On Lk 24:13-35.
St. Luke’s account of the Resurrection of Jesus is in many respects very like that of St. John. And both of them are distinctly odd, or at least very different from what we might have expected. Surely we might have expected something awe-inspiring, cosmic, apocalyptic: some blinding light; some earth-shattering explosion; crowds of astonished onlookers; crushed and cowering enemies. Or at least: something very theological, divine, mystical, abstruse. What we have instead are intimate little exchanges; snatches of conversation; centred on the most unlikely individuals: not particularly important characters, who precisely neither understand nor believe. And pretty well everything else is simply left out. You could easily write a list, pages long, of all the things the Gospel writers – especially Luke and John – don’t say about the resurrection of Jesus.
Yet, what they do say is enough. It’s inspired by the Holy Spirit, and it has nourished the Church with life-giving fare from that day to this. So today, once again, St. Luke tells his story, or part of it anyway, and we listen in order through it to encounter the mystery, the wonder of Christ’s resurrection, and to understand, please God, a little more of what it means for us.
Because Luke’s little story is charged with meaning for all time. We read ourselves into it, and apply its lessons in multiple ways in our own lives.
The Easter encounters St. John chooses to narrate are with St. Mary Magdalene, and then with St. Thomas. In St. Luke, it’s the encounter with two otherwise entirely unknown disciples: one of them even unnamed.
As disciples, they are failures. They are going off in the wrong direction. They have given up hope, on Easter Day itself. They have left all the other disciples, and they don’t recognise Jesus when he accompanies them. Yet: Jesus comes to them; he walks with them; he speaks with them; he teaches them: and their hearts burn within them. As he speaks, everything starts falling into place: astonishingly but also somehow recognisably. What before had seemed merely meaningless becomes ever increasingly full of meaning: thrilling, life-giving, life-changing meaning. With ever growing excitement, and joy, the two disciples realise that everything this man says makes perfect sense, and is true. Not just that: already the first glimmerings of Easter Faith begin to open up. That is: Jesus truly died, but is alive now forever. He has won a definitive victory, on our behalf, over sin and death. In him there is invincible hope and joy; in him the way to eternal life with God in heaven is flung open.
Jesus walked with them, and he walks still with us. He does so of course as risen. But he does so also precisely as human, and mortal, and suffering, and slain. Because it is ordained for us too that we must first suffer, and die, and then, through and with and in Jesus, enter into our glory. Normally speaking, as we walk along the path of our life, we don’t see Jesus, or at least we don’t easily recognise him. But still he is always there with us: even especially amid our sorrows and pains; because precisely through them, he prepares us to share in his victory.
Like St. John, St. Luke delights in irony; in misunderstandings and conversations at cross purposes. Are you the only one, they say to Jesus, who has not heard about the death of Jesus? And: We had hoped that he would be the one to set Israel free. That is, we had hoped he would deliver us from the Romans. We might add: we had hoped he would put the whole world to rights. We had hoped that he would take away the threat of nuclear war; bring famine and disease to an end; abolish oppression, and poverty; make everyone peaceful and prosperous and content. Many nowadays would add: we had hoped to be set free from all constraints, so that we can do anything we like, according to our lowest instincts, without censure or negative consequences.
But Jesus didn’t do any of that. Instead, he did something much bigger, and better. To understand what that is, you really need first to believe in God. Because in the first place Jesus set us free from the sin that obstructs our communion with God. That’s actually what matters most for us. It really really matters. Jesus also set us free from eternal death: and that, definitely, definitely matters! In doing that, Jesus also set us free from fear, and hopelessness, and from the sense that our life is somehow pointless, or even absurd. He set us free from the inevitable narrowness of our existence; from our mere mediocrity, our conformity, our confinement within the bounds of habit and custom. And he did so in function of what he set us free for. Jesus died and rose again in order to give us the glorious freedom of the children of God, as St. Paul says. Or according to St. John, if the Son sets you free, then you will be free indeed (8:36).
In the Emmaus story, the explanation given by Jesus of the meaning of his death and resurrection is simply omitted. That’s remarkable. What St. Luke insists on, several times, is that it was all foretold, all in Scripture, all part of God’s plan and providence and predestiny. So: if we want to understand it, we need to read the Hebrew scriptures, as guided, of course, by the Holy Spirit, and also by the writings of the New Testament.
To bring this to an end: once the two disciples had recognised Jesus in the breaking of the bread, their lives were transformed. Instead of listlessness, energy. Instead of despondency, faith and hope. Instead of purposelessness: mission. So they turned around and immediately hastened back to the disciples in the upper room. And that too is symbolic for us. Because for us too, faith in Jesus necessarily results in communion with the Church; and it culminates in our sharing in the Holy Eucharist. There, above all, Jesus is truly with us. There, bread and wine truly become his Body and Blood: given to us for our consolation, and redemption, and everlasting salvation.