EMMAUS: Duane W.H. Arnold PhD
I’ve often been fascinated by the story of Christ on the road to Emmaus. It seems like something that you would see in some short Indie film. The storyboard almost appears before you as you read. There are two men walking on a lonely road. They’re talking about the recent murder of their friend.
Suddenly they are joined by a mysterious companion who just seems to join them as they walk. There seems to be a rambling dialogue that moves from despair to excitement and finally to understanding. The scene stops as darkness falls and the travelers urge the mysterious companion to stay and share a meal. Then comes the climax of the story – Christ is revealed to them in the breaking of bread.
Yet, I think we would be mistaken to simply regard this as a unique literary device. It seems to me that this is merely the crowning jewel of the Gospel of Luke and, if seen in isolation, we might miss its true significance in its relationship to the rest of the book. Let me explain. Luke’s Gospel begins with worship. We have the short story of Zachariah in the Temple awaiting the consolation of Israel. Likewise, Luke’s Gospel ends with worship. Christ blesses the two travelers and they return to the Temple praising God and giving thanks. In my mind, it is the story of Christ on the Emmaus road that provides the final and most important link between the beginning and the end. You see, whereas the other gospel accounts present the birth, life, passion, death and resurrection as stupendous, staggering and almost unimaginable events, Luke tells the story in a different manner. Luke puts all the events into God’s plan for history. The stories themselves are incarnational – short stories, events that become part of our story, our history. All was once mysterious, but on the road to Emmaus it’s all explained, “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?”. There is a plan – one that we can know and understand. It is a plan that belongs to God but has now been made real to us.
For Luke, history and theology are made one and take on a physical form in the person of the resurrected Christ. A plan, set out before the foundations of the earth, hidden in ages past is now so understandable that it can be known. It can be known even by two sorrowful and confused men on a dusty county road in the backwater Roman province of Judea. You see, in the resurrection, history – both human and divine – has taken on a new shape. What was once mysterious and unbelievable is now natural. The risen Christ now, in some sense , belongs to the historical order for the events of his life took place in history. In his life, death and resurrection he does not touch the world at some spiritual tangent, but faces it squarely in flesh and blood and bone – “Handle me and see…”. What he did had eternal significance, yet it was done in the physical realm of human history.
I’ve always found it interesting that in this “short film” of the story of Emmaus, the film does not end by Christ revealing himself in conversation… in talk… in theological debate. The film ends with fellowship, in a room, at a table, in an act of worship, in the breaking of bread, and, only then, in the recognition of Christ. It is full circle. We are back with Zechariah in the Temple praying in hope for the messiah. Now, however, it is a new temple and at its center is Christ in the broken bread. It has become one story, one piece, a seamless robe which cannot be torn.
The story has been revealed. Yet, we must remember, the story does not end in words. Like the travelers on the road, our part in that story should also end in fellowship, in a room, in worship, in the breaking of bread, in the presence of Christ.
Welcome to church.