The couple on the road in the story which we’ve just heard were probably husband and wife, Cleopas and Mary; and they were followers of Jesus. Perhaps they were so distressed at the death of Jesus that they’d decided just to go home, because it was all over.
And then a stranger approached them. They must have thought this stranger might be a spy, and like the rest of Jesus’s followers they were probably in fear for their lives. But maybe they were beyond caring by now, and they just took the opportunity to pour their troubles out.
Perhaps they didn’t recognise Jesus at first, because they didn’t understand the story of how God was going to mend the world and its people through the death and suffering of himself in the person of his Son. And perhaps St. Luke is telling us in this story, that we can only recognise Jesus when we’ve learned to see him within the true story of just how God has mended the world.
That’s why we need to ask him, through our prayers, to explain the scriptures to us. That’s why we need to listen to his voice in scripture, maybe in the quiet of our own minds, or through the words or writings of someone else. And then, our hearts like the hearts of these two travellers, will burn within us as we approach the place where we too, will meet him face to face.
Cleopas and Mary must have shared meals with Jesus before he was killed, and his actions at supper were probably typical of the way in which he’d always broken bread with his friends.
And now, in the first meal of the new creation, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to them.
It was as he did this, in his customary way, that their eyes were opened and they recognised him.
At the same time, they recognised that death had been defeated. God’s new creation, brimming with life and joy had burst in upon the world.
Jesus had gone through death and out the other side into a new world. His body was still physical but was somehow transformed. It is a mystery which we shan’t understand until we share the same risen life; but a mystery, which by faith, we can live in now.
And like Cleopas and Mary, we too are invited to know Jesus in the breaking of bread. We too, are invited to meet him in this simple meal which quickly became the central action of his followers. Like them, we will discover him living with and in us, through this sharing of bread.
And we must never attempt to separate the meal from the scripture. Today’s gospel reading teaches us this. Sacrament and word are joined tightly together and Jesus is only truly known when it is so. This was the experience of our two travellers, and this has been the experience of the followers of Jesus down through the ages.
When we take scripture away, the sacrament becomes a piece of magic. When we take the sacrament away, scripture becomes an intellectual exercise with very little to do with real life. So, the word is made clear through the sacrament; and the sacrament is the fulfilment of the word. In order for there to be any sense we have to hold them together.
Jesus has lead God’s new people out of slavery and is inviting them to travel with him on the new journey to the Promised Land. The road to Emmaus is just the beginning. Hearing the voice of Jesus in scripture and knowing him in the breaking of bread is the way.
We’ve been welcomed to God’s new world, and it’s as we live within the story, that God feeds us with his very self as food for the journey home. Bread which has to be broken before it can be shared. Amen.