The gospel lectionary reading for the Thirdly Sunday of Easter in Year B is Luke 24.36b–48, the episode where Jesus meets the disciples after the encounter on the Emmas Road and before the Ascension. (The lectionary readings for the Third Sunday in Easter ignore the particular gospel for the year, and instead cycle round Luke 24 and John 21: in this Year B we have the second half of Luke 24, Jesus meeting the group of frightened disciples; in Year C, the miraculous catch of fish in John 21; and in Year A the story in the first half of Luke 24 of the two disciples meeting Jesus on the road to Emmaus.)
This episode can often be felt to play second fiddle to the better known and more engaging story that precedes it. And yet it includes some key ideas, and both links the resurrection back to the beginning of Luke’s gospel as well as anticipating many of the things to come in his second book, the account of the Acts of the Apostles.
The lectionary tries to cut off the connection with the Emmaus Road incident by starting our reading half-way through verse 36, but this is not easily done. The two stories are integrated, and (as we shall see) share some important themes. It is as the Eleven are talking about ‘these things’ that Jesus appears amongst them; ‘these things’ includes not simply that Jesus was risen, but also that his resurrection made sense of the (Old Testament) scriptures and was pointed to by them, and that he was known to them in the table fellowship of a shared meal.
(I noted previously that, despite later readings back into this text, ‘breaking of bread’ refers to a meal, and is not a ‘eucharistic’ reference to the sharing of Communion. Luke does not show very much interest in eucharistic theology within his gospel, and the actions of taking the bread, giving thanks, breaking it and giving it to them corresponds not to Luke’s account of the Last Supper, but to the feeding of the five thousand in Luke 9.12–17. It is striking that, for Luke, it is that event which is associated with the recognition of Jesus’ identity; immediately after it, Peter makes his declaration ‘You are God’s Messiah’ (Luke 9.20). The wording of Luke 24.30 ‘he took and blessed [God]’, εὐλόγησεν, matches Luke 9.16 but is different from Luke 22.19 ‘when he had given thanks’ εὐχαριστήσας.)
There is an intriguing aside at the end of the last passage: that Jesus has also ‘appeared to Simon’. This reassures us that, following his three-fold betrayal, he has been fully restored so that he can take up once more his position of leadership of the Twelve, but we have no separate account of it. However, Paul’s list of witnesses and appearances in 1 Cor 15.5 correlates with this exactly, and so Jesus’ personal appearance to Simon/Peter/Cephas was clearly a very early tradition.
Jesus’ immediate saying ‘Peace be with you!’ parallels the account in John 20, where he emphatically repeats this greeting three times. Although it comes only once in Luke’s account, it reminds us of the central importance of the term in Luke’s gospel as Michael Gorman has argued: