Year A: Third Sunday of Easter

The Appearance on the Road to Emmaus

Luke 24:13-35

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. And it happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him. He asked them, “What are you discussing as you walk along?” They stopped, looking downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, said to him in reply, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days?” And he replied to them, “What sort of things?” 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. But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel; and besides all this, it is now the third day since this took place. Some women from our group, however, have astounded 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. Then some of those with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women had described, but him they did not see.” And he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures. 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. And 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 vanished from their sight. Then they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning [within us] while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?” So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the eleven and those with them who were saying, “The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!” Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do life’s doubts and disappointments block you from recognizing the risen Christ in your midst?
  2. Where do you see this story’s “Emmaus pattern” in your life? How have you experienced it?
  3. What in you, in your current circumstances, is being or needs to be restored and put back together?
  4. Where have you noticed places of sorrow and loss, that are also places of life and restoration?

Biblical Context

Luke 24:13-35
Biagio Mazza

The journey to Emmaus by two disciples on the day of Christ’s resurrection is one of the most well-known and memorable stories of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. Unique to Luke, this narrative was composed somewhere between 85- 90 C.E., for a community that had not seen or met Jesus but who desired to know where and how they could encounter the risen Christ in their lives. Luke’s community constructs this narrative to answer these significant questions that are still pertinent in our day.

Two disciples were leaving Jerusalem for Emmaus, discussing all that had occurred there. Though Jesus drew near and walked with them, they did not recognize him. Instead, they seemed to be so preoccupied with their own misunderstanding of what Jesus was about, that they failed to notice that it was truly Jesus traveling beside them.

As Jesus inquires about their discussion, they unveil their disappointment concerning Jesus of Nazareth whom they believed and hoped to be the messiah, the one to “redeem Israel.” Unfortunately, he was crucified, thus shattering all their hopes. Jesus responds by unpacking all the Scriptures concerning the suffering that the Christ had to undergo and thus enter into glory.

Arriving at Emmaus, most likely their home, Jesus accepts the invitation to stay with them for it is late. After a meal is prepared and served, Jesus takes bread, blesses it, breaks it and gives it to them. Through this act they finally recognize him. To their amazement, Jesus immediately vanishes. As they begin to realize the significance of the day’s events they recall how “our hearts were burning within us while he spoke … and opened the Scriptures to us.” Compelled to share this experience, they return to Jerusalem only to learn that the Lord had appeared to Simon. Astounded by the encounter, they announce to the disciples how they had come to recognize him in the breaking of the bread.

Through the Emmaus narrative Luke’s community proclaims that the risen Christ can only be recognized whenever one seeks nourishment from the Scriptures and the Eucharist. Without such nourishment and our willingness to share it with others, no matter the cost, we will never recognize the risen Lord who constantly draws near and always walks with us. The risen Christ and his path of life is found whenever we feed on God’s revealed word and break bread together. As often as we do this in memory of Jesus, we delve deeper into the Paschal Mystery and affirm it as our God-given path to life.

Life Shattered, Life Restored

By: Fr. Michael K. Marsh

Rarely does the gospel tell us what to do or believe. Rarely does it give us a straight answer. And today’s gospel, the road to Emmaus story is no different. It doesn’t give us answers. It raises questions and invites reflection. It’s a map by which we orient and find ourselves. It reveals intersections of Jesus’ life and our lives. It begs to be recognized as a story about our lives, and it is a story with which we are familiar. It is a story of shattering and restoration. If your life has ever been shattered, then this is your story. If your life has ever been restored, then this is your story. And if you’ve ever been in that in between place, between shattering and restoration, then this is your story.

Within this story is a pattern or template that describes the journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus and back to Jerusalem. It’s a journey Cleopas and his companion take and it’s a journey each of us has taken, is taking, or will take. It’s not, however, a one-time journey. It’s a journey we take again and again.

I am not talking about Jerusalem and Emmaus as particular geographical locations. I am talking about them as archetypal realities. They are portals into a greater self-awareness and apertures through which we see a greater fullness of God, ourselves, each other, and the world.

