They missed it. He was walking right by their side and they missed it. For the followers of Jesus that first Easter wasn't the celebration it is for us today. They were living the story and they were afraid, disappointed, confused, and beginning to doubt. They didn't have the certainty in the moment that we have now as we benefit from knowing the whole story. Jesus told his followers what was going to happen and the prophets of Israel had predicted everything as it had happened, but they missed it.
In Luke chapter 24, two of Jesus' followers were walking to Emmaus from Jerusalem. As they walked they were talking about everything that happened to Jesus. How could they crucify him? Why didn't he save himself? Was he who he claimed to be? Did he rise from the dead or was his body stolen? Why was this happening? According to the Gospel of Luke, as they were talking Jesus joined them on their journey but God kept them from recognizing him.
The unrecognizable Jesus asked them what they were talking about. They couldn't believe this stranger hadn't heard. One his followers replied with complete disbelief, "Are you the only one in Jerusalem who hasn't heard about what they did to Jesus?"
They tell Jesus everything: his capture, the sentence, and crucifixion. They tell him that two women who followed Jesus reported this morning that they went to his tomb and his body wasn't there. But as they shared this their doubt became obvious and their hope seemed shattered. They said to Jesus, not knowing who he was, "We had hoped he was the Messiah." Then Jesus steps in and responds, "Why are you being so foolish? Is it really so hard to believe? Didn't the prophets predict everything that has happened?" As Jesus explains the scriptures with clarity and confidence the followers feel a burning in their hearts, but they still didn't recognize him.
Maybe God kept them from recognizing Jesus to build their faith. In the coming days their faith would need to be strong as they continue to build the church without Jesus on earth to do it for them. The followers would now become the leaders. If they had recognized Jesus right away they might have followed him blindly. Jesus gives them a gift by allowing them to struggle and consider in their own heart if he was their Messiah. He allows them to make their faith their own.
Impressed by this strangers wisdom, the two beg him to join them for dinner.
As they sat down to eat, he took the bread and blessed it. Then he broke it and gave it to them. Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And at that moment he disappeared! Luke 24: 30-31
Jesus had broken bread with his followers many times. A simple meal would offer the greatest teaching opportunity and he would explain as he broke the bread, "This is my body, broken for you." Perhaps that is why his identity is revealed as he breaks bread in this story. Maybe in this moment of brokenness his followers truly accept and believe for the first time. Maybe as Jesus broke the bread their doubt was also broken and their shattered hope restored.
What road are you walking on this Easter season that has made it hard for you to recognize Jesus in your own life? How has your hope been shattered? I promise you that he is walking whatever road you’re on with you. Maybe you don't recognize him yet, but he's there and in time your heart will allow you to recognize his presence and the hurt and doubt that you feel now will be stripped away as his love steps into your journey with you.
Jesus was broken so we don't have to stay broken. May our journey to Emmaus draw us closer to the Messiah.
Praying for restored hope this Easter.
Theresa is a youth advocate, writer and speaker. She’s also a professional singer who has performed with Travis Cottrell and Beth Moore’s Living Proof Live conferences, Nicole C. Mullen, Truth and many others. She’s married to BUMC’s Worship Arts Director, Joe Mazza. Check out more from Theresa at theresamazza.com.