We recognize the Risen Lord as our companion on the way through scripture and Eucharist today. And in a thousand moments in between, once we are on the lookout for him as our companion on our journey.
What he did for these two disconsolate disciples he now does for us. He places their way in the context of his Way. He places their journey in the context of his journey. Jesus, in Luke's Gospel is a journeying figure. In Luke 9:51 we are told, "When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem." Thus begins what many scholars refer to as the "travel narrative" of Luke. It ends in chapter 19:45-48 with Jesus cleansing the temple and then daily teaching in the temple, his popularity growing with the people as plots to kill him grew among the chief priests, scribes, and leaders.
His journey represents a new exodus of Israel from sin and death to freedom from sin and freedom for obedience to God. Jesus' journey to Jerusalem (Lk. 9:51) is his going to God. Through the Holy Spirit, Christ now leads Christians on a journey to God, a journey in which disappointed hopes are interrupted by the recognition that the Risen Lord walks by their side. And when we recognize his companionship on the way, we allow him to breathe life into our despair and frame our aimless, anxious journeys in his Way. Now we know who it is who travels with us: He is the Way. Now we know the path along which he accompanies us: it is, as Luke characterizes Christianity, in both his gospel and Acts, "the way" (Acts 9:2, 16:17, 18:25; see also Jn. 14:6 and Heb. 10:20).
I was at the Philadelphia zoo some years ago. My older brother Wade and his family had joined my family for a zoo day. The kids were watching the seals, but Wade and I were standing in front of the bear exhibit before we went to join them. The Philadelphia zoo had recently gotten rid of the cages and built a new, more open habitat for the bears with beautiful foliage, a bubbling creek, and room to roam. The younger bears were strutting their stuff, enjoying being bears in the open space.
But back in the corner there was an old bear. He was a shaggy, mangy old bear and he was putting himself through his paces. On all fours, his eyes on the ground, he would walk ten steps to the right, then do a strange shuddery shake that involved his whole bear body. Then he would turn and pace ten steps to the left, stop for the shake, then turn to do his ten paces to the right. The same journey over and over again.
I stood for I don't know how long, watching his back and forth. "Look at him," I said, elbowing my brother standing next to me. "He kind of reminds me of me."
"Yeah," said the man, a complete stranger to me, who was now standing where Wade had stood. "I know what you mean."
Brendan Byrne, S.J., The Hospitality of God: A Reading of Luke's Gospel (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 2000).
E. J. Tinsley, The Cambridge Bible Commentary on the New English Bible
The Gospel According to Luke (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).