Seeing More Clearly Based on Luke 24. 13-35
We continue reading this week with stories of what happened on that first Easter Sunday, and interestingly the story of Jesus meeting up Cleopas and his friend is only told in Luke’s gospel. It’s Sunday afternoon, and these two gents, followers of Jesus,are returning home to Emmaus from Jerusalem, probably having made the seven mile pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate the annual Jewish Festival of Passover. They are still deep in grief over Jesus’ death, and were talking together about all that had happened. It was all everyone was talking about, apparently! So when a stranger starts walking alongside them and asks what they’re talking about, they can’t believe he hadn’t heard what had happened. They’re so shocked, in fact, that it stops them dead in their tracks, and they tell him he must be the only one who hadn’t heard! The stranger responds: So, tell me, what happened? And they recount the events of the last three days, about the man whom “they had hoped … was the one to
redeem Israel” (vs 21). They tell him about the women disciples having seen and heard of angels saying that Jesus was alive, risen from the grave, and when the men disciples went to the tomb, they didn’t see Jesus. You can almost feel their sense of grief, pain and disappointment. You know what struck me when I read this? The fact that Jesus asked them to tell the story, and that Jesus just lets them talk it out –like any wise counsellor would. They need to share the experience, to put words to their grief. It’s not like he doesn’t know what happened! Jesus just listens, he’s letting them express their grief, their pain—a grief so intense that they don’t recognize who they’re speaking with— I’m sure that’s what Luke means when he says “their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” (vs16) Have you ever been in a situation so intense, you are so involved in the experience, so emotionally overwhelmed, that it’s all you can deal with at the time—nothing else gets through to your consciousness? Grief, pain and stress can do that. Is all this COVID 19 stuff getting to you? That’s where these two guys were at, totally overtaken with the experience and the emotions. And Jesus gets it, he lets them express it, talk it through, and by talking it through they are processing it. Jesus does this so that he can take them to the next step in understanding. Jesus, still a stranger to them says “Foolish men, you’re missing the bigger picture!” And he takes them through the whole accounting of the Messiah’s coming, right from the time of Moses, through what the prophets said. Jesus brings them the full understanding, the revelation of the fullness of the Messiah coming and purpose. Wow, how I wish that conversation had been written down!
The two travellers feel their grief lifting, there’s a sense of excitement rising within them, this stranger’s teaching is striking a chord with them, they feel it deep within themselves, the strong stirrings of belief, and faith. There’s something to this stranger’s teaching that’s reaching them in new places. It’s getting late in the day when they reach Emmaus, Jesus was just going to keep on going. But they invite this very knowledgeable stranger into their home. Hospitality was a key value in Jewish culture, and of course Jesus would have known that. But even so, Cleopas and his friend had to ‘urge him strongly’ to join them, Luke says, (v28) they had to work at convincing him to come in and eat with them. They didn’t want to take their leave of this very interesting man. And Jesus concedes and goes in with them. And this amazing and knowledgeable stranger becomes their guest. Their new friend says the blessing, and when he breaks the bread, they have a eureka moment, an epiphany! “That’s it, now we know who you are!” And as their eyes are opened to seeing this stranger as their risen
Messiah, Jesus vanishes from their sight. “No wonder our hearts were burning within us when he was talking about the scriptures!” they say. (v. 32)
I love that description, ‘our hearts burning within us’. Ever had one of those moments, when what you’re hearing or maybe reading, or perhaps you’re praying or meditating or even singing —there’s that feeling that starts within you, a sense that something’s connecting, something you’d not put together before, and it builds up reaching you to a depth you didn’t know could happen, a specialness that is opening your mind to a new knowledge that you just know intuitively, without question, that is right? And you know that this is of God, that the Holy Spirit touching your soul. For these two gents on the road to Emmaus, this was a ‘Christophany’, Christ was with them. This is not the only Easter ‘Christophany’, a seeing or experiencing the risen Christ. First, Mary Magdalene at the tomb, she thought Jesus was the gardener, and didn’t recognize him until he called her name. And last week’s story of Thomas, who wasn’t there when Jesus came to the other 10 disciples, but when
Jesus returns and Thomas saw the wounds in Jesus’ hands, he knew. Cleopas and his friend felt that sense of rising excitement when Jesus was explaining the scriptures to them, and when he broke that bread, the penny dropped. It is him, the Lord lives, God is victorious, even over the powers of evil that put him in the grave! They know and understand completely: this is Jesus, he lives! It is in the Eucharistic context that opens their eyes, when Jesus, who the bread of life, breaks the bread. In the action of Christ breaking the bread that they see Jesus for who he really is–their Messiah, their Saviour. And what did Cleopas, Thomas and Mary feel when their eyes opened? Pure joy, the joy that only the love of the Lord can bring.
