Sunday, May 08, 2011

Third Sunday of Easter

Luke 24
28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.
30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

How often does this happen to you? You see someone, you know you know them, but you just can’t place them. Let’s call it the problem of context: take someone out of their usual setting and you’re ability to place them is diminished.

Now, the issue is not recognition. Unless you suffer from prosopagnosia, a diminished capacity to recognize faces, you know the face, you just can’t remember who they are or where you know them.

Of course, you are in good company. Our passage this morning is the classic story of two followers unable to recognize Jesus, unable to place him, until he breaks the bread. Suddenly the context is reestablished, they have new sight, and they know that this is Jesus. Then he is gone.

And this is not the only example in the Bible. Joseph, sold into slavery by his brothers, manages to become the Prime Minister of Egypt before he reintroduces himself to his very surprized brothers. You might even make the same argument about Isaac, unable to recognize his son Jacob, but that situation involved stew and trickery, so it’s hardly a parallel.

Back to Luke 24, the two who walk to Emmaus are not part of the twelve, and we only learn the name of Cleopas and not his companion. Discouraged, they leave the Holy City and travel the road, only to be joined by a stranger, a stranger seemingly unaware of the events that have unfolded in recent days.

As the two describe and struggle to understand the death of Jesus and the story of the empty tomb, the unrecognized stranger offers an explanation. Beginning with Moses and the prophets, the stranger pulls all the recent events on their proper context.

They pause for a meal, and in the course of the meal, and in particular the moment when the bread is broken, the two recognize Jesus. No sooner do they see and he is gone. The scripture records they asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

One of the things to note in this story is that at no time does Jesus refer to himself. Now, part of it is the structure of the story itself. They story only works when the moment of recognition comes at the end, and if the stranger on the road spoke of himself (Jesus) then the ending would be preempted and the whole thing would fall apart.

Instead, and certainly not by accident, the conversation begins with Moses, moves to the prophets, and ends with communion. So why Moses? The story of Jesus is always a story about liberation. Sins are forgiven, the broken are mended, the outcasts embraced. At every step of the journey, Jesus freed people to love God and love their neighbour.

So Jesus is the new Moses and the new Elijah and the new covenant in the bread and the wine. All of this was revealed on the road and at the table and within the hearts of the two from Emmaus. And then it was revealed, in scripture, to us.


How often does this happen to you? You see someone in someone else, say your parents in your siblings or your mother in yourself? Call it Mother’s Day in reverse, the gift that my mother gave me, that I see more of her in me all the time. And Dad too, of course, I can’t leave out Dad, although he gets his own day and will just have to wait his turn.

For me it’s making the most of every situation, valuing relationships over whatever happens in the day-to-day, and being able to laugh and enjoy the smallest things. For these I say thank you, Marilyn. If you’re reading this online, mother, I will call you soon, if only because Harold keeps reminding me.


How often does this happen to you? You see Christ in someone else. If fact, it is the goal of the Christian life, the goal of the faith we spend our lives developing, the goal that began moments after the bread was broken and he was gone.

The first lesson of the Road to Emmaus is watchfulness. I can imagine Cleopas and his blessed companion not only recounting this story for the rest of their days, but continued to look for the Risen Christ in everyone they met. How could they not? Every stranger, every traveler on the road, every dinner guest became a potential Christ. It required a new attentiveness, a new imagination, and willingness to disregard the ordinary before them and look for Jesus.

Now, it’s easy enough to see Christ in the people we admire. Imagine the most generous person you know, the most loving, the most forgiving, and it’s easy enough to claim an encounter with the Risen Christ. The goal of the Christian life, at least according to C.S. Lewis, is to become “little Christ’s,” an imitation of our Saviour and Lord that would be fairly obvious to even the most casual observer. “They will know we are Christian’s by our love,” the song says, and it remains the gold standard for Christian behavior to do what Jesus would do. What would Jesus do? I should write that down.

It’s easy enough to see Christ in the people we admire, but that about the people we don’t? Or the people we barely see at all? John Bell’s hymn “Jesus Christ is waiting” is one of the best expressions of this phenomenon. He wrote the hymn to support youth ministry in Glasgow, a city troubled by gang violence second only to London within the UK.

Jesus Christ is waiting, waiting in the streets;
no one is his neighbour, all alone he eats.
Listen, Lord Jesus, I am lonely too.
Make me, friend or stranger, fit to wait on you.

Like the Emmaus two, we practice watchfulness, but we do it in the most unlikely places. We don’t do it because it’s a rule or something we’re compelled to do, but because it’s how the Spirit moves. “Listen, Lord Jesus, I am lonely too.” When I’m vulnerable, when I’m diminished, when I falling apart, someone just may see the Risen Christ in me. We trust that we can be Christ to others, not just at our best, but when we share in the suffering that Christ experienced.

Watchfulness, recognition and blessing. The Spirit moves in our midst, in the most humble places, in the most unlikely people, in the midst of our everyday. May we see Christ in others, and may others see him in us, now and forever, amen.


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