Nicholas King SI 3rd Sunday of Easter
TODAY the Church puts before us one of the greatest of the Resurrection stories, that of the transformation of two sad and disillusioned disciples trudging wearily to Emmaus into two energetic missionaries proclaiming that the Lord is risen.
It is quite clear that Luke, from whose distinguished pen this story comes, wishes us to grasp this story not merely as an event in the lives of two longdead Christians, but as a pattern that regularly recurs in Christian living.
He starts the story with the attention-catching device "and behold", to mark out the fact that this story has a different quality from ordinary stories, and then immediately uses two of his favourite "journeying" words, which always in this gospel denote the pilgrim nature of God's word, and hence of all Christian discipleship.
This is not however Christian discipleship as Luke's gospel regularly understands it, for there is discussion between the two, indicating their puzzlement at what has happened, whereas normally the movement is unhesitating and purposeful.
But of course, it is precisely into their puzzlement that Jesus enters: "and he journeyed with them".
It is at this point that their gloom starts to lift, for despite their failure to recognise him, they are nevertheless addressed by him in their sadness, as are all the Lord's would-be disciples, and gradually induced to reveal their disappointment at the contrast between what might have been and what had actually happened to Jesus.
Now, of course, these miserable men had the goIution within their grasp but never recognised it, for they report, but as a part of 'their sadness, not as the beginning of their joy, what the women have said to amaze them.
At this point Jesus rebukes them pretty sharply for their folly, and we find ourselves no doubt nodding in wise agreement until we realise that their story is ours, and that we have ourselves again and again missed out Easter revelations, despite having the solution to hand.
So the Lord sets himself patiently to explain things, as he has regularly to do for us, and once he starts to explain, the journey seems to take no time at all, becomes in fact worthwhile in itself, rather than as the means to an end.
The disciples (us again, you see) dimly grasp the importance of what is happening to them, and stumble out an invitation that is really a request for more of the same, and Jesus grants them this favour, turning aside when his intention had been to travel further on the journey.
Then comes the greatest moment of all, when the revelation is finally made to them: "and it happened when he joined them at table, taking the bread he blessed it and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they knew him". This is the ideal Christian experience of the Eucharist, that having heard the word of God expounded we come to recognise our crucified and risen Lord, and suddenly all the gloom is dispelled.
Then comes a strange expression: "and he himself became invisible to them". In one sense they are now back where they started, for there is just the two of them once more; but look at the difference in mood, the sudden realisation of the joy that had been theirs while Jesus was with them, and how rapidly they move, and how short a distance it suddenly is to Jerusalem.
Two miserable and lonely people have suddenly been given both joy and energy to proclaim the gospel — and this is what Easter means, for them and (over and over again) for us.