The Rev. Jeremiah Williamson
Let's be clear: the road to Emmaus was the road out of town. It was not a path to spiritual enlightenment or renewal. The two followers of Jesus did not expect a divine surprise as they traveled the seven miles back from Jerusalem. They were on the road to Emmaus because their hopes were dashed. They were leaving Jerusalem because things did not work out. Because it was over.
This was their first experience of the Easter world. Not praise; not worship; not belief. The first thing these two followers of Jesus did after the resurrection was pack it in. Things did not work out and it was over.
Jesus had been their guy. They were the early adopters. They joined the fan club. They owned the merch. They were all in. It was Jesus' deeds; they were amazing. It was his words; they were captivating, life-changing. Everyone was looking for a Saviour and they found one; no, they found THE ONE – or so they thought.
“We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” We had hoped... That is what they said, on the road back home. There was no need to complete the thought; what was implied in that statement was: But he wasn't. We had hoped he was, but he wasn't. Facts were facts; it happened very publicly. Jesus was dead. Executed. Crucified. They no longer had a reason to stay in Jerusalem. They no longer had a reason to hope for a better world. And so they were on the road, making the slow walk home. To pick up the pieces...or whatever.
Now, they had heard about the empty tomb and the angels. But they react much like the disciples reacted: dismissal or disbelief or disinterest. I don't know exactly what they made of the reports presented by Mary Magdalene and the other women, but nobody buys in. The disciples hide out. These followers leave Jerusalem – hopeless and heart-broken. Despite the women's testimony, it seems the Jesus movement is over; it died with Jesus.
Jesus' death was very public. But his resurrection was not at all. In fact, considering that it was an unprecedented, unheard of event, the immediate impact of the resurrection was apparently pretty subtle. No witnesses. No political regime change. No rainbow in the sky. Mostly just an empty tomb and some implausible rumors.
The death felt more believable than the promise of new life. These travelers, these followers of Jesus were human – like us. They carried around the little deaths of their past – like us. The battles lost, the failures, the disappointments, the shards of broken relationships, the dashed hopes: they were real. And they were carrying them back to Emmaus. Because all of those little deaths, all of that hurt and all of that pain, felt more believable than any chance at new life.
And then Jesus showed up. But they could not see it. They were looking for death and he was alive. They were followers of Jesus and they didn't even recognize him. To them he was just another nosy stranger prying into their broken hearts. They loved him but maybe they never really knew him.
We all come to Jesus with our preconceived notions. We expect him to love what we love and hate what we hate, to love who we love and to hate who we hate. We look for the Jesus we want rather than Jesus. The followers on the road expected Jesus to free Israel from the Empire, from oppression, to be the political Messiah of his people. Their Jesus was mighty – a mighty prophet. Not a suffering one, not a crucified one. Jesus was supposed to be the victor but he lost. They did not need a loser. They could not see Jesus on the road because they were looking for something else, for someone else.
And their experience is a common experience. Mary Magdalene does not recognize the Risen Christ. His closest disciples do not recognize the Risen Christ. Rowan Williams says, “[Jesus] is not what they have thought him to be, and thus they must 'learn' him afresh, as from the beginning.”
Who is this mysterious Jesus? For two thousand years, his name has been invoked, his teachings rehearsed, his life debated. But would anyone recognize him on the road?
Like his earliest followers, the world is still looking for a victorious Jesus, coming to conquer, to conquer all those who we call “enemy”. And yet, Jesus moves amongst us bearing his wounds – still carrying the symbols of death in his body. And he comes not with a sword, but with peace.
These two followers on the road to Emmaus could not see Jesus until he broke the bread. He was made known to them in the breaking of the bread – a symbol of his own broken body. The broken bread has become the eternal image of our Christ. He is made know to us in his brokenness.
And that is why his followers still come to the table: to see Jesus. Each time we gather around this table we are reminded that the Risen Christ is revealed in the broken. Broken people gather around a table to receive the broken body of our broken Christ. This is where our eyes are opened. This is where we see our Lord. This is where he makes himself known. In the breaking of the bread. In the breaking of his body. And now through his body on earth – this broken community we call the Church. Even in this Easter world, our Risen Lord is still known through the broken.