Indeed, we are in the season of Lent, which culminates with the celebration of Easter, or Resurrection Sunday.
So, I thought I would share one of my favorite Easter stories with you. You may be familiar with it, or you may not. This story is found at the end of the Gospel of Luke, and it appears in none of the other Gospels. It is called “the Road to Emmaus,” in Luke 24:13-35. Luke is telling the Easter story in his own way…with “burning hearts and broken bread.”
In the Gospel of Luke, there are three stories of Jesus’ appearances to his disciples after his resurrection. The story of Jesus’ appearance on the road to Emmaus is the first of these appearances. The theme of all of chapter 24 is the necessity of Jesus’ death and resurrection. It is one of the longest stories in his Gospel, as Luke relates Jesus’ encounter with two disciples (probably husband and wife) traveling from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus. The Passover celebration is over, and the couple is returning home, but they are crushed with disappointment to hear that the man they believed to be the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, had been crucified and was buried….
It is interesting to see the parallels between a story in chapter 2 of Luke’s Gospel and this story in chapter 24, like “bookends.” In chapter 2 (:41-50), we find the story of the 12-year-old Jesus in the Temple. Again, just after the Passover celebration, Mary and Joseph begin the journey back to their home, but suddenly realize that Jesus is not with them. If he was somewhere in the crowd of weary travelers, they were “not aware of it.” They began looking for him, and Mary and Joseph hurried back to Jerusalem, only to find Jesus in the Temple. The young Jesus says, “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know that I had to be in my Father’s house?” Even at such a young age, Jesus knew it was necessary for him to be a part of God’s plans and purposes.
In much the same way, the tired pilgrims going home after the Passover in chapter 24 were accompanied by an “unrecognizable stranger,” and they did not understand what was going on. To the travelers on the road to Emmaus, Jesus said, in effect, “Was it not necessary for the Messiah to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” (24:25-26). In both stories, Luke points out “what happened was necessary.” The tired, anxious couple at the Temple are matched by a sad, disappointed couple on the road to Emmaus. Where is Jesus?
Walking down the road, the “stranger” explains from Scriptures the necessity of the Messiah’s death and resurrection. As they were walking and listening to him talk, their “hearts burned within [them].” When they reached their destination, the couple sat down to dinner with the stranger. At the meal (just like at the Last Supper) the stranger takes the bread, blesses it, breaks and begins to distribute it – at which point, “their eyes were opened and they recognized him” as Jesus! Right there, at their kitchen table! In the flesh! Jesus is revealed to them in the “breaking of the bread.” Not a ghost, or an apparition, but a real, recognizable, touchable human body (24:39)! He ate with them!! He was dead, but now was very much alive!!
Can you imagine their surprise – and their elation?? They “got it.” All the teachings and prophecies about his death and resurrection were fulfilled – from the “Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” (24:44) – it was all confirmed as truth.
For Luke, this is the ultimate redemption; this is the meal which signified that the long separation of the human race from God was finally over. Not just Israel, but the whole human race is redeemed through Jesus. Easter is significant, as the time when “everything must be fulfilled” (24:44). Easter completes all the things that “must necessarily” take place concerning Jesus; he did what he had to do, for us.
Indeed, we all know what it is like, even in a small way, to lose a friend in death – a terrible death. We can understand their disappointment, fear, and confusion of unanswered questions. But the Scriptures can open our eyes to the fact that Jesus had to die so that we might live. The pain and suffering and sin of this world leads only to the cross. Always the cross. Do not doubt. This was not a mistake. In fact, it is in the cross that the full glory of God is finally revealed. Where is Jesus? He is right here, walking beside us.
This Easter, I hope we “get it.” I hope our “hearts burn within us” when we hear the words of Scripture concerning the passion of Christ. From death, life!! Now, we can walk with him, talk with him and have supper with him. When we “break bread,” together, as brothers and sisters in Christ, I hope we see the living Jesus.