Why are Cleopas and his companion heading for Emmaus? Are they beckoned by the promise of home, or driven by the fear of violence and death in Jerusalem? They are clearly disciples of the Galilean rabbi whose teaching and practice led to his execution. It would not be unreasonable for them to imagine that some part of the violence that landed on him might land on them as well. And if it is fear that drives them, the astounding witness of the women that they repeat to the stranger on the road has not yet sunk in.
Because the resurrection is, among other things, a compelling invitation to repent of the authority of fear in our lives, authority that we have granted. The resurrection unmasks that of which we have been so afraid – the power of death – as, in the end, empty, an empty tomb, a broken bondage. The resurrection does not obliterate the cost of our living as soft bodies in a hard world. It does, however, disclose the limit of death’s power. It invites us to see and know that death lays no claim on us that love cannot overcome. The death of Jesus is indeed, then, a ransom for many. It ends our captivity to the power of death, and invites us to live as free persons.
But Cleopas and companion do not know that yet. They are “heading for the hills”, hearts broken by the apparent power of death to end hope (“we had hoped”) by destroying him whose life and witness was the occasion for their hope. Jesus is dead. Life is deadly. We’re safer knowing that and acting accordingly.
And then – then the stranger takes the bread, blesses, breaks and shares it. In some ways, this is the first eucharist. The meal on Thursday took place before the death had unleashed its full arsenal of violence on Jesus’ body. This takes place as a response to that violence, denies it the authority it seeks. What was alive in our midst as Jesus before his death is alive in our midst as Jesus after his death. Something more powerful than death is at play when in our midst bread is taken, blessed, broken, and shared. All the power of death unleashed across all of created time and space is smaller than the thing we do together this morning. Smaller, because in this eucharist we join our doing to God’s doing, our imperfect offertory to God’s perfect self-offering in Jesus, our bounded love to God’s unbounded love.
And all the power of death unleashed across all created time and space is smaller than any action by which any creature participates in any way in God’s work of love. We do not measure here by any scale other than the mysterious scale of the Spirit, in which love is love, never more, and never less.
So Cleopas and his companion repent of fear, turning from a trajectory into which death and fear have driven them, to a trajectory into which the Spirit invites them, the trajectory that leads them back into the community in Jerusalem, a community with a story to tell, a community that will proclaim and enact that story, albeit imperfectly, from that day until this. A community in which we are members by baptism, and into whose witness are woven our kindness, love, and courage, never more, and never less.
So, to quote Bruce Cockburn’s closing line in his haunting “Mystery”,
“Come all you stumblers who believe love rules. Stand up and let it shine.”