There is a Jerusalem within us and an Emmaus within us, and both get enacted in our lives. That’s also true for the breaking of the bread. It also is archetypal. It might point to and remind us of the Eucharist but the Eucharistic reality is bigger and more expansive than what we do here on Sunday mornings.

It’s Easter morning and the two disciples are leaving Jerusalem. Who can blame them? Jerusalem is a place of pain, sorrow, and loss. It’s a place of death, unmet expectations, and disappointment. It’s a place where their lives were shattered. No one wants to stay in that place. As they walk they are talking about all the things that happened, and, I suspect, all the things that didn’t happen.

They are talking about Jesus’ arrest, torture, crucifixion and death. They are taking about hope that didn’t materialize, expectations that were unmet, investments that paid no return. They are disappointed and sad. They had hoped Jesus was the one, but he’s dead. And there’s a part of them that’s been lost, a part of them that died with Jesus. They had heard rumors that he was alive but it all sounded like an “idle tale” (Luke 24:11). There was nothing to keep them in Jerusalem. Their lives had been shattered.

Emmaus is our escape from life. Or so we think. What we don’t know at the time, and what Cleopas and his companion did not know, is that it is also the way back to life. That realization happened for the two disciples, as it does for us, in the breaking of the bread. It wasn’t only an escape from life that took them to Emmaus, but a hunger for life. It wasn’t brokenness that took them to Emmaus but a hunger for wholeness. It wasn’t a shattering that took them to Emmaus, but a hunger for restoration.

Hunger is more than physical, it also spiritual and emotional. We are by nature hungry. We hunger for life, love, wholeness, community, meaning, purpose. That hunger is surely the reason they strongly urged Jesus, “Stay with us.” Jesus would not only stay, he would feed them. The guest they invited to their table would become their host.

“When Jesus was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.” They recognized him as the one they had left for dead in Jerusalem. They recognized him as the one who had accompanied them on the road to Emmaus. They recognized him as the one they had hoped he would be.

Jesus wasn’t just giving them bread; he was giving them back themselves. This was their restoration. When Jesus broke the bread something in them broke open. With that breaking open their lives were being put back together. So, it is for us as well. We’ve all had times when our lives were broken open in ways we could never imagine or have done for ourselves. Despite how it feels, our brokenness is not an ending. There is more to it than we often see or know. It is not just brokenness, a shattering, it is a breaking open to new life, to new seeing, to new recognition, to community, welcome, hospitality, and love. Isn’t that why we gather around the table every Sunday? Isn’t that our unspoken desire for the meals we share with each other?

Jesus fed them not just with bread but with himself: with his body, his life, his love, his compassion, his strength, his forgiveness, his hope, with all that he is and all that he has. Their life was being restored in their being broken open. But as soon as they saw and recognized Jesus “he vanished from their sight.”

Where do you think he went? Was he abandoning them? Was he playing games with them, “Now you see me, now you don’t?” Was he undoing everything that just happened? No. It wasn’t anything like that. He was no longer before them because he was now within them. Jesus was the burning heart within them, and it had been there all along. Sometimes that burning is felt as brokenness, sometimes as hunger, or being broken open, and other times as deep joy and gratitude. Always, it is Jesus.

And “that same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem.”

They returned to the place from which they had to get away. Jerusalem is not only the place of death it is also the place of life. It is not only a place of sorrow, it is a place of joy. It is not only a place of shattering, it is a place of restoration.

Cleopas and his companion arrive with news of their Emmaus experience only to hear that Jesus was alive, seen, and present in Jerusalem. We leave Jerusalem in order to return to Jerusalem: to face our deaths, losses, and shattered lives. In so doing we discover that life awaits us. We return to reclaim ourselves, to recover the lost pieces of ourselves. The city hasn’t changed but we have.

Jesus was in Jerusalem before Cleopas and his companion ever left. He was with them on the road to Emmaus. He was in the breaking of the bread. And he was already in Jerusalem when they returned. Do you know what those intersections are called?
They are called the gifts of God for the people of God.

Reflection excerpt adapted from, Interrupting the Silence. Fr. Michael K Marsh Used by permission.