The Road to Emmaus

A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper


Now it came to pass, as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight. (Luke 24:30-31)

Each of the four gospels tells us something that the Lord did or taught after the Resurrection, and each of the four gospels describes a different event or experience. Mark mentions in passing that the Lord appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus, but only in Luke do we find the full story as read in our second lesson.

Of the two disciples who walked with the Lord that day, we only know the name of one Cleopas.1 Perhaps, since Luke records the incident in such detail, he was the other, but we don’t know for sure. We do know, however, that they were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, a distance of about seven miles (or threescore furlongs). Jesus joined them as they walked, but we are told that “their eyes were restrained”2 so that they did not recognize Him. Instead, they took Him to be a fellow traveler who, incredibly, had not heard about the recent events in Jerusalem, and with great zeal they began to tell Him all that had happened.

It’s actually kind of humorous to think how the disciples walked along the road, explaining to the Lord Himself the importance of His own ministry, and their own confusion about their own roles in it all. They told of His power to heal, and to teach, and how the chief priests and the rulers had conspired to put Him to death. They also admitted that they had hoped that He was going to break the yoke of Rome from off the neck of Israel,3 and that they were extremely disappointed that this had not happened. They also explained their confusion about the fact that when some of the disciples had gone to the tomb they had found the body missing. They did not know what to make of that, any more than they understood or believed the report of a vision of angels in the tomb.

Having thus shown the Lord the nature of their faith and understanding, without knowing it, He then began to teach them His understanding of the events of the past few weeks. We’re told that “beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” 4 And, although they did not yet know it was the Lord, we are told that when He taught them, their “hearts burned within them” 5.

When they reached Emmaus, Jesus indicated that He was continuing on, but the disciples were so interested in what He had to say that they insisted that He stay and eat with them. We are told that then, when during the meal the Lord took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them, that suddenly, “their eyes were opened and they knew Him”.6

When we think about how often eating and drinking are used as important images in the Word – the wedding feast at Cana, the parable about the wedding feast, the feeding of thousands with a few loaves and fishes, eating with sinners and publicans, and the last supper – to name just a few, we find ourselves asking why are eating and drinking such important images in the Word?

The Heavenly Doctrines of the New Church explain that “because ‘bread’ signifies the Lord in relation to Divine good, and ‘to eat it’ signifies appropriation and conjunction.” 7 That is, as Cleopas and the other disciple walked the road to Emmaus and listened to the Lord’s teaching, they received it with joy. To signify their reception of the truth, He agreed to stay with them, and break bread with them, for this signified the reception and appropriation that had taken place as the things that they had learned from Him that day, and over the past three years, began to make sense and to enter into their lives. Because they now saw the truth from their own lives, it began to live within them, and they were enlightened – they saw with spiritual light, with true, unclouded understanding – and recognized the Lord.

The Arcana tells us that “eating” signifies the conjunction and appropriation of good, while “drinking” signifies the conjunction and appropriation of truth. Another way of expressing this is to say that spiritual food is all the good of faith from which is wisdom, and spiritual drink is all the truth of faith from which is intelligence.

Because it is so important for each of us to have good and truth appropriated to us by the Lord through our choices and actions in this world, feasts, banquets, and other meals are frequently mentioned in the Old Testament, the New Testament, and in the Memorable relations of the Heavenly Doctrines. We are also told that this is the spiritual reason why banquets, feasts, dinners, and suppers, were instituted among the ancients in order that they might be associated together by means of the things of wisdom and intelligence.8

Although eating and drinking are images used throughout the Word because they are common to all human beings and therefore draw an intuitive response, eating and drinking are especially emphasized in the events between the Lord’s resurrection and His ascension. The reason for this is to establish very clearly the reality of the Lord’s Divine Human. The Lord was trying to establish a spiritual kingdom, and it was very important that the disciples and the others who were to form the Christian church should not think of Him as a ghost or a spirit. He was God-Man, and this new idea had to be demonstrated in dramatic ways so that the disciples could begin to form their understanding based on these new truths. The Doctrine of the Lord puts it this way

