It’s Easter afternoon. Two of Jesus’ disciples are talking as they walk along the road to Emmaus. They are utterly confused, trying to make sense of the news swirling in their minds.
Suddenly their resurrected Master comes alongside to join the conversation. But they are prevented from recognizing him, and treat him as if he were completely clueless about current events. They quickly bring him up to speed, giving him the short version of the story: “Are you the only person in Jerusalem that hasn’t heard about Jesus of Nazareth? We put our hope in him, but he was betrayed to the Romans by our own people and crucified. But some of our women told us something unbelievable: they went to the tomb this morning, and the body was gone! They even saw angels who said Jesus is alive! So some of our friends went to check it out, and sure enough, the tomb was empty, but Jesus was nowhere to be found.”
One can imagine Jesus shaking his head at their lack of understanding. Slowly, patiently, he tells them his own story in response, walking them through everything that their own Scriptures said about the Messiah who was to come. In the minds of the two disciples, things are beginning to fall into place; their hearts are burning with the feeling that they have fallen into something much bigger and grander than they had ever imagined.
When they reach Emmaus, Jesus pretends to have a further destination, but the two disciples beg him to join them for supper. Unexpectedly, Jesus takes the role of host, giving thanks for the bread and breaking and distributing it. Suddenly their eyes are opened. And in that moment of recognition, Jesus disappears.
They run back to Jerusalem.
They find the place where the Eleven are together with other disciples, abuzz with more news: Jesus had appeared to Peter. The two from Emmaus add their story.
They’re still spilling out their tale when Jesus appears again. It catches them by surprise, and they recoil in fear, thinking they’re seeing a ghost. Jesus has to chew a piece of fish to convince them otherwise. And then, for the second time that day, he walks his followers through what the Hebrew Scriptures declare about the Messiah, showing them how all the events of the past days fit one long, continuous story of God’s actions among his people (Luke 24:13-49).
That story continues, and as Jesus’ present-day disciples, we are part of it.
Why did the disciples on the Emmaus Road not recognize Jesus? Luke doesn’t say. But it’s interesting to note the order of revelation: Jesus begins by giving them the grand sweep of the ancient narrative, then draws their imaginations into the story by blessing and breaking the bread with them. The disciples gather in Jerusalem and swap their “news” — but when Jesus appears in their midst, they show that they still haven’t quite grasped the truth. So again, Jesus puts the pieces of the narrative puzzle together for them.
It’s not enough to have the facts about Jesus. Those facts must bring us to the story of what God has been doing since Genesis — indeed, what God will continue doing through the final days of Revelation. And by the grace of God’s Spirit, we must find ourselves within that story.
Perhaps that’s why, as we walk along the road, we must stop and break bread with one another in the presence of Jesus: to remember, to recognize him for who he really is.
Because in so doing, we enter the story anew.