This is one of my favorite stories in the Bible because it is filled with important markers we need to understand.
First, it is important to point out that this event occurs on the very day of the Resurrection. The scene begins on verse 13 with the statement, “That very day two of them were going…” So, this is the Sunday of the Resurrection.
Jesus meets some disciples who are walking on the road to a town called Emmaus. We are told that it is seven miles outside of Jerusalem. Therefore, it makes sense that this town would be a stopover place for pilgrims who were leaving Jerusalem after the Passover.
We are told that one of the disciples is “Cleopas”, but do you know who Cleopas was? Turns out, the earliest Christian traditions say he was Joseph’s brother! In other words, Jesus uncle. It seems that Jesus has some interest in getting the news to his family that he was resurrected.
Notice what happens next. The Disciples talk to Jesus but they don’t recognize him. We are told that they were very sad. They are surprised the Jesus doesn’t know about the events that have occurred. Here is the conversation:
19 And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21 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 happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.”
Notice what has happened here, they ALREADY know about the empty tomb but despite being disciples of Jesus and despite seeing that evidence they do not yet understand the implications. Notice, they have already downgraded Jesus from Messiah to “a prophet mighty in deed”.
Their journey continues and they talk of the things that had just happened in Jerusalem (the events that would become the NT), Jesus talks to them of the scriptures. Jesus revels to them what the scriptures mean. Then they break bread. Luke tells us that Jesus “was recognized in the breaking of the bread.”
The road to Emmaus is thus the first Mass ever celebrated after the Resurrection of Jesus. Catholics follow the same pattern in the Mass as Jesus did on the road to Emmaus. If you go to a Catholic Mass you first hear the introductions where we ‘meet Jesus on the road’ of our life. Then we read the Old Testament scriptures. They we read the New Testament scriptures. Then the Priest teachings on the meaning of the scriptures. Then we perform the breaking of the bread. This conversation on the road to Emmaus, together with the Last Supper, is the form of Christian worship that has existed from the beginning and lasted 2,000 years. It was the first substantive thing (that we are aware of) that Jesus did upon his resurrection.
Notice, these disciples return to Jerusalem to tell what has happened but PETER already knows.
33 And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven gathered together and those who were with them, who said, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!”
So the Resurrected Jesus appears first to the woman at the tomb. Remember from our reading that Peter then arrives and see the shroud and believes. Of all the Apostles the Lord appeared first to Peter. This is another indication that Peter is the first, or leader of the Apostles. He is to fulfill the role given to him by Jesus to strengthen his brethren.
Finally, and most importantly, the last line of the story carries with it all of divine revelation. The sentence of this story contains all of the Gospel, all of the Old Testament and all of the New Testament.
35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.
This is what we are supposed to do – tell people what happened and invite them into our homes to make them neighbors and friends. This is love, to tell people about Jesus and feed them when they are hungry. This is Gospel, to preach the good news of the resurrected Jesus Christ and to “do this in memory of me.” There is no mere symbol here, there is a radical encounter with the person of Jesus Christ.