- BRUCE C WEARNE
In what I have composed below I assume readers will follow along by reading Luke 24:13-53. The story of the meeting of Jesus with His two perplexed disciples on the road to Emmaus maintains its profound contribution to the lives of men and women, boys and girls, from one generation to another, around the world. These two, Cleopas and his nameless associate, confessed their own meeting with Jesus and Luke includes it in his Gospel written for Theophilus.
The women, of all of Jesus' disciples, had been the first to believe that Jesus had been raised. They were induced by the angels to recall Jesus’ teaching about Himself from His teaching days back in Galilee. And now Jesus had come face-to-face with these two and reminded them of what He had, in fact, been teaching them all along. This is what the Law and the Prophets are all about. And on their return to Jerusalem to meet the disciples who had been so saddened and perplexed, the two were to hear the disciples telling them: "The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon".
PROFOUND ENCOUNTER: Detail from a early 14th century painting depicting Christ's meeting on the road to Emmaus by the Italian artist Duccio. PICTURE: Via Wikipedia
Theophilus would know about Peter and that, after Pentecost, he with John were leaders of those following “the way”.
Now the women’s report of the empty tomb and the angels had brought forth an incredulous response from the (mostly male?) disciples. They did not consider it worthy of their trust. And then the convocation of disciples was presented with this further confirmation of the reliability of the women’s report, with another first-hand account of Jesus’ meeting with these two disciples. They had not known of Simon Peter’s meeting with Jesus.
Three reports affirmed Jesus’ resurrection.
But let us go back to when He admonished the two walkers in the late afternoon. They had been trudging along despondently, walking and talking, on their way home to Emmaus. We get the sense of:
"So much for what we had hoped! We thought this was it. He was our truly amazing teacher and with what wonderful deeds and teaching he had us wanting more and more! Do we now really need any more visions of angels being given to us by these hyperactive women?"
Luke’s account of Jesus’ admonition is presented as part of this most ordinary and everyday activity - His walking and talking with them, in friendly neighbourliness, walking together. Slowly, slowly their sad perplexity seems to evaporate - their sadness dissipates even if they didn’t recognise this Stranger whose teaching had them “all ears”. From that time on a new reading of the Old Testament took hold.
"O you are so wilfully ignorant and so lethargic in your hearts to believe the prophets you say you trust and all they have spoken. Were not these things necessarily part of what the Christ had to suffer before entering into his glory?"
Jesus asks them, point blank: "Have you really, after all that has happened, and after all that you have been taught, really believed what the prophets have said?"
And so they prevailed upon Him to visit and share an evening meal, bringing the day to a close. We don’t read of their families sitting down and joining with them as they shared the meal with this Stranger. They offered him hospitality but He presided over the simple meal He shared with them.
I do not know how to properly understand the word [ἄφαντος] that is translated as “vanished” or “taken out of sight”. This Resurrected Person, the Lord Jesus, is beyond the grasp of those He meets, even when He meets them face-to-face, shaking hands, breathing the same air, eating the same food.
So Luke write his Gospel about this Messiah who was crucified, who was raised and then ascends to God’s Right Hand. Luke begins his narrative by telling his friend Theophilus why his faith in the Resurrected is well-attested by reliable eye-witnesses who met Jesus before his ascension. His Gospel is no appeal to him (or us) to believe in magic, to conjure up a “resurrection-moment” in our own imagination even if he invites us to share in this profound and life-changing mystery. Luke even says that the women believed He had risen without first seeing Him face to face.
Luke is reporting to Theophilus how the disciples came to believe, before the occasion he goes on to describe at the end of his Gospel and at the beginning of Acts, his second book: "And that was it. Then He had gone.”
And so we might well reflect on what “that” (in my above transliteration) means in this instance.
As with much story-telling a “that was it” is as much a recognition of limits - as in “and that is the end of the story” as it is also referring to what had happened and how what had happened had a finish. “That was it” refers to the limits of the evidence given by firsthand witnesses and Luke tries to capture the lot by finishing it off in the same:
"And that was it. Then He had gone".
How does anyone, whether a writer of a Gospel, or a Christian in daily life, convey a resurrection? Luke conveys the resurrection in ways that are not all that different from how we live these days as those who confess before God that we have been blessed by the same Jesus and his being raised from the grave.
We go on to confess that this is the inaugural resurrection, from which our own, in God’s good time, will follow.
In retrospect, we read how they lived in the conviction that something enormous, something incredible, something… how is one to ever talk about it? Is it not like creation itself - something that is so self-evident that it cannot be grasped or explained. Our grasping and our explanation can only presuppose it in human weakness. But once confessed, we might say, a whole new world opens up … God's creational purposes for what he has made and now in Christ redeemed become intensely palpable. We taste and see that the Lord is good, so good. We begin to get an aroma, an intimation, an anticipation, of what the first chapters of the Bible are trying to tell us about God’s own Sabbatical satisfaction with His work: “And God saw all that he had made and behold it was very good.”
There have been disbelieving and unbelieving attempts to reduce the account of Luke (and the other Gospels) to a cognitive dissonance presuming that the discovery of such a human propensity (of cognitive dissonance) is the explanation of the resurrection and all else in our human life. It is no such thing. Luke’s account puts it exactly the other way around. It might better be said that Luke’s account tells us that the disciples who met Jesus face-to-face after His resurrection, found they were being addressed with great kindness and mercy, even as they were unable to bring themselves to believe.
Faith is not self-generated; it is drawn from us by God making Himself known. It is the gift of God. Luke tells Theophilus that Jesus’ resurrection is for all the world, a new birth for all - male and female image-bearers , men and women, boys and girls and also for all who are simply deep down uncertain of who they are. The response then, as it has been subsequently, is what Luke said: "a joyous moment, a moment so unbelievable, in which He was happy to share a fish meal with them". An intimation of God’s Sabbatical joy.