The lectionary readings today include the story (Luke 24) of the two disciples on the road (home?) to Emmaus. No one knows exactly where Emmaus was, but Luke tells us it was around 7 miles from Jerusalem. The story is set on Easter Day, following immediately the bifurcated way the apostles responded to the news the women had brought from the tomb. For most, gathered and fearful, “these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them”. These two set off home, but Peter – disloyal, but impetuous Peter – ran to the tomb, saw the empty linen cloths, and went home amazed.
The two on the road to Emmaus that afternoon had been among the sceptics – puzzled sceptics perhaps. Jesus drew alongside. Not recognising him – supernaturally we are led to believe – they converse, but it is only when in the meal Jesus “took bread, blessed it, and broke it” that they recognised their risen Lord, words (and actions) deliberately evocative of those at the Last Supper. Jesus doesn’t linger, and neither do the two disciples, who rush back to the Eleven in Jerusalem. The truth, the wondrous miracle, of a risen Jesus has dawned. This movement, this man, in whom they’d put their faith would not just lie rotting in the cave, taking with him their hopes and the risks they had dared to take. None of them knows yet quite what it means, but one thing is for sure: the story hasn’t ended. Luke builds quickly towards the Ascension. He points readers to the astonishing, up-ending, victory won in Christ, but also to the mission – “that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name, to all nations beginning in Jerusalem”
And, even in this festive season, this the mission to which we, as the redeemed, as brothers and sisters of Christ, are called. For many of us it isn’t easy – in a world where a sense of sin often seems lost. Sometimes it is easier to proclaim therapy, or political programmes. Or to debate church politics or liturgy. But it is for this – to proclaim a message of reconciliation, of repentance and forgiveness, that Jesus came, and died, and was raised.
In this is our hope, and our call.
Caravaggio memorably captured the breaking of the bread at Emmaus.