While Jesus' disciples were talking about what had happened, Jesus appeared and greeted them. They were frightened and terrified because they thought they were seeing a ghost. But Jesus said, “Why are you so frightened? Why do you doubt? Look at my hands and my feet and see who I am! Touch me and find out for yourselves. Ghosts don’t have flesh and bones as you see I have.” After Jesus said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. The disciples were so glad and amazed that they could not believe it. Jesus then asked them, “Do you have something to eat?” They gave him a piece of baked fish. He took it and ate it as they watched. Jesus said to them, “While I was still with you, I told you that everything written about me in the Law of Moses, the Books of the Prophets, and in the Psalms[a] had to happen.” Then he helped them understand the Scriptures. He told them: The Scriptures say that the Messiah must suffer, then three days later he will rise from death. They also say that all people of every nation must be told in my name to turn to God, in order to be forgiven. So beginning in Jerusalem, you must tell everything that has happened.
As a background to this passage, Luke 24:13-35 is helpful. Initially, the Emmaus disciples "did not know who [Jesus} was." Or, in the NRSV, "their eyes were kept from recognizing him." The link between unbelief and faith, between not knowing Jesus, and recognition, is the proclamation provided by Jesus about himself: "'Didn’t you know that the Messiah would have to suffer before he was given his glory?' Jesus then explained everything written about himself in the Scriptures, beginning with the Law of Moses and the Books of the Prophets." Luke 24:26-27 Eyes are not opened and Jesus is not fully recognized until Jesus breaks bread with them. However, the beginning of that faith is found in Jesus' explanation about the Christ: "They said to each other, 'When he talked with us along the road and explained the Scriptures to us, didn’t it warm our hearts?'" Luke 24:37 The Emmaus disciples return to the city, to tell the Jerusalem 11 of their encounter with the living Christ.
Important elements of this story are repeated in the Gospel for this Sunday, Easter 3. Jesus appears to them 1) like a unrecognizable stranger or ghost 2) a person with physical characteristics- such as one who eats with them 3) a teacher who proclaims the faith. Today's Gospel also hinges on Jesus helping them to "understand the Scriptures."
Seeing and touching the wounds of his suffering identify Jesus Christ. Still, after all the visible signs are displayed, seeing, even touching, is not equivalent to believing. Why would the proclamation about Jesus be necessary for the disciples to understand that Christ is Messiah? By itself, an appearance of Jesus, however, physically stunning, does not bring faith. Important, if not essential, is hearing and understanding the proclamation of Jesus Christ, Messiah and Lord. Recall the dialogue between Phillip and the Ethiopian Eunuch in Luke's second volume, Acts. In Acts 8, Phillip asked "Do you understand what you are reading?" He replied, "How can I, unless, someone guides me?"
How can we make sense of this passage? By the time Luke is written, Paul's Epistles and Mark's Gospel are probably available to the writer. Christian teachers and missionaries have already been proclaiming the Gospel. Luke's proclamation relies on decades of reflection on Easter and the Scripture of Torah, Prophets and Writings. Resurrection and Scripture exist in dialogue. Without the fruit of reflection- understanding, illumination, recognition- the appearance of the risen Christ does not remove disbelief and wondering. Eyes remain closed.
Luke ends his Gospel with Jesus' proclamation, and he invites us to be hearers too, but also, bearers of the proclamation: that the Jesus whom they followed for three years, was also the Christ who suffered and on the third day, rose from dead. Repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem. This is the kerygma of Luke and the church.
Like the disciples, many today struggle to believe-in the material, literal sense- the account of Jesus living again in flesh and bone. But Easter is finally proclaimed as faith and trust, not certainty. Regardless of how we describe the resurrection body, whether a physical-chemical like substance, or a spiritual body, what would prevent us from exploring its deeper meaning for our present life in Christ? Being in Christ means we frame our lives, in all of the messy details, by Christ's suffering, death, and resurrection. We share in Christ's suffering, death, and resurrection. We are invited to "know" Christ, in his passion, death and resurrection- and in his proclamation.
Is Christ alive in the limitations of skin and bone cells? If that is our belief, we can continue to explore the meaning of the resurrection. We don't have to try, by ascent, to believe in what we cannot. What is Easter's meaning in the long haul of discipleship? Luke invites us to discover that faith in Christ can be- must be- both sustaining and sustainable. This may lead us, by God's grace, to surrender our prejudgments about resurrection- to God. We can let God in Jesus Christ remake and refresh us, wherever we are.
I wonder if the parable that Jesus tells in Luke 8 is informative here, in the sense that it comes in light of Jesus' passion, death and resurrection. It's about how the soil can sustain or fail to sustain a seed in its continuing growth. How is proclamation of the word of Christ being received? Notice how joy can lead to believing "only for a while" while good soil sustains "patient endurance."
"‘Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones on the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. The ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe only for a while and in a time of testing fall away. As for what fell among the thorns, these are the ones who hear; but as they go on their way, they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. But as for that in the good soil, these are the ones who, when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance." Luke 8:11-15 NRSV