So, what do we take from these stories—besides the obvious and of course miraculous fact that Jesus the Christ rose from the grave, that our Almighty and Glorious God overcomes any evil, even the worst evils that humanity can come up with? It means we believe in Christ’s resurrection. And, in the words of Tom Wright, a retired bishop in the Church of England, and author of Simply Christian “Ultimately, believing that God raised Jesus from the dead is a matter of believing and trusting in the God who would, and did do such a thing.”1
Believing and trusting. So we also believe that the living Christ comes to us, and trust that he will come to us in grief or gladness, and anywhere; on the road or in the garden, in our homes and of course in the sacraments!
Jesus is always available when we go to him in prayer. We feel his Spirit, as revelation of himself, as he gives us his love, his understanding. He listens when we tell him of our grief, like he listened to Cleopas and his friend. Jesus gives us understanding and reassurance, just as he showed Thomas when Thomas needed to see Jesus’ wounds to believe. He calls us by name, like he called Mary. In the midst of their overwhelming grief, their pain, their loss, their sense that the Lord had abandoned them, Jesus came to them all. And Jesus will come to you. Take your pain to Jesus, your grief, your loneliness, your anxiety, even your doubts, Jesus will come. Faith is truly knowing Jesus is there when we going through whatever angst life throws at as, and hold onto that belief, even in times when it doesn’t feel like he’s there. Remember, Jesus was in the garden standing right next to Mary and she didn’t see him, Cleopas walked miles alongside him and didn’t see him. Although we say we believe, when we’re feeling down and out or overwhelmed–for whatever the reason—grief, pain, loneliness,
illness, or stressed to the max, it can hard to see Jesus in the emotion, and our impulse is to think that God has abandoned us. And sometimes, it’s only later, when you look back in hindsight, and realize that God’s been with you all along. A bit like that footprints in the sand poem I’m sure you know!
These post resurrections stories are stories of belief & unbelief, challenge and pain, and hope fulfilled. Jesus does make himself known to the followers, each in a way that they will understand. Cleopas and his friend needed some help, needed to understand some more about how it came to be that Jesus was the Messiah, and then, it the simple gesture of breaking of bread, recognition dawns, it all comes together and they see! They needed to learn more to see clearly—ah– isn’t that true for most of us! As our minds are opened, our spiritual eyes open too. It reminds me of the story in Mark’s gospel of the father who brought his child to Jesus to be healed of a severe seizure disorder. He said to Jesus: “Have mercy on us and help us, if you can.” “What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked. “Anything is possible if a person believes.” The father instantly
cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9 22-24) It’s a good prayer: “Lord we believe, but help our unbelief.”
So, as we go into week seven of our physical distancing, we face our social isolation with continued prayers for those affected by the pain of loss and illness and we feel so thankful that the coronavirus has not hit as hard in our area as so many other places. My hope is that in your time alone, you spend some extra time with Jesus. Share with him your joys, your loneliness and anxieties, your concerns for others, knowing that Jesus will come to you, call your name, allay your doubts and fill your hearts with joy. Amen.
Rev’d. JoAnn Todd, Rector. The Regional Ministry of Hope
1 N.T. Wright. Simply Christian. (Harper-Collins: NY, NY) 2006 p. 207