In the Lucan recounting of the events of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus, our story occurs on the evening of Easter Sunday. The women have found the tomb empty, there have been encounters with the Resurrected Jesus, and the news is spreading among the small group of faithful. But not all have heard – not the two disciples on the “Road to Emmaus” (24:17) – yesterday’s gospel. The first verse of today’s gospel more traditionally belongs to the story of the disciple encountering Jesus on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24:13-35). Let us pick up the ending of that story:
30 And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. 31 With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight. 32 Then they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning (within us) while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?” 33 So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the eleven and those with them 34 who were saying, “The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
Now they have made the long trek back to Jerusalem, found the community gathered in the upper room, and shared their encounter. While they were still speaking about this, [Jesus] stood in their midst.”
If the reality of Jesus’ spiritual presence in the church was emphasized in the preceding narrative, the physical reality of his resurrection body is emphasized here. From the earliest times in the church, there was a danger of docetism, the heretical belief that Jesus was God behind a thin veneer of humanity: thus his suffering was only playacting, and his resurrection was simply a return to a completely spiritual existence with no bodily effect. The Letters of John combated this error (1 John 4:2–3; 2 John 7). The present narrative stresses that Jesus’ resurrection body is real and not simply a resuscitated corpse. The disciples touch him; the marks of the passion are visible in his hands and feet; he eats with the disciples – even as he as simply appeared among them. Luke is making the point that this Resurrection is beyond any category of Greek or Hellenistic thought. There is something new afoot.
There is good reason to review the “Road to Emmaus” account in order to note the parallels between the back-to-back Lucan accounts. Each in its own way is a story of the growth in faith as the disciples experience: