The account of the two disciples encountering the Lord on the road to Emmaus is rich and much loved. I tend to think of it more as a metaphor for the Eucharistic liturgy, an exploration by the early disciples of their encounter–their repeated encounters–with the Lord in the breaking open of the Word, and in the breaking of the bread.
Jesus walks along with two disciples. Cleopas and his companion (perhaps a wife) are incredulous that this stranger seems ignorant of the momentous events of the past few days:
“The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene,
who was a prophet mighty in deed and word
before God and all the people,
how our chief priests and rulers both
handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him.
But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel;
and besides all this,
it is now the third day since this took place.
Some women from our group, however, have astounded us:
they were at the tomb early in the morning
and did not find his body;
they came back and reported
that they had indeed seen a vision of angels
who announced that he was alive.
Then some of those with us went to the tomb
and found things just as the women had described,
but him they did not see.”
Even among the Twelve, there were those who embraced the motto, “Seeing is believing.” And among those of us who profess faith, who among us would not be bolstered by the experience of seeing? When a person dies, have we said and done everything needful? Or do we wish for one last moment before letting go? Would we be helped by one glimpse of our beloved in heaven? Of course we would. But then we would replace faith with surety.
And yet, there is something mysterious, if not mystical about this encounter. Cleopas and his companion “see” the stranger. But perception of the truth of the stranger, of Christ, only occurs gradually. First comes the revelation through the Scriptures, and the final breakthrough–in the breaking of the bread. But Christ’s reassuring presence is fleeting. What is left is not so much an afterimage, but a burning in the heart, and a crazy urge to retrace the day’s steps and tell the good news.
Given all that, is the Emmaus account a worthy Gospel to preach at a funeral? Perhaps the deceased was known for her or his Eucharistic faith. Perhaps the mourners need that glimpse, that breaking open the Word, that sacramental encounter. Do we believe in the Communion of Saints? Are we open to the notion that someone has gone on ahead of us, and awaits us in the heavenly banquet? If so, perhaps this resurrection narrative is fitting.
Were not our hearts burning within us
while he spoke to us on the way
and opened the scriptures to us?
There is an option to omit verses 17-27, and just focus on the initial meet-greet and the experience of Jesus breaking the bread, followed by the nightfall dash to Jerusalem.