We know the story, but it is always good to look at it freshly.
Luke 24:13-35 describes 2 disciples, one Cleopas, the other unnamed, making their way on foot, from Jerusalem to Emmaus, a village about 7 miles from Jerusalem. At some point along the journey, a third person, a stranger, as far as they were concerned, joined them.
I'm guessing it to be a three hour walk, or longer, depending on how much of a hurry they were in and how rugged the country was.
These two disciples were talking about "everything that had happened". This implies the recent tragic, unjust death of Jesus. Maybe they were coming to terms with the loss of their highly esteemed teacher, trying to make sense of how God would allow such a bad thing to happen to such a good man. Maybe (like the friends of Job) they were questioning the true goodness of Jesus. Maybe they were going over the sense of failure in not standing by Jesus through his suffering, as the bible indicates that basically everyone abandoned him. What is clearly stated is that they mentioned the greatness of Jesus to this stranger and also their disappointed/broken hope that he would be the one to redeem Israel.
When disaster happens, it is normal human practice to discuss the events and try to make sense of them and find a way forward.
But on this particular occasion as these two walked on, a third man, a stranger so it seemed, joined them and asked them what they were talking about. These two disciples were amazed that anyone would not have heard this news of Jesus. Even though they had no facebook, or internet, or television or newspapers, obviously news had a way of getting around in those days, and Jesus death was obviously a headline of the time, that everyone who had been in Jerusalem would have heard about somehow.
Getting back to verse 15, "they were kept from recognizing him". The two disciples knew Jesus. They were disciples, who had spent time under his teaching. Not two of the twelve, but close enough to have been present when the women got back from the empty tomb with strange news. Close enough that Jesus wanted to meet with them personally post-resurrection.
Being "kept" from recognizing him, implies to me that it was no fault of theirs that they did not recognize him. It does not necessarily mean that Jesus looked different, though I suspect he did. But more than this, a spiritual force was present, from God, from Jesus, from the Holy Spirit, stopping them from seeing that this man walking with them was the very same man whom they were discussing, who had recently died, who could not possibly be walking and talking with them.
Not a zombie, not a ghost, not someone who stood out from others. Someone ordinary and everyday.
Is it possible that they were also somewhat blinded by their own lack of expectation?
I certainly don't expect to see people who I know have died. Especially when I have witnessed their death, or seen their deceased body.
But the Bible actually states that they were "kept" from recognizing him.
Why would Jesus keep them from recognizing him?
I can only make suggestions.
Maybe Jesus needed them to be of sober mind, so that they could concentrate on what he was explaining/expounding from the old testament regarding his resurrection. The understanding of the prophecies regarding Jesus rising are a very important witness to the truth and authority of Jesus, as God's Son and as the promised Messiah. If they had recognized Jesus from the moment he joined them, they would have been overwhelmed, and possibly unable to take in the importance of his Old Testament teaching.
Joseph, Jacob's son, in Genesis, who became second only to Pharaoh in all of Egypt, kept his identity hidden from his brothers for a time, when they came to Egypt searching for food, yet he could not hold back for long, and at the right moment, with tears, revealed himself to them.
Jesus carries the deception beyond his time of teaching, as they approach Emmaus, he feigns traveling further, as if he is on other business, not interested in spending more time with them. They, being impressed with his faith and teaching, urge, even insist he stays with them for a meal and lodging over night. They, for their part, are bearing witness to their hearts of hospitality, which the book of Hebrews reminds and exhorts us to practice, with the added bonus that some of us will entertain angels unaware, as we practice hospitality.
As an angel is a messenger of God, one way of coming to know God's will for our lives, is to entertain strangers, who, if they are people of faith, angels or not, may well speak into our lives in ways that friends or family may not.
Anyway this stranger had certainly spoken into these two disciples lives. And they confessed that as he spoke with them, opening the scriptures, their hearts burned within them.
So the point I want to make is this.
On Sundays, as we hear the scriptures read out to us, and as the scriptures are opened up to us by our faithful ministers of God's word, do our hearts burn within us?
I hope that, with me, you will answer with a resounding Yes. OK not all sermons are as moving as others, yet as I get older, it is rare that I don't have a sense of my heart stirring at some point during a church service or bible study or funeral or wedding or even listening to a sermon on line.
Even as I prepare songs for our coming service this Sunday, and read the scripture passages quietly to myself, including this one, I find my heart stirring, even burning.
What I am suggesting is that God is in fact present at these times. Yes he is always present. He in us, we in Him. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit indwell us and we indwell the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And Acts tells us that He is not far from anyone of us. By faith we believe this to be true, and it is true. We do not need the "burning heart" experience. Yet we do have that experience, and we thank God, not for the pleasant warm feeling, like a taste of sweet port. But for the fact that he truly loves us and chooses to open our hearts and minds to convince/ convict/ reassure us of the great truth of his great love for us demonstrated especially by Jesus as he willingly died for our sins.
And Jesus does decide to stay with them in Emmaus (God can and does change his mind ?!! or was he always going to? -yes I think he was) and He finally reveals himself in that special act of breaking bread; the one thing Jesus told us to do to remember him.
And then he is gone.
What a day. What a Saviour.