What is striking about the Emmaus story is the intimacy it evokes – here is a ‘stranger’ who is a good listener – sometimes it’s easier to talk to a stranger about what agitates us – who enables the two travellers to explain why they are ‘downcast’ – he gets them to share their hopes and shattered dreams – and then he offers them a new way of looking at their grief from their own spiritual resources. He helps them to a fresh vision from their own ‘scriptures’, and through them to see their knowledge of Christ in a new way. In doing this he manages to ‘set their hearts on fire’ … with a new hope a new sense of meaning …..
In all this he does not ‘force’ his presence on them … he allows them to realise that they would like his company, so it is they who do the inviting, they are the ones who ask him to ‘stay with them’.
And it is in that context of welcome and acceptance, in ‘the breaking of bread’ that the ‘stranger’ is revealed to them as the risen Jesus.
I think it is significant that Luke gave us the name of one of these ‘hosts’ of Jesus. Cleopas is an ‘eye-witness’, one of those “eye-witnesses and ministers of the word”(Lk.1:2) who preceded Luke in his writing of the gospel and from whom he learned so much.
The importance of identifying the eye-witness in this case is that he must have been well-known, known as the source of this story, deemed to be reliable, and perhaps still available to tell his own story.
Why did the risen Jesus select this couple to receive his self-revelation as risen ? For the same reason he chose Mary of Magdala, or Simon or the Eleven or Thomas … they were key members of his group of disciples and supporters and would be influential in handing on the gospel from their very personal knowledge and experience. They are personal witnesses.
One can see the nature of the dynamic in the story itself. Even if they were downcast, this was only because of the deep level of hope they had placed in Jesus. All they now needed was a fuller clarification of Jesus’ own interpretation of his life and ministry from the Hebrew Scriptures … a key source of meaning for them as faithful Jews.
As it turned out Cleopas and his companion told their story so well that it has come down as one of the most moving and brilliant of all the Easter stories!
It was such a story of real honest sharing, of openness about loss and grief and doubt, but also about hope and a faith that even if it gets lost for a while, is still sought after.
It is a story about deep listening – probing the scriptures, being enlightened by them – sharing the message together as community. It is also of course about a shared meal, the Eucharist as encounter with the risen Lord.
It is a reminder to us that real Eucharist is always about this kind of deep sharing of our longings and losses and hopes with the Lord who offers to be always with us. Even when, or maybe especially when, we don’t recognise him as present !
It is also a story of the need to share the good news of our encounter with Christ – others need to know – so that they too may meet him.
It’s as these two disciples are sharing their story with the ‘Eleven’ and the rest that the risen Jesus appears to them all together (Lk.24:35 ff.).