The resurrection appearances of Jesus are filled with surprises and mystifying details. His friends do not recognize Him. He appears through locked doors. He has broken out of a tomb, but carries the wounds of His dying. He speaks of peace and forgiveness. He promises the gift of His Spirit. He sends His disciples to change the world.
This week's Gospel opens with the tail-end of the Emmaus story. Two of Jesus' disciples had just come to recognize and experience the Risen Lord. He had been there in their ringing ears as He taught them the Scriptures once again. He had been there in the burning of their hearts. He had been there in their newly-opened eyes as they shared a meal.
So, they rush back to Jerusalem to tell the others about their extraordinary encounter. Maybe it was just to hear themselves repeat the sequence of events and the gradual dawning of their own Resurrection-consciousness: the heartache of watching Him suffer, the heart-wrenching of seeing Him die, and the hope and joy of Resurrection Peace.
As they tell their story, the Risen Lord is suddenly among them once again. They are still "terrified" and "amazed" - but Jesus comes to them again with a word of Peace.
Luke is often called the "evangelist of mission." His Gospel points out in vivid detail how people's lives are turned upside-down and inside-out - from being self-focused to living lives for others. He continually reminds us that we are all called to self-transcendence, and that the meaning of discipleship is mission and witness.
The Risen Christ offers His Peace, and tells them that they are to be His "witnesses" - to preach His name to all nations.
The word "witness" brings many images to mind, and I suppose that the word can take on a rather unpleasant and threatening sense for some of us. But for the most part, modern Christians are grateful for the freedom they have to worship as they choose. In many countries throughout the world, there is a great diversity of creeds, and a spirit of respecting each person's choice. In others there is no such liberty. So we tend to be "quiet" about our faith. We don't want to stand out or be different. And, all too often, we prefer it that way.
Witnessing to our faith in Jesus Christ means allowing the Gospel message to permeate our minds, hearts and lives in such a complete way that people around us will know clearly who we are and what we believe.
Because of Christ's Resurrection, we possess a source of light and power that we cannot keep hidden - no more than the tomb could contain the Risen Christ. At the heart of our Christianity, there is the ever-present mystery of dying to ourselves so that the love of God and neighbor might come to full bloom in us.
The Emmaus story is a beautiful description of the way the early church was transformed by accepting the Risen Lord in their lives. It is the Risen Lord who takes the initiative, pulling them out of their confusion and unbelief. The two disciples had left the others, devastated by all that had happened. But now, they run to tell the others what had happened. They are overcome with joy because he has again become present in their lives. A new life is beginning for them.
Likewise, we will be measured not only by our strength but by our collaboration; not by our weakness but by our willingness to be raised up and supported by one another. And the "witness" we give will not simply end in the breaking of the bread, but by standing compassionately with our brothers and sisters, and quietly inviting them to believe by the example of how we live our lives.