On the Road and at the Table with Jesus: An Emmaus Easter

Over this past week, I had the privilege of participating in the Triduum and celebrating the Feast of the Resurrection with my own congregation, Emmaus in South Bend. I was especially pleased to preach for several of the Services and to administer the Eucharist at the Easter Sunrise Service and again on Easter Monday evening.

Easter Monday has for many years been one of my favorite days of the Church Year, because it is “Emmaus Name Day,” that is to say, the appointed occasion for the reading and preaching of the Emmaus account (St. Luke 24:13-35). That significant account from St. Luke’s Holy Gospel is also heard on the Third Sunday of Easter in Series A of the Three-Year Lectionary, but Easter Monday is where it is assigned every year in both lectionaries. And it is rightly heard every year, because it brings to a crescendo and summarizes all the things “concerning Jesus of Nazareth,” in fulfillment of all that “Moses and all the Prophets” have written of Him (St. Luke 24:19, 27).

Moreover, the account itself provides a beautiful paradigm for the path of discipleship and the ongoing life of the Church on earth. What I means is that it demonstrates and exemplifies, first of all, the preaching and teaching of the Holy Scriptures – centered in the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus; and by that very catechesis of the Word, it brings the disciples from their doubts and fears and sadness to recognize and receive their risen Lord in the Breaking of the Bread. From this point onward, even to the close of the age, the whole Christian Church is devoted to “the Apostles’ Doctrine and Fellowship, to the Breaking of Bread and the Prayers” (Acts 2:42).

I’m naturally somewhat biased, but I do maintain that “Emmaus” really is an ideal name for a congregation, because it highlights these fundamental and constitutive aspects of the Christian faith and life. Even so, it is not a common name within our Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. So far as I can tell, there are just seventeen “Emmaus” congregations in the Synod, including two new church starts (one in Minnesota South, and one in Michigan). It is noteworthy that, of those seventeen congregations, three of them are part of the Indiana District: one in South Bend, one in Fort Wayne, and one in Indianapolis. None of the other districts have more than two Emmauses, and most of the other districts have none. So, kudos to Indiana for taking the lead in this respect!

Among the many things that I dearly love about the Emmaus account, here are a few that I find most striking and significant every year (and every single time I consider this Holy Gospel):

To begin with, everyone is looking for the Body of Jesus (who makes no appearance in the first twelve verses of the chapter – rather ironic when those are the verses read on Easter Sunday). The two disciples on the way to Emmaus know the whole story, including the news of the empty tomb and the word of the angels to the women; and yet, they are sad and downcast, because no one has seen Jesus, and no one knows where He is. The Emmaus account provides the answer and solution: He’s revealed in the Scriptures and actively present in the Breaking of the Bread.

To find Him there – at the Table in the House – it is necessary that the Scriptures be opened up and explained by way of catechesis “on the way,” so that everything is understood in the light of His Cross. And after His Word has thus brought His disciples to recognize and receive Him in the Breaking of the Bread, He vanishes from their sight (St. Luke 24:31), because it is by faith in His Word, and not by sight, that He is known and loved and worshiped in His Church on earth.