...but they were kept from recognising him.
Looking at the resurrection appearances, most of them involve Jesus not being recognised straight away. The Emmaus road is no different.
In John’s gospel when Mary meets the risen Jesus she first mistakes him for the gardener. (John 20) When the disciples see the risen Jesus on the shoreline whilst they are fishing, it says much the same thing too…
Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realise that it was Jesus.
Nothing in the writing of it ever explains quite why they don’t recognise. It could be supernatural, or it could be simply that the person of Jesus is the last person they are expecting to see. But for me, the most interesting thing is that in all three stories, it’s obvious that Jesus knows they don’t recognise him. And he deliberately plays the role of stranger.
With Mary he says "Woman, why are you crying?" (John 20:15)
With the disciples he says "Friends, haven’t you any fish?” (John 21:5)
And with the Emmaus disciples he pretends innocence, and asks them about what has happened in Jerusalem over the past weekend? (Luke 24:19)
As if he doesn’t know!!
It’s even more obvious in the Emmaus story because he keeps up the role of stranger for hours. And even in verse 28 he goes as if to leave them, and needs to be encouraged to stay.
But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.”
He acts as if he didn't want to stay with them... of course he did! Why does the risen Jesus appear like a stranger and knowingly act the stranger?
I suggest that Jesus spoke to them as a stranger, in their blindness, to prepare them for the light. To bring them to the right place where they were ready to receive him properly. For Mary it was enough to say her name, to assure her that the risen Jesus will know her just as much as before. For the disciples he was able to remind them of where they'd come from, he showed them as a stranger the old life of fishing that they had willingly left behind to follow him. For the Emmaus disciples he was able to get alongside them as an equal and discuss scriptures with them without the mystery of resurrection bodies distracting them. He was able to prepare them whilst in darkness, so that when they saw the light and the truth of His resurrection they were truly ready to take it in.
For those of us who became Christians over a slow period of time, perhaps later on in life, you can maybe relate to that. You can look back and see that even before you made the decision to follow him, even before you saw the risen Jesus for yourself, his hand was guiding you. Bringing strangers into your life just when you needed them. Jesus works in secret some of the time. Preparing the ground, sowing hidden seeds deep beneath the surface.
That, for me, is a great truth of the resurrection. That amidst the big earthquakes and glorious displays of power, we have a risen Jesus working in stealth-mode.