“Since the Lord’s Human was glorified, that is, made Divine, therefore after death He rose again on the third day with His whole body. This does not happen to any man, for man rises again only as to his spirit, and not as to his body. In order that man might know, and that no one might doubt, that the Lord rose again with His whole body, He not only declared it by the angels who were in the sepulcher, but He also showed Himself in His Human body before the disciples, saying to them, when they believed that they saw a spirit, ‘Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.’ (Lk. 2439) …That the Lord might still further prove that He was not a spirit, but a Man, He said to the disciples, ‘”Have you any food here?” So they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and some honeycomb. And He took it and ate in their presence’ (Lk. 2441-43). Since His body was not now material, but Divine substantial, therefore ‘He came in to the disciples, the doors being shut’ (John 2019, 26), and after He had been seen, ‘He vanished from their sight’ (Lk. 2431).” 9

Not only did the Lord need to teach people about the nature of His new spiritual body so that they would know that He was not a ghost or something to be feared, but He also did it to establish the nature of His Second Coming.

The whole Word was written concerning Him, every verse carries in its inmost sense some truth about the Lord and His kingdom. The Lord came into the world to fulfill the things written in the inmost sense, and He tried to show the disciples these things, He tried to open the scriptures for them, but they were only able to see a few little things, which were enough for that time and that place.

He taught in John that “In the beginning was the Word . and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us”,10 which shows us that the Lord and the Word are one, and always have been one, and that all His appearances to men throughout history have been by means of the Word. The only time He appeared physically in the world was during the incarnation, and even that was done to fulfill the scriptures, and was, in a sense, an appearance in the Word.11

Now that He has glorified His Human, He will not return to earth again in a physical body. He cannot take on and glorify another body, for that would be impossible. Since the Human is glorified, it can now only appear to those who are in the spiritual world, or to those who have the eyes of their spirit opened. Therefore, we are taught in the scriptures and in the Heavenly Doctrines that when He showed Himself to the disciples after the resurrection, He first opened the eyes of their spiritual bodies so that they could see Him in His glorified body in the spiritual world “Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him”12.

It was the same with the women at the sepulcher after the resurrection, and at the transfiguration. Therefore, since the Lord consistently appears as a spirit in the Old and New Testaments, does it not become obvious that He will continue to appear to men in the Spirit through the Word, and not return to earth in a physical body?13

A few minutes ago, we noted that when the Lord broke bread with the two disciples in Emmaus, their eyes were opened, and they recognized Jesus. The internal sense of this passage holds out the promise of a similar revelation to each of us, for the Lord comes into our spiritual sight through the good that we do, for bread means the good of love. ‘Seeing’ means faith received from the Lord, for no other faith exists which is truly faith except faith which comes from the Lord. This is also the faith that enables a person to see, that is, to believe.

The Lord appeared to the disciples at a time of great turmoil and confusion in their lives. He taught them truths that were appropriate to their particular states, and when they received those truths, and made them their own, He appeared to them, replacing their confusion with deep understanding, and their sorrow with joy. This story is recorded in the Word to tell us that the same spiritual principles apply in our own lives. We all go through periods of trouble and confusion, where we seem to be like the disciples on their way to Emmaus – moving from one state to another, but we are not sure why we are going, or what we will find when we get there. In such states, when we are unsure and troubled by the many possibilities, we are going through a state of temptation. And since at that time, our freedom of choice is more fully used than at any other time, the Lord draws closer to us than at any other time. He walks with us for a while in our journey through life.

The disciples could have remained wrapped up in their own conversation and ignored the stranger who traveled with them, but they did not, they sought His opinion. Certainly that is a temptation that we face in our journey through life. The combination of extremely attractive forms of home entertainment, and a growing sense of fear and mistrust of strangers tends to keep us at home in our leisure time. Even when families are together in the home, they are often isolated from one another. It’s not unusual today for everyone to have their own personal stereo and headphones, so they don’t even listen to the same music together.

