…He walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us…’ [28-32]
We can’t help wishing that Luke would have told us something of what the stranger said as he opened the scriptures to them, but he doesn’t. Instead he has him walking ahead, as if to go on, and the disciples begging him to stay. And that really takes us to the heart of what this Gospel is about. The disciples don’t want the conversation to end, while we may feel we are still waiting for it to begin: and the point being made by Luke is that it is not ‘a conversation’ so much as a process that continues, only in a way that neither they nor we could have expected.
‘So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took bread, blessed it and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognised him…’ The conversation continues now not in words but in action. Up until this moment they have been listening to a stranger who has slowly been opening their understanding, and stirring their memories. But it is only when he does something when they are at table with him—he takes bread, blesses it, breaks it and gives it to them—that their eyes are suddenly opened and they recognise him in what he has just done. His presence is revealed, and will always be revealed, in the breaking of the bread, in the celebration of Eucharist.
And significantly, no sooner do they recognise him than he ‘dis-appears’: they no longer see him but they know he is present with them. They had begun to sense his presence while they listened to his Word [Were not our hearts burning within us…?], and now in the action of breaking and sharing bread it dawns on them: he is here, This is my body…Do this…
And just as suddenly as they realise this he ‘dis-appears’, at the very moment when they do see and fully grasp what has happened. And yet they are not in the least disturbed when they can no longer see him, because they now know that though he died he is alive in a new way, and they also have been brought back to life, this new life: seeing with new eyes, and driven by a new energy. And they waste no time: That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem.
What is this like for us today?
Perhaps there are two lessons—or really one lesson in two stages—that we can learn from this ‘Station’ as we try to connect it with our own experience.
- Our first need is often to talk and listen to one another, read, discuss, argue…but in the end we want to move to action: what are we going to do? And that could be what would make us press the stranger to stay with us…talk to us a bit more, help us not just to understand but to see a way forward.
- The stranger does stay, but what he now does is to bring words and action together in a powerful symbolic act—the breaking of the bread—which they recognised, and immediately also recognised him. But there is a crucial difference: they now grasp the meaning of the action and recognise in the breaking of the bread the acting out—or better, the living out—of the Word he had been explaining to them: This is my body, this is what I have done and now do again here for you and with you, so that you may continue to do the same, take this bread/my body and do/live for others as I do for you.