For most of our congregations, this past Sunday – the Third Sunday of Easter – featured the Emmaus account from St. Luke 24:13-35. This Holy Gospel is also appointed for Easter Sunday Evening / Easter Monday every year in both lectionaries, but my sense has been that not many of our congregations include that celebration in their observances of Easter Week. So, it’s generally once every three years that most of our folks hear the reading and preaching of this significant account. It’s long been one of my favorite texts, not only because I’ve been privileged to serve Emmaus in South Bend (although that has certainly contributed to my affection for the account), but because it is so much the culmination of St. Luke’s entire Holy Gospel and really a template for the ongoing catechesis and life of the Church.
The two disciples on the Road to Emmaus know all the things “concerning Jesus of Nazareth,” including the news of the empty tomb and the report of the Resurrection (St. Luke 24:19-24). Yet, they are disappointed and sad, their countenances fallen, because Jesus “they did not see.” Indeed, “their eyes were kept from recognizing Him” (St. Luke 24:16), even when He had come alongside of them in their journey. It is worth noting, however, that in their conversation about Jesus He is already with them – which is encouragement to be “in the Word” and talking about the things “concerning Jesus of Nazareth,” even and especially when we are confused and sad.
In coming alongside them on the way, Jesus gently chides them for their slow and foolish hearts, and then He leads them into and through the Holy Scriptures, catechizing them to recognize the things concerning Himself, His Cross and Passion, and His Resurrection from the dead. That is the process of catechesis that the Church and Ministry of our Lord is ever and always about. It is the way and means by which the Holy Spirit opens the Scriptures to the disciples of Jesus, and to those who are called to be disciples of Jesus, and whereby He opens their ears and their hearts to fear, love, and trust in Him, to walk with Him in the way of faith and love, and to live with Him.
That catechesis on the way is fundamental and ongoing, but it is not the final goal or destination. The journey arrives at “the village to which they were going” (St. Luke 24:28); and there, at first, by acting “as if He were going farther,” the Lord offers them an opportunity to practice Christian hospitality and to pray that He would abide with them. In this we see exemplified both faith and love, engendered already by the unfolding of the Holy Scriptures. And at that point, in the most beautiful of turnabouts, the Lord Jesus is not the Guest but the Host at the Table.
In language echoing the institution of His Supper just a couple chapters earlier, the Lord Jesus takes the bread, blesses, breaks and gives it to the disciples there at Emmaus. Then, at last, their eyes are opened, and they recognize and know Him. And immediately He vanishes from their sight; because it is not by sight, but by faith in His Word that the Church on earth to the close of the age is given to know the Lord Jesus – to recognize and receive Him – “in the Breaking of the Bread” (St. Luke 24:30-35). All of this anticipates what St. Luke also then records in the Acts of the Apostles, where he describes the life of the Church in the wake of the Resurrection and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit: “They devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching and the Fellowship, to the Breaking of Bread and the Prayers” (Acts 2:42). By the grace of God, this is the Life that we still receive and live by His Word and Holy Spirit, and which we as pastors are likewise privileged to preach and administer in the Name of our crucified and risen Lord Jesus.