New Creation Project
In some ways it seems unfair. After all, in the first century there were people who actually saw the resurrected Jesus. They touched him. They heard him. They knew first-hand that he was not a ghost or an apparition, but rather, a remade flesh and blood body. Of course they believed. How could they help it?
But what about us? We live 20 centuries later, in a scientific and skeptical culture they could never have imagined. How are we supposed to believe? Are we to simply accept it on blind faith?
This isn’t just a problem for us. It has been a stumbling block for every generation since the first eyewitnesses left the scene. It was, in fact, a problem Luke faced when he wrote this gospel.
By the time of his writing, several decades had passed since Jesus’ resurrection. How could current and future generations have the same faith in Jesus’ resurrection as the first witnesses did?
The beautiful story of Jesus’ encounter with the couple on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35) gives us a case study in how we can experience the resurrected Jesus for ourselves. Luke probably chose to tell it in part to encourage future followers of Jesus to be confident in their faith in the resurrection.
As the story unfolds, it is Easter Day, and already the rumors of Jesus’ resurrection have spread throughout his frightened band of followers. Although they “had hoped” Jesus was the Messiah, they were horrified to see him crucified a few days before. Cleopas and his companion (some think it was Mary, his wife: see John 19:25) were traveling toward Emmaus when a stranger joined them. Much to their amazement, during the course of their conversation, they discovered that this person was none other than the resurrected Jesus.
How did these travelers come to recognize Jesus for themselves? Luke tells us that they recognized him through the teaching of the Scriptures, through the Breaking of the Bread, and through the fellowship of the believers. Let’s consider these in order, and see how we can meet Jesus just like they did.
In the Teaching of the Scriptures, we meet the Resurrected Jesus
As Jesus opened the Scriptures to them, they were able to see past their preconceived notions and understand more clearly what the Bible really said about the coming Messiah. They discovered many misconceptions which Jesus corrected by his patient exposition of “Moses and all the Prophets.” The truth of who Jesus was, and how Jesus fit into God’s epic story of redemption, began to make sense, and their hearts “burned” as they reflected on it.
Similarly, as we sit under the gifted teaching of the Scriptures, we become increasingly convinced of the truth of the biblical witness. We find ourselves drawn in by the Jesus story. Our own misconceptions about life are transformed. We begin to see Jesus for ourselves, and our hearts “burn” with fresh understanding.
In the Breaking of the Bread, we meet the Resurrected Jesus
In addition, when Jesus broke bread with them, a profound change occurred in their hearts and minds. This is the moment they recognized the resurrected Jesus among them. And when did it happen? “In the breaking of the bread,” an obvious reference to the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper.
In the same way, contemporary followers of Jesus are able to experience the real presence of Jesus in the sharing of the bread and cup. As we take in these symbols of Jesus’ body and blood, the living Christ becomes real to us. We understand that his death, his burial and his resurrection, were accomplished to bring us forgiveness, and the assurance of new creation beyond the grave.
In the Fellowship of the Believers, we meet the Resurrected Jesus
As soon as Cleopas and his companion recognized Jesus, he vanished from their sight. What did they do next? They returned to Jerusalem so they could add their story to the others that were growing among them. As they did this, once again, the resurrected Jesus appeared among them.
Likewise, generations of believers have gathered together in cathedrals and catacombs — and under “canvas” outside a saloon! — to hear and tell the stories of their experience of the resurrected Christ. In these gatherings the stories of Jesus’ presence in our lives builds our faith and the faith of others who hear and share these stories.
So it is that the reality of the risen Jesus continues to be experienced in every generation of believers. As we sit under the teaching of Scripture, share in the Breaking of Bread, and participate in the life of the community our hearts burn hot with faith, our eyes are opened to the truth, and our Risen Lord continues to reveal himself to us. The church is, after all, the Body of Christ.
Lord Jesus, thank you for revealing yourself to every generation through your church — through your ecclesia. Help me to experience you anew in your Word, in your Table, and through your Body.