The encounter with Christ which was granted to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus was certainly one of high strangeness. It seems incredible that they did not at first recognize Him. If one of our nearest and dearest had died before our eyes, and then three days later ‘appeared’ to us, would we not recognize them? How changed would they have to be in order for us not to know who we were speaking with?
Their moment of recognition has an unmistakeable Eucharistic resonance. He took bread, gave thanks, broke it – and vanished. His subsequent invisibility did not cloud the clarity of their recognition. It seemed to increase their certainty that they had truly been in the actual living presence of the Master. Did not our hearts burn within us?
Their first reaction was missionary. They immediately hurried back to Jerusalem to tell others about their encounter. There they found that the other disciples had had a similar experience: a mysterious and personal presence which imparted the certainty that Jesus of Nazareth was truly risen from the grave, and the confidence and joy which that Presence bestowed.
That paradigmactic encounter and its inherent missionary impulse attain their fuller definition and coloration on the day of Pentecost. After the apostles had been assured of the reality of Christ’s resurrection (Easter day) and His Kingship (Ascension day) they are then sent out to be His missionaries throughout the world. They preach to the nations that Christ’s death on the Cross is the fulfilment of the Hebrew scriptures, that His resurrection is both the proof of His divine glory and is also the promise of our own future glory.
That future glory will be both physical and spiritual, or rather, it will transcend both those categories. The difference between physical and spiritual is a very limited distinction which really only obtains in this fallen world. In this world the sacraments are a pledge that the earthly distinction between the material and the spiritual is not final. The post-lapsarian divergence between the material and the spiritual is ultimately a false binary. It is a temporary lapse of reality back into incoherence, an incoherence which is not the Creator’s ultimate purpose, an incoherence which Christ’s bodily resurrection eternally reverses.
The risen Christ is neither constrained by the physical world, but neither is He a ghost. He exemplifies that wholeness of being which awaits us all beyond the grave, by God’s mercy. He is the revelation of that integrated wholeness which we can know only partially in this life, but which we hope to possess in its fullness, in the life of the world to come. A blessing I wish for us all.