Sunday, April 06, 2008
On to Emmaus
What is happening on the road to Emmaus? It is a question that puzzles many a Christian. It is curious because the two Emmaus disciples seem to have lost hope. Their words to the "stranger" on the road seem to be words of despair, despondence, and finality. "But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, today is the third day since these things happened. "
In addition, the two disciples do point out to the "stranger" on the road that even the women at the tomb had reported that they had seen a vision of angels at the tomb who testified that Jesus was alive (St. Luke 24:23). If that wasn't enough they even add that a couple of the disciples went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said (verse 24). It should add credence to these disciples that the disciples who went to the tomb to check it out were even "those were with us," part of the "twelve disciples," meaning St. Peter.
St. Luke even reminds the church that Jesus had prophesied of His death. The angels remind the women at the tomb (St. Luke 24:6-7) [see St. Luke 9:22]. Again, in St. Luke 24:44 [see St. Luke 17:22]. And, the most obvious of all is that this stranger, who was supposedly ignorant of who Jesus was, begins to preach the Old Testament in a Christological way.
Back to the question--"What is happening on the road to Emmaus?" More to the point, what is wrong with the Emmaus disciples? Why does it say in St. Luke 24:16 that "their eyes were restrained, so that they did not know Him"? The eyes could be their physical eyes so that they do not recognize the appearance of Jesus. But what about His teaching? A Rabbi has a distinct way of teaching and a Rabbi's disciples know him well. After all, disciples not only learned the information from their Rabbi, but they learned how to speak like their Rabbi. They should have known Jesus.
So, are the eyes that cannot see considered to be their eyes of faith? And, more to the point, is it their own sin that prevents them from recognizing their Lord? Critical to the proper meaning of this account, is verse 16. The Greek verb for the "restraining" of the eyes is krateo, which means "to seize." What is important about this verb is that it is in the imperfect tense and the voice is passive voice. This "seizing of the eyes" is being done *to them.* It is not their own doing. The action is coming from someone else, in this case, Jesus. Jesus "seizes" their eyes of faith and understanding in order that the church catholic may be taught something valuable. Ironically, the disciples even hint at this, unbeknownst to them. In describing Jesus to the "stranger" they say of Jesus that He was "a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people." St. Luke likes this emphasis on Jesus' "deeds" and "words."
Its catechetical. We are not just a church that studies words. We live and breathe in a distinct way and Jesus taught the church how to live as well as how to confess--orthodoxy and orthopraxis (right confession and right practice). (Incidentally, we see this in Acts 1:1 as St. Luke points out to Theophilus, "The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach.") St. Luke is telling us that his gospel is an accounting of Christ's teaching and practice. This informs us as to what is happening in the Emmaus account.
Jesus has seized the eyes of the disciples on the road in order to encourage them as He teaches them how to practice the faith in the midst of the realities of His resurrection. The very fact that Jesus sits at table with the Emmaus disciples and we are told that "He sat at the table with them, took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them" is the example of "orthopraxis." The disciples are losing their grip and Jesus needs to redirect them into what is the new practice of the church--the Eucharist.
It is during the Eucharist that Jesus serves them and their eyes are opened up and they see Him. He is reminding them of the institution of the Eucharist in the upper room just before His arrest. There was a reason that He instituted the Eucharist. It was to be the way that the church would come face to face with Jesus in the post-resurrection, New Testament church. Jesus, the teacher, teaches the church how to practice.
They caught on because we hear in Acts 20:7 that "on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight." Again, the verb for gathering together is important. It is a participle, denoting continued action and emphasizing the customary nature of breaking bread on the first day of the week.
What does the first day of the week symbolize in the church? If you guessed the day of the resurrection, then you are correct. All of these things come together. The promise of the resurrection, the distinct way that Christians behave, and the Holy Eucharist are all connected.
It makes sense, then, that if we were asked what does it mean to be a Christian, then in Emmaus fashion, we would reply simply--"What does it mean to be a Christian? To go to the Holy Eucharist."