Third Sunday Of Easter (April 30, 2017)

The final chapter of Luke’s Gospel (Chapter 24) tells of a wonderful episode that occurred on Easter afternoon. This account appears only in Luke.

Two disciples, Cleopas - and perhaps his wife - were travelling the seven-mile journey to Emmaus. They were crestfallen. Jesus had been killed. Some strange stories about “sightings” of Jesus were circulating. These stories were not compelling enough to detain them in Jerusalem. This is the story that forms the context of where we may meet the living Jesus: faith in the Resurrection comes from experience of the risen Lord.

The two were heading westward, away from the light of the world. Their hope in a warrior-king Messiah was dashed. A stranger falls into step with them. To them he was an outsider, one who neither shared their loss nor understood their grief. He asks, “What are you discussing as you go your way?” They respond by asking, “Are you the only resident of Jerusalem who does not know what went on there these past few days?” Jesus counters by asking, “What things?”

He came as a stranger. They did not recognize him. Nor did others who were close to him.

We may well ask why people did not immediately recognize him after the resurrection. There may be two reasons for this:

  • Jesus as risen must have looked somewhat different than before he died.

  • What the mind does not anticipate, the eye does not see. Our expectations! Our expectations create selective perceptions, i.e., Mary Magdalene’s initial inability to recognize Jesus dressed as a gardener.

What eventually enables the two to finally recognize Jesus? Two things:

First, there was a discussion along the road. Crises play a big role in our road to spiritual development and maturity. God provides/provokes many crises by asking questions. After all, questions have a knack for putting us on the spot. Some standouts among Jesus’ questions include:

Who do you say that I am?
Where is your husband?
“What are you discussing as you go your way?”
“What things?”

They had to articulate where they were with all of this.

Then, he gifted them with a new experience: “How slow you are to believe all that the prophets have announced.” Their selective perception of the prophets was narrow. They expected him to be a warrior-king who would free Israel from Rome. They failed to consider texts that referred to the suffering and death of god’s servant. They avoided the cross as Peter had done, and probably Judas as well, as perhaps, we all do. In his response, Jesus made sense of things. Unfortunately, his words to them were never recorded. Their hearts burned within them.

Then, there was a real meal for them in Emmaus.

Approaching Emmaus, Jesus appeared to be continuing on, reminiscent of Revelation 3:20: “Here I stand, knocking at the door. If anyone hears me calling and opens the door, I will enter his house and have supper with him and he with me.” We recall the picture with Jesus standing at the door without an exterior handle.

The two had the power to break off the new relationship with the stranger, to side step the obligation of hospitality. Another crisis provoked by Jesus, “And then, they recognized him in the breaking of the bread.”

Both the words on the road and the action of the meal join to form Eucharistic language:

On the road, Jesus spoke of the law, prophets, writings that are a summary of Jewish scriptures. We hear that today as the liturgy of the word. At home there is the breaking of the bread: Eucharistic language. Took bread, pronounced the blessing, broke.

Of to Jerusalem, energized by the Good News.

In the meantime, Peter had had a similar experience and had also returned to the community. That appearance is also one of the great untold stories. Only when we recognize Him in word + sacrament in the stranger, and in ourselves, will our hearts burn brightly enough to attract others to Christ’s fire.

When we open ourselves to the uninvited stranger that God sets in our path, Jesus makes himself known to us in new ways. He becomes visible in the Middle Eastern immigrant with an impossible-to-pronounce name, in the shabby person with an impossible-to-believe story, and in the neighbor with impossible-to-accept irritating habits. Christ is “made known to us” every time we seek to be bread for others or when they do the same for us. May the stirrings of our hearts cause them to burn with desire to make Christ known to still others throughout the blessedness, brokenness, and sharing of our lives.