Third Sunday of Easter; Easter 3A (RCL); Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17;1 Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-35.
I wonder to what extent Luke wrote this story with the history of Israel in mind. The two disciples are walking away from Jerusalem when Jesus joins them and begins to interpret Moses and the prophets to them. It was in the Exile in Babylon that the exiles began to compile the books of Moses and the prophets. It was there they began to become people of the scroll. After the interpretation of Moses and the prophets, and the breaking of the bread, the two disciples run back to Jerusalem, mirroring the hope of the great restoration that shaped so much of Second Temple expectation.
If any of this is in the background, then the task work which the risen Jesus undertakes with Cleopas and his companion is the reinterpretation of that Second Temple understanding of the election of Israel around the crucified Messiah that N. T. Wright sees in Paul’s letters. I find his argument convincing that this was in fact the explosive novelty of the early Christian movement: in his death and resurrection, Jesus the Messiah had fulfilled Israel’s faithfulness to the covenant, and in him God had fulfilled the divine faithfulness to covenant righteousness.
If this is so, then Luke, in a very short, compelling story, has recast the story of Israel from the Exile onward in an easy to remember vignette. The curse of Deuteronomy has been fulfilled in the disciples’ journey away from Jerusalem, and the promised blessing in their return. The prophecies of Ezekiel and the last half of Isaiah have been fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah. As such, this vignette would make a powerful catechetical tool for traveling evangelists, easily memorable, and capable of expansion by appeal to scripture.
Those first disciples were out there on the road, two-by-two. And the risen Christ could show up anytime these itinerant duos shared broken bread with a host. This story would serve not only as an easy way to remember their message, and to expound it, but as encouragement as the wandered.
In our circumstance, we are currently in a kind of exile, sent away from our churches, discouraged, languishing in unfamiliar territory. Like Cleopas and his companion, our vocation at the moment is to invite strangers to join us on the journey, and begin to search scriptures for the interpretive key to unlock our dilemma.
If the message of those first evangelists was that Israel’s hope and expectation had been recentered around the crucified and risen Messiah, then our interpretive task is to understand how our economy and social institutions need reshaping around death and resurrection. The things we had set our hopes on have betrayed us. Money, the stock market, cars, status, all these things have proven untrusty. Instead, we are to look to the crucified and risen Messiah.
We have seen that what keeps us alive is interconnection and mutual interdependence. This is the Kingdom proclaimed by this Messiah. This is a kingdom from the bottom up, not from the top down. Even government stimulus checks won’t fulfill our hopes. Only rebuilding the torn fabric of society will work. The message of the first Christians is that this work had been accomplished, at least proleptically, in the crucified and risen Messiah. Jesus’ ascent to the right hand of the Father takes the created order into the heart of the Creator. Like Israel, we live longing for full restoration, but as Paul says, we have the down-payment in the Spirit that breathes among us as we participate in the restoration of the created order.