Receiving Jesus

On the first Easter Sunday, two disciples of Jesus are walking on the road to Emmaus. We don’t know much about these traveling companions, except that one is named Cleopas, and he is discussing the events that had taken place in Jerusalem in the preceding days that led to the public execution of their teacher.

We might imagine, based on the fact that they are disciples traveling as a pair, that they were part of the 72 that Jesus sent out two-by-two to proclaim the nearness of the kingdom of God.

Among the instructions that Jesus gave to this group of 72 were the dual charges to eat whatever was set before them and to remain in the house of those who welcomed them in (Luke 10:7-8).  Aware of the vulnerable posture that his followers would assume should they heed these directives, Jesus tells them that he is sending them out as lambs among wolves.

If the two disciples on the road to Emmaus were indeed among those whom Jesus had sent out, they were accustomed to being completely beholden to the kindness of strangers. Whether these strangers extended hospitality or shut them out, the disciples were forced to trust people whom they had never met for their daily bread.

These two disciples know the harshness of needs unmet and have learned firsthand the value of hospitality. Perhaps it isn’t so surprising, then, that when a stranger joins Cleopas and his companion on the road, they invite him to stay with them.

The surprising thing is what happens next. The stranger, now a guest, takes on the role of host, breaking the bread and handing it to the two disciples. He doesn’t have to say anything, but as he hands them the bread, their eyes are opened to see who the stranger has been all along.

Perhaps the companions, in a moment, are taken back to the hillside where Jesus had fed multitudes.

Or perhaps they see in the breaking of the bread a reenactment of the Passover meal, their memories set free to hear and imagine anew the words of the one whom they had risked everything to trust, “Eat what is set before you.”

With their memories newly attuned in light of the miracle of resurrection, Cleopas and his companion undoubtedly reconsidered what it meant, and would continue to mean, to receive him.

Here is the resurrected Jesus, offering himself in the broken bread to those whose high hopes had fallen flat.

Here he is, torn apart for the sake of those he had sent out as lambs among wolves.

Here he is, taken in by road-weary travelers as sustenance for the journey that they had considered abandoning.

Here he is, having vanished from sight, yet animating those he had joined on the road on the evening of the first Easter, and centuries hence, to go and bear witness to his presence.