more than narrating events. He was instructing the reader about the Christian life. Jesus had broken open the meaning of the scriptures for them. It was a profound illumination. They commented to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scripture for us?” (Luke 24:32) The disciples’ invitation to Jesus to stay with them was Luke’s way of noting that Jesus would always be with his community no matter where they might settle. Evening was falling when they invited him to stay. Was this a reference to the dark times everyone will experience at one time or another? When Luke was writing his Gospel, the persecution of the Church had already begun. Jesus would walk with his community during the light of day. He would stay with them, and comfort them, throughout the darkest night. “And it happened that, while he was still with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them.” (Luke 24:30) Luke used liturgical language here. Even today, we use these exact words when we consecrate the Eucharist. His choice of liturgical language helps us understand that Luke was connecting the resurrection with the Eucharist. “With that, their eyes were opened and they recognized him. But he had vanished from their sight.” (Luke 24:31) Jesus vanished, but the bread remained. He had walked with them, broken open the scripture for them, and broken the bread with them.
The disciples returned to Jerusalem and greeted the community. “The two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” (Luke 24:35) Here Luke summed up his teaching on the resurrection. Christians are on a journey, walking along their own personal ways. Jesus will walk along with them even when they don’t recognize him. He’ll be with them to give them greater insight into the scripture, the foundation of their faith. He’s with them “in the breaking of the bread,” the Eucharistic meal. They do not “see” him but in the breaking of the bread they recognize his presence with them. In the beautiful narrative, Luke is giving us an overview of our Eucharistic gathering. We walk along our personal paths. Sometimes we walk in the daylight. Jesus is with us. Sometimes we walk in the darkness, and Jesus is still with us. Through our contemplation of the scriptures, and our participation in the breaking of the bread, we “see the Lord.” Don’t overlook the phrase, “They recounted what had taken place on the way.” Never forget, that as Christians, as people who “break the bread,” we’re bound to recount our discovery of the risen Lord. We must commit ourselves to the Eucharistic Community. We must study the scripture together, and share the bread of life with one another. We must always live secure in the Lord who promised, “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20b)