But the story about the disciples on the road to Emmaus opens up the possibility that we, as we travel down the road of life, can look beyond our own experience and opinions, we can look to the Word for guidance, and it will teach us to reach out to our neighbors, to become part of society, to share what we know, and listen with love to what others have to teach, to enjoy and savor the simple pleasure of being with and caring for our friends and family. If we approach the Word with an affirmative spirit, the truths there will cause our hearts to burn within us, as they touch the inmost loves of our souls. But if we stop there, we will never see the Lord, He will continue on His way. We have to consciously invite Him in to eat with us, that is, we must appropriate good to ourselves. There is only one way to do that, and that is by living according to the truth we know from the Word. We do this at first from self-compulsion, because we have not yet seen the Lord in the truth, but once we begin to love the truth, once it becomes a part of our lives, then our eyes will be opened and we will begin to see the Lord’s presence in our life. The good that we do will cause our minds to be enlightened by spiritual truth, and that light will shine forth and show us the all wonders of heaven, and we will see the face of the Lord as its eternal King. Now as they said these things, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, “Peace to you.”14

AMEN.

1st Lesson GEN 1414-20

Now when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his three hundred and eighteen trained servants who were born in his own house, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. {15} He divided his forces against them by night, and he and his servants attacked them and pursued them as far as Hobah, which is north of Damascus. {16} So he brought back all the goods, and also brought back his brother Lot and his goods, as well as the women and the people. {17} And the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley), after his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him. {18} Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. {19} And he blessed him and said “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; {20} And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” And he gave him a tithe of all. Amen.

2nd Lesson LUK 2413-35

Now behold, two of them were traveling that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was seven miles from Jerusalem. {14} And they talked together of all these things which had happened. {15} So it was, while they conversed and reasoned, that Jesus Himself drew near and went with them. {16} But their eyes were restrained, so that they did not know Him. {17} And He said to them, “What kind of conversation is this that you have with one another as you walk and are sad?” {18} Then the one whose name was Cleopas answered and said to Him, “Are You the only stranger in Jerusalem, and have You not known the things which happened there in these days?” {19} And He said to them, “What things?” So they said to Him, “The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a Prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, {20} “and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to be condemned to death, and crucified Him. {21} “But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, today is the third day since these things happened. {22} “Yes, and certain women of our company, who arrived at the tomb early, astonished us. {23} “When they did not find His body, they came saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said He was alive. {24} “And certain of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but Him they did not see.” {25} Then He said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! {26} “Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” {27} And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself. {28} Then they drew near to the village where they were going, and He indicated that He would have gone farther. {29} But they constrained Him, saying, “Abide with us, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.” And He went in to stay with them. {30} Now it came to pass, as He sat at the

them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. {31} Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight. {32} And they said to one another, “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?” {33} So they rose up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, {34} saying, “The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” {35} And they told about the things that had happened on the road, and how He was known to them in the breaking of bread. Amen.

3rd Lesson AE 617 (port)

AE 6172 “To eat” and “to drink” are often mentioned in the Word, and those who have no knowledge of the spiritual sense can have no other idea than that natural eating and drinking are thereby meant. but “to eat” and “to drink” signify to nourish oneself spiritually, consequently to appropriate to oneself good and truth, “to eat” signifying to appropriate to oneself good, and “to drink” to appropriate to oneself truth. …To be nourished spiritually is to be instructed and imbued, consequently to know, to understand, and to be wise.

AE 6174 [For example when the Lord fed five thousand men, besides women and children, with five loaves and two fishes. And when they had eaten and were filled, they took up twelve baskets of fragments.] This miracle was done because previously the Lord had been teaching them, and they had received and appropriated to themselves His doctrine; this is what they ate spiritually; therefore natural eating followed, that is, flowed in out of heaven with them as the manna did with the sons of Israel, unknown to them; for when the Lord wills, spiritual food which also is real food but only for spirits and angels, is changed into natural food, just as it was turned into manna every morning. Amen.

Opening Prayer

0 Lord, we are troubled and confused because Your ways are not our ways, and we do not always know how to guide our lives according to Your will. 0 Lord, show us the way to the fountain of wisdom, help us know the way wherein we should go, for in our hearts, we wish to follow You in innocence. Amen.

Closing Prayer

O Lord Jesus Christ, lead us through the difficulties of our life on earth by the truth of Your Word so that we can learn to do what is true. Help us to break the bread of life with You and with others so that we may share in mutual love, and so learn to live the life of heaven. 0 Lord, open our minds with spiritual truth that we may see You clearly as You are in Your spiritual kingdom. Amen.


Page last modified October 8, 2000

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