The beauty of today is this: Jesus rose from the dead, three days after he was crucified, nailed to a tree. But not everyone can see the beauty. Not everyone “gets” it.
Take these two men from our scripture today, traveling by foot from Jerusalem to a village called Emmaus. They are discussing how Jesus was arrested, how he was tried on trumped up charges, sentenced to death, beaten, hung on the cross, died, buried in a tomb, and resurrected. They know all the details. They’ve heard the story.
Now, as they walked, they are joined by a third man, by Jesus, but they were “kept from recognizing him.”
Seriously, what does that even mean? “Kept from recognizing him?”
We don’t know what exactly ‘kept’ them. Maybe it was their grief at Jesus’ death or excitement at the story of his return. Or maybe, just maybe, it was their own skepticism.
Brennan Manning, of the Ragamuffin Gospel who died a year and a week ago, told this story:
Four years ago in a large city in the far West, rumors spread that a certain Catholic woman was having visions of Jesus. The reports reached the archbishop. He decided to check her out. There is always a fine line between the authentic mystic and the lunatic fringe.
“Is it true, ma’am, that you have visions of Jesus?” asked the cleric.
“Yes,” the woman replied simply.
“Well, the next time you have a vision, I want you to ask Jesus to tell you the sins that I confessed in my last confession.”
The woman was stunned. “Did I hear you right, bishop? You actually want me to ask Jesus to tell me the sins of your past?”
“Exactly. Please call me if anything happens.”
Ten days later the woman notified her spiritual leader of a recent apparition. “Please come,” she said.
Within the hour the archbishop arrived. He trusted eye-to-eye contact. “You just told me on the telephone that you actually had a vision of Jesus. Did you do what I asked?”
“Yes, bishop, I asked Jesus to tell me the sins you confessed in your last confession.”
The bishop leaned forward with anticipation. His eyes narrowed.
“What did Jesus say?”
She took his hand and gazed deep into his eyes. “Bishop,” she said, “these are his exact words: I CAN’T REMEMBER.’”
Isn’t that the way it always is? We can’t believe because we can’t quite wrap our minds around it. We can’t quite get it.
But here, we have two guys walking with the real, live, historical Jesus. Not a Christ-figure or an image of Jesus. The actual Jesus.
So Jesus asks them, “so, guys, what are you talking about?”
And the first man, one named Cleopas, a translated term which means “glory to the father” (isn’t that ironic?), says, “wait, are you the only one who doesn’t know what’s going on?”
But remember, this is post-resurrection, and they’re upset. The resurrection of Jesus hasn’t actually changed anything because they don’t see the impact of the resurrection.
They know that the tomb was empty but it’s like the resurrection might as well not have happened.
Nothing is different. Nothing is better.
So they launch into this litany of what happened to Jesus. It’s all true, but it’s incomplete. Their understanding of Jesus and who he was and what he did is still too small even after his resurrection.
“We hoped he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” It’s the past tense. Jesus is dead. Risen? Gone? No longer here. And where he went or why doesn’t matter because that’s the only reality they understand to matter.
So, unrecognized Jesus confronts their attitudes, and tells them that they’re missing the point, that they can’t really see what’s going on in Jesus.
Before we get to the story’s payoff, I want to stop and consider how we miss the point. Brian McLaren wrote a book that implied that we’re having “adventures in missing the point,” how we sometimes can’t get to what God really wants us to see.
How do we miss the point?
How are we blind even when Jesus is right in front of us?
What are we failing to see about how Jesus is moving in the world, in the people around us, in us ourselves, in the situations that we find ourselves in?
Is it possible that we’re failing to see the importance of the resurrection? Is it possible that all of the stuff and all of the busyness and all of the worries that are crowding in on us is blinding us to the way that God really loves us and wants us to love him? Is it possible that all of the stuff that we’re struggling with, all of the things we’ve done, all the people we’ve hurt, keeps us from recognizing exactly how awesome life could be if we’d let it?
Brennan Manning wrote:
“Because salvation is by grace through faith, I believe that among the countless number of people standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands, I shall see the prostitute from the Kit-Kat Ranch in Carson City, Nevada, who tearfully told me that she could find no other employment to support her two-year-old son. I shall see the woman who had an abortion and is haunted by guilt and remorse but did the best she could faced with grueling alternatives; the businessman besieged with debt who sold his integrity in a series of desperate transactions; the insecure clergyman addicted to being liked, who never challenged his people from the pulpit and longed for unconditional love; the sexually abused teen molested by his father and now selling his body on the street, who, as he falls asleep each night after his last “trick”, whispers the name of the unknown God he learned about in Sunday school.
“But how?” we ask.
Then the voice says, “They have washed their robes and have made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” There they are. There we are – the multitude who so wanted to be faithful, who at times got defeated, soiled by life, and bested by trials, wearing the bloodied garments of life’s tribulations, but through it all clung to faith. My friends, if this is not good news to you, you have never understood the gospel of grace.”
Is it possible that we have eternal life all wrong? That rather than playing for the next life, we’re supposed to be playing for this one? Not for ourselves, but in the name of Jesus?
Back to our friend Cleopas and Fred (we don’t know his name, sorry), as they round the corner to Emmaus and begin to part ways with Jesus. They invite him in, asking him to have dinner with them.
There at the table, in the place where he shared the first communion, the last and first supper of the kingdom of God, it says their eyes were opened and they recognized him. In that moment, in that gesture, the one they’d seen before:
“This is my body, broken for you. This is my blood, shed for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
And then, they remember. Then, they see. Then, they know.
Can you see?
Do you recognize?
This Easter, I hope you’ll see that the resurrection matters. It means that death is not the final word. That sin has no power over you. That shame, and guilt, and anger, and hurt no longer have you stuck.
That Jesus is right in front of you. In the person next to you. In the child or parent you need to call after lunch today. In the coworker you need to forgive before work on Monday. In the bully that told you that your life didn’t matter.
Jesus is risen. The kingdom has come. Rise up to go out and be the kingdom in a world that thinks it’s still Good Friday.
Friends, “death doesn’t ruin the story” (Erin Wathen). Death isn’t the end, but the speed bump on the way to Emmaus, the minor detour before the grand adventure. It’s the place where we change venues.
But if we’re really ready to see, in the hear and now, Jesus is risen and the whole story is already changed.
If we’d only open our eyes.