The picture above shows two modern travelers making their way through some rough, desert-like terrain. If you imagine them in long robes and squint a bit, this is probably pretty close to how the two disciples looked, as they made their way to Emmaus. This Biblical story has been on my mind lately, since it was one of the Mass readings this week, post Easter.
The big question that everyone always asks about the Emmaus story is "Why didn't the two disciples recognize Jesus?" I once heard a well known Scripture scholar ask this exact question at a conference. She was giving the keynote address, and I thought she had many wise and true insights to share. But, she mentioned that the disciples' lack of ability to recognize Jesus had always bothered her. After all, they had spent a few years with Jesus. How could they not recongize someone they had spent so much time with? Was he that changed, after the resurrection? Her answer was to say that the disciples simply could not recognize Jesus because they couldn't fathom the possibility of the resurrection. I think that could certainly be true. I've heard other folk say that the disciples didn't recognize Jesus because he was so transformed in glory he was impossible to recognize.
I think the answer is more simple that that. After his resurrection, whenever Jesus IS recognized, it is almost always in the breaking of the bread. In fact, I like to read the Emmaus story out loud to the families at our sessions and I stop at verse 31:
And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight. (Luke 24: 30-31).
"Where did Jesus go?" I ask. "I'll give you a hint. He is still in the room." I love to watch the young children especially. They turn to mom or dad, eyes wide, and say "Where is he?" The answer is pretty obvious, once it's pointed out. Jesus has not left. He is now fully present in the form of bread and wine, just as we proclaim at every Mass. It seems, then, that the reason the two disciples didn't recognize Jesus on the road to Emmaus is that, post resurrection, Jesus will be fully present sacramentally. He is no longer only Jesus of Nazareth, the wandering preacher with a small band of followers, even though we understand he has always been the Son of God. Jesus has changed from being confined to a single place and point in time (i.e. a very small and local area of Judea, circa 33AD) to being able to go everywhere and all times, carried through time and space by his diciples, who become moving temples. Yes, this form is unexpected, especially to those of us outside of Judaism since we don't have the tradition of the Passover meal handed down, generation to generation. And certainly, it was completely unexpected. But, it also makes sense if you follow all the other covenants that God made in the Old Testament. In fact, the divinization of that little bit of wheat and those few grapes points to the ultimate end of the entire universe, when God will be "all in all" and those who follow in the path of discipleship will enter the Kingdom of God.
It's a lot to take in, really. I like to say it's "profoundly simple." Something to ponder, this Easter season.