The story comes in the context of the narrative of Jesus from the Gospel According to Luke. For one year, Jesus worked in the north country, in Galilee. People ran to him, drifted to him, listened to him, followed him. They heard his stories of the prodigal son, the rich fool, the Good Samaritan. They watched him attending to all sorts of people: the rich, the poor, the broken, the ignored. They followed him, they imitated him—not well—but even so, inch by inch they found themselves drawn into the faith community. They found their eyes beginning to open to faith, their hearts beginning to open to others. They began to experience what Jesus proclaimed to them again and again: “The kingdom of God is not coming at the end of time; it is in your midst, right here, right now.”
After a year in Galilee, Jesus and his faith community headed for the south, for one week in Jerusalem. On Sunday Jesus rode on a farm vehicle, on the hood of a one ton grain-truck into Jerusalem; his people followed, singing songs of freedom. But by the middle of the week threatening opposition was growing on every side. Then, on Thursday night, Jesus took his faith community to a banquet hall and took the bread, gave thanks, and broke it, and then shared the bread and wine around the table. Finally on Friday came Jesus’ arrest and execution. That Friday, Jesus’ little faith community knew that it was all over.
Now listen to our story. On Sunday night, two of the ex-members of the community of Jesus were on their way to Emmaus: a village 7 miles out of Jerusalem. They were talking about the past. About the days when they had started to hope for a better world; about the days when they had known that God was at work in the world. Sometimes they talked of Thursday, wistfully, of that most intimate evening, the look on Jesus’ face, the breaking the bread. But that was all over. That was obvious.
But as they walked together into the setting sun, a stranger began walking with them. He wondered why they walked so slowly, so sadly, toward Emmaus. They were silent for a time. Finally one of them said, “Are you serious?” The other added, “You must be the only person who doesn’t know what happened last week.” Then they told him about the week, about the wrecked body of Jesus of Nazareth, about the end of the movement. The stranger listened and listened some more. Then the stranger began to speak about the words of the prophet Isaiah. “Doesn’t the Scripture say that the servant of God would be despised, a man of sorrows? Doesn’t the Scripture say that the servant would suffer for the sins of the world?” As they walked the stranger kept on talking about the Scriptures. The ex-disciples of Jesus listened and listened some more. Then, as they drew near Emmaus the stranger turned to leave them. But the two ex-disciples said, “No, please stay. Abide with us. It’s getting dark. It’s not safe for strangers out there.” So the stranger stayed with them that evening.
Then that night, while they sat together at table, the stranger took the bread in his hands, gave thanks and broke it. And chills went up their spine, the hair rose on the back of their necks, they held their breath. It was the One, the Christ still among them! Then—when the proof was right there, when it looked like they could simply tell whoever would listen, “Look it is as plain as day, our faith is obvious, take a look”—then, He vanished from their sight.
But He did not leave them alone. He left them with each other, with the bread and wine on the table, with all those things that they could never prove, but that they knew were there, even so. And He left them with a heart to share the good news with the world.