Today we’re going to reflect on the second appearance of the resurrected Jesus reported in Luke’s Gospel. The first took place on the Sunday after Jesus died while two disciples were fleeing Jerusalem. They were walking along the road to Emmaus, a town about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were discussing the events of the past few days that led up to Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus casually joined up with them, as it was common in those days for people to travel in groups for safety. The disciples failed to recognize him. Jesus joined in their conversation. “Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted for them what referred to him in all the scriptures.”
Luke’s emphasis on understanding the scriptures, mirrors the practice of the early Church. The early disciples thought and reflected very much within the parameters of their Jewish tradition. They re-read the Scripture with a keen eye, noting passages that gave insight into the person of Jesus. They interpreted Isaiah’s prophecy of the “suffering servant” referred not only as Israel continually suffering unjustly at the hands of the nations. For them the suffering servant was the Messiah who would take upon himself the sins of the people. “It was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured, while we thought of him as stricken, as one smitten by God and afflicted. But he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins. Upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole. By his stripes we were healed.” (Isaiah 533-5)
The two disciples reached Emmaus as the sun was setting, so they asked Jesus to stay with them for dinner. It was during the meal that they finally recognized him. “It happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that, their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he had vanished from their sight.” The early Church saw Jesus clearly in this prophecy.
The two returned to Jerusalem, and were in the process of relating what had happened when Jesus appeared to the entire group. The group was terrified. They thought Jesus was a ghost, a dybbuk, a malevolent spirit that wandered the earth trying to possess living people. His greeting was so gentle and familiar to them, “Shalom.” Peace be with you.
Jesus recognized their fear and reached out to calm them. “Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself.” He still carried the wounds of the crucifixion in his hands and side. They were tributes to the love of the “suffering servant.” No, he wasn’t a ghost. He was their teacher and friend. “Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and blood as you can see that I have.”
They were still hesitant. That’s when Jesus asked them for something to eat. “They gave him a baked fish; he took it and ate it in front of them.” This is the second time that he ate in the presence of disciples, first with the two at Emmaus, and now with the entire group. It’s no accident that Luke stresses these meals. Jesus isn’t an empty spirit. He’s real. There’s flesh and blood reality to him.
In the appearance at Emmaus Luke describes the meal using the same language he used in his account of Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples. “While he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them.” This phrase was part of the ancient Eucharistic liturgy. In fact, we still use those very words when we consecrate the bread and wine. “Before he was given up to death, a death he freely accepted, he took bread and gave you thanks. He broke the bread, gave it to his disciples and said: Take and eat it: this is my body which will be given up for you.” In these words we can hear the Lord Jesus speaking at the Last Supper. We can see him breaking the bread at Emmaus. We can hear Isaiah’s prophecy of redemption.
Luke works towards a conclusion to this account with a teaching from Jesus. “‘Everything written about me in the Law of Moses and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” Luke is telling us that the Eucharistic meal is enhanced, and it’s meaning focused and clarified, through our understanding of the Scriptures. He’s telling us that Jesus is present – flesh and blood present – in the Scripture, and in the Eucharistic meal. Like the disciples at Emmaus Jesus joins us to enlighten our minds to the Scripture. He goes on extend himself to us through the bread broken and shared at the Eucharistic table.
The conclusion of this resurrection account contains a powerful exhortation from Jesus. “Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of this.”
Luke ends his Gospel by focusing on the life of our Christian community. We grow in insight into the person of Jesus through the Scriptures. Our hearts burn as we listen to him teach. As we stretch out our hands to receive from him the Bread of Life, we see him emptying himself, redeeming us through the power of his love. Jesus asks us to keep none of this to ourselves. We’re to give witness to his presence. We’re to invite “all the nations” to the table of the Word. We’re to break the bread with them and witness to the resurrected presence of Jesus.