It was a strange thing that I had been following my own nephew, but there it was. We had both been, my wife and I. I can’t tell you how high our hopes were in the days before that Passover – we really really thought that Jesus was going to turn the world upside down. We thought as Messiah he was going to lead a revolt, bring in a new order. We thought we would walk out onto our familiar streets and see the poor and the beggars well fed, honoured. We thought we would see the Romans carrying our packs at a forced march. We thought we would see the toadies and the collaborators forced to serve the rest of us. Every wrong righted, every hurt and insult wiped out as though it had never been.
And then the Passover, the terrible, terrifying bloody death of our leader and of our hopes.
And then the first working day, and the reports of some hysterical women that they had seen angels – well, you can imagine I thought of that! Only a woman would imagine she’s seen an angel – but then the men had actually found the tomb open – and my wife believed the women – she knew them better than I of course. Well, I suppose, some kind of hope, but it sure as anything didn’t lock into our ideas about the way the world should be. And so as we walked to Emmaus, going home, for what else was there to do?
Then, as you do, walking, we fell in with this very ordinary chap. He turned out to be an extraordinary talker. The low sun was diving over the horizon when we got to our home village, and he went to keep on travelling. Not safe to walk at night, what with Romans and robbers, and we wanted to hear more, so we pressed him to come in and have some supper.
Of course before the meal, there needed to be a blessing, a thanksgiving, or as we would say if we were speaking in the Greek most of us have picked up, a eucharist, on the bread and it had to be broken – and it usually belongs to the host to do this, but of course you’d ask the most religious person to do it. This chap was plainly in every real sense a teacher, a Rabbi, and it was only courteous to ask him.
Now, you didn’t know Jesus, but nothing, absolutely nothing was more typical of the man than thanksgiving, blessing, and especially at a meal. And as the chance-met stranger began the prayer, his sleeve fell right back off his hand, and his hand had a new bloody wound. And we heard his voice, in the familiar words. Before our eyes, the stranger became my nephew, whom I should have known from the first, Jesus of Nazareth. There was no doubt. We were totally certain. And as we became certain, so he – went. One glorious moment, joy and certainty. We saw his eyes laughing at us for our bemused expressions, and then he was gone, leaving only the bread lying broken on the table. Only our eyes, astonished. And reverent hands, touching the bread he had touched.
I have travelled long and difficult roads since that night – since we jogged back to Jerusalem, no space for fear of robbers or Romans left in the need to tell the others. Many, many times I have broken the bread for my fellow believers. It has taken me the rest of my life to learn even some of the meaning of what happened to me –
Jesus had died, and he was now alive. Yet, even for him, the pain could not be wiped out. At that table he was not the suffering Lord he had been on his cross. He was the victor, and he broke the bread for us risen and glorious and scarred.
He had brought a new world, oh yes, and we were living in it, and struggling, often, without his constant teaching, but the new world did not wipe out the present world, any more than his resurrection wiped out the holes in his body.
I still long to see a world where the humble are exalted, though I’ve stopped believing it is going to happen very fast. I know that when it does, the scars of the old world can never be wiped out. All we can hope is that we will change them into healing.
I’ve gone on trying to make his world real. I’ve done it as much through the breaking of the bread as anything else. For each time I do it, I see my Lord – risen and with bloody hands, laughing as he slips away.