The Gospel of Luke records one of the most endearing resurrection narratives of the Christian Scriptures, the story of Jesus' appearance to Cleopas and his wife as they make their way to their home in Emmaus.
Because we have lived with the truth of the resurrection for nigh onto two thousand years, modern day Christians might have lost the sense of the mood of that day without this story. These two are met by a stranger as they make their way away from Jerusalem. Emmaus lies to the east of Jerusalem; so these two are moving into the darkness as the evening hours descend upon them. The Gospel records that they had been hoping that Jesus was the Messiah. The evangelist also reports that they are astounded by the news of the day; namely, the tomb is now empty.
All of these details tell us that Cleopas and his wife have given way to doubt, to disillusionment. While they walk toward the darkness of the east, they are also walking toward the darkness metaphorically. Instead of staying in Jerusalem, they have decided to return to their home and continue their search for a Messiah. Their hopes have not been founded on faith; for while they had hoped, they do not believe. While they are astounded by the vision of the angels at the tomb, this news is too much for them to accept.
The rest of the story records that they spend time discussing the Scriptures and finally breaking bread together. In the course of these two actions, their eyes were opened. They were now able to recognize Jesus. They reverse their course and go back to Jerusalem, traveling toward the light once again. Once they arrive in Jerusalem, they announce the Good News to the disciples.
By way of this story, St. Luke records the gradual development of the community's faith in the Resurrection. Their faith grew out of their experience, out of reflection on the Scriptures, and out of the Eucharist. As the community spent time with the Scriptures, they began to recognize the fact that all of the events of Jesus' passion, death and resurrection were not only expected, they were required. They came to view their history in a different way. The Gospel records that their eyes were opened while at supper with the stranger. The eyes of faith have replaced the doubts and fears.
The story works on two levels. Not only does it record the experience of the disciples on that first Easter morning, it also records the experience of the community as it comes to grips with their expectations. Remember that throughout the Gospel, especially the Gospel of Luke which begins with the three canticles that find their basis in the Hebrew Scriptures, their expectations of the Messiah were constantly challenged by Jesus. They had to come to view God, their history, their very selves in a different light. They were evangelized. Now they turn to evangelize others.
Reading and praying with the Scriptures is so very important for all of us. Like Cleopas and his wife, our eyes are opened as we pore over the words of the evangelists. With both faith and hope, we are challenged to continue the work of spreading the Good News.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator