Wednesday in Easter Week

Wednesday of Easter Week– Michael Bissell

The season of Eastertide begins with these seven days following Easter collectively known as Easter Week. Today is Easter Wednesday.   Gospel reading for Easter Wednesday is: Luke 24:13–35 the story of the travelers on the road to Emmaus which if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to briefly explore. Hopefully you recall the gist of the story, which goes as follows—two weary followers of Christ, Cleopas and his unnamed buddy, are wending their way from Jerusalem to a place called Emmaus when they are joined by a third traveler asking what they are talking about.  They sadly tell him about the events of the Passion that weekend, and he responds with a brilliant explanation of the situation from the Old Testament prophets. Our two original travelers decide they like this guy and although he had implied that his destination was further down the road, they convince him to have dinner with them in Emmaus.  He obliges them, but as soon as he utters the blessing and breaks bread, they suddenly recognize him as none other than Jesus himself, whereupon he promptly disappears, and they can hardly wait to get back to Jerusalem and tell the other Christians there all about it.    

There are three aspects of this tale that I find intriguing: 

First is the lack of recognition of the resurrected Jesus, as also occurs, for example, in John 20:15 when Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb early in the morning and instead of recognizing Jesus, at first mistakes Him for the gardener, and later in John 21:4 when the disciples fail to recognize Him when they were out fishing on the Lake of Tiberius. Why all this failure of recognition? Even though Jesus had predicted that He would rise again on the third day, as related in Mark 9:32, the disciples did not fully understand, because clearly they were not looking for Him to be resurrected. That may have been an element in the Emmaus story, but one is left wondering how could these two disciples have walked, talked, and eaten with Jesus without recognizing Him? In this instance, it seems that they were supernaturally prevented from recognizing Jesus. Jesus perhaps had taken on a different appearance to keep Himself from being recognized. Why would Jesus have done this? The Bible does not say. Perhaps Jesus “veiled” His identity so the two disciples would truly think through the things Jesus was saying, rather than accepting the teaching blindly, as they likely would have if they had known it was Jesus.

Second, why did Jesus disappear immediately after being recognized?  In the case of Mary Magdalene at the tomb, Jesus explains that he cannot stick around because he must yet ascend to heaven to be with the Father.  In the Emmaus tale his rapid exit may have been an encouragement to not waste any time getting back to Jerusalem with the breaking news.  

Third, just exactly where is Emmaus?  Apparently ‘Emmaus’ was a reasonably common placename in the ancient Near East and Biblical archeologists have identified a number of candidates for its location on the present-day map. Nobody knows for sure where it was.

I’d like to leave you with the suggestion that these three elements can perhaps be combined symbolically as follows:

Many of us latter-day travelers through life find ourselves incapable of recognizing Jesus either because we’re not expecting to see him alive or because he’s disappeared after being sighted, as we persist in our sleepwalk down a road to a place that’s actually nowhere.  Can this situation be changed? Let me know when you’ve had a chance to look inside. Amen.