God, thank you for the Lord Jesus Christ, who emptied himself for us, was crucified in weakness, and rose again in power. Thank you for the hope of Easter, and the assurance that evil never has the last word. As we study the Scriptures together, may our hearts burn within us as we hear of Christ; and may he make himself known to us in our thinking, our listening and our prayers.
Paul’s letter to the Philippians includes what might well have been a hymn used by the early Church, which sings the praise of Jesus who ’emptied himself’ but whom God ‘highly exalted’ and ‘bestowed on him the name that is above every name’. It was sung by people who knew the resurrection story and believed it.
The disciples on the Road to Emmaus are in a different place. Their story comes just after the women have seen the angels at the tomb, and before Jesus appears to the rest of the disciples. Unlike these others, they have no evidence, and no certainty that Jesus is alive – in fact, as far as they know, he isn’t.
These two – perhaps they were a married couple? – were just ordinary believers, not part of the inner circle. Jesus joins them and walks along with them, as any traveller might do.
One of the mysteries of the story is why they didn’t recognise him, when the disciples later seem to have had no problem doing so; verse 16 tells us that they were ‘kept from recognising him.
And perhaps this is the point: these two are very like us. Like us, and unlike the women and the apostles, they hadn’t seen the risen Christ face to face, or at least they thought they hadn’t. But they could see how the Scriptures pointed to him as he explained them, as a living and powerful experience: ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?’, they asked. And he was known to them in the breaking of the bread, as he’s so often known to believers today in our communion meal. So perhaps that resurrection encounter is Luke’s way of putting what Jesus says to Thomas in John’s Gospel: ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’
The resurrection of Jesus is the most direct challenge to hopelessness anyone could imagine. Death is absolutely final. While it may sometimes come as a release, it is still an enemy. Usually we manage not to think about death too much; during the coronavirus crisis, we’ve been forced to confront our own mortality. But as well as the death of the body, there are other deaths too: friendships, marriages, careers all sometimes die; sometimes we go through sad, sad times, and hope dies. But the resurrection of Jesus tells us that death, after all, is not the last word.
1. Why do you think the disciples didn’t recognise Jesus?
2. What stands out for you in this story? It might be something that challenges you, inspires you or confuses you.
3. Is it always possible to hope, or do we just sometimes have to accept the inevitable?
4. What might the resurrection of Jesus mean to someone facing hardship or trials?
5. How easy is it to speak of resurrection in today’s world?
6. Can you share examples of ‘resurrection’ in your own life?
Perhaps we struggle with the idea of resurrection because our belief in death is stronger than our belief in God. When we feel our hearts burning within us as we encounter Christ in the Scriptures, or when he’s known to us in the breaking of bread, we’re turning from death to new life.