By The Rev. A. Patrick Funston, Canon to the Ordinary
And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?”
He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive.”
– Luke 24:17-23
On Easter Day, we rejoice with the disciples as they learn of Jesus’ resurrection. We marvel at what God has done in transforming despair into joy.
After Easter Day, we journey with Christ and his disciples in those last few weeks before his ascension. Jesus takes advantage of these final weeks with his followers before he assumes the throne prepared by his Father.
Whether Jesus appears in an upper room, on the beach by the sea, or on a mountain, Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances have the patina of finality to them, of Jesus’ need to hand on a few final things as they take his message out to the world. Among my favorite of these stories is Jesus’ appearance on the Road to Emmaus. We find this well-known story in Luke 24.
Two disciples are traveling on the road talking about the events of Holy Week and the rumors of Christ’s resurrection. As they go, “Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.”
He speaks with them and works to connect the rumors to the Biblical witness; of course, they are amazed. When they arrive at their destination, they break bread with Jesus and suddenly they realize it is him, just before he literally vanishes. “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road?” they say to one another.
As Christ transitions from his earthly life, his appearances invite his followers to make their own transition from followers to leaders with the knowledge that his Spirit will remain with them. The Emmaus story reminds us of two things:
Amazing things happen when we discuss our faith openly and connect our experiences with the stories of the bible and the lives of the saints from past and present.
Jesus’ presence sometimes feels like nothing more than a bit of heartburn; in other words, Jesus is with us all the time. It’s on us to realize he’s here.
As we move through this Easter Season and emerge this summer from our own “tombs” of COVID isolation and estrangement, I pray that we celebrate our faith in public, sharing our doubts and joys with each other.
I also pray that we pay attention to that feeling of “there’s something happening here,” and name it for what it is: Christ reminding us that he is with us, in friend and in stranger.