Giving Up Our Knowing So We Can See
13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
If you have any uncertainties about what the resurrection of Jesus means you are in good company. On the very first Easter, even though they had been told the tomb was empty and that Jesus lived, these disciples were walking away from Jerusalem. No matter what they had been told, they could not imagine Jesus alive. They had seen him dead. The claim that such a thing could happen was rapidly dismissed—”these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. (Luke 24:11). It didn’t make any sense. Then as now, it is very hard to see something that is outside of our experience. The first century had as many doubts and questions as any of us in the twenty first.
Nor could they comprehend the idea that the messiah could redeem Israel by being crucified. Jesus’ death ruled him out as the messiah. “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” That was simply not was supposed to happen—you can’t help anyone, much less redeem a nation if you are dead. And these men had seen Jesus die. In their disappointment and sadness they could not see Jesus, even when he stood right in front of them.
We tend to forget this part of the first Easter. In ordinary life, we have the same problem. We are just as likely to fail to see as these disciples and we would do well to pay attention to what impedes our seeing.
As the story unfolds, Jesus (at that time a stranger) asks “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” There is no triumphant announcement of who he is. Jesus simply joins them. He seeks them out and meets them on the road—even when they were going in the wrong direction. But, they could not see him.
How many times in his ministry did Jesus explicitly tell the disciples what was going happen and how many times did they fail to see him? So once again “he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.” Jesus guided them to help them understand—but they were stuck in their own definitions and interpretations. They could not yet see that something brand new had happened.
It is only when Jesus becomes the host and re-enacts their last meal together. . “He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.” Finally they had the “aha moment”. ‘Oh, that’s what he meant.’
They could see Jesus in remembrance and in relationship. Our best efforts to describe the resurrection of Jesus or to imagine what resurrection means for us individually fail us. Words are necessary but woefully inadequate.
Grasping the resurrection involves the heart and it manifests itself in transformation.. After all of his teaching, Jesus wonders aloud: “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!” Though commentators argue as to Jesus’ tone—was it frustration?, scolding?, endearing?—- what we do know is that Jesus persevered and people were transformed. Literally and figuratively, these followers of Jesus changed direction.
As it turns out, seeing the risen Lord is not about knowing. It is about being transformed. Our beliefs, our study, and our worship can help lead us forward but it is in the experience of transformation that all of those things take on new meaning and our lives are changed.
There are many routes to this experience. When I was in seminary, my youngest brother died. At his funeral familiar scriptures were read about ‘preparing a place’ and many mansions. In a way that was inexplicable to my skeptical rational mind, the words comforted. I realized that many children die every day. I realized that genocide continues in every generation. I realized my brother was dead. There is great darkness in the world. Yet, equally in-explicitly, I realized I had hope. I discovered that I believed that love mattered— even in a world of darkness. It changed me. My brother did not intend any of these changes, but his life changed mine. Over the years, his face and voice have faded but the value of his life is unquestionable. He lives as we speak.
Three different woman in our church (and most certainly more) Carolyn Brooks, Elinor Cook and Linda Labron describe different experiences of love and the resurrected life. Carolyn will describe the appearance of a cardinal at particular, important times when she needed her husband. This cardinal has become the embodiment of her husband. His love and support could not be destroyed by his death. For Elinor, ever since she noticed a crow at her father’s burial, crows have been the vehicle and symbol of her father’s foundational love. For Linda, several years after her husband’s death, she traveled alone to Scotland and spent time at Iona. Sitting quietly she felt the presence of her husband behind her and she felt his touch on her shoulder. She was afraid to turn around but she was changed. She will forever carry the peace and confidence of that moment.
Typically, we don’t talk about such experiences. They are hard to describe and don’t fit our usual way of thinking. They are outside of our logic and understanding but in each case, hearts were touched. (A brief caveat. These kinds of experiences are not a benchmark of Christian faith. They are simply individual descriptions of some particular ‘aha’ moments). In our FIRL group there was a consensus that most of us had lived long enough to realize how often we have been wrong about what we thought we knew. We needed details and explanations less but as Greg Perry put it: ‘The resurrection helps you go on.’ No matter what we experience in life, the darkness will not overcome us. Love will prevail. That is a hope that is hard to hold onto but it is the promise of the resurrection.
Ultimately relying on what they knew kept the disciples from seeing. Only after the fact did the disciples give any credibility to ‘how their hearts burned’ when they listened to Jesus. We too often fail to see because we view the heart as irrational and unverifiable. But the Christian faith is not about understanding, it is about loving—and loving must always engage both mind and heart.
In life and in death Jesus seeks to gather us in. He wants us to know what love means, he wants us to know that death is not the end. He wants us to know that love will prevail. He wants us to know that every life matters. And he wants us to have hope. That is the abundant life Christ offers. When we face terrible loss, betrayal, the erosion of our bodies, such a faith is not very reasonable. Some will call us naive fools looking for a crutch. No argument will contradict such views. But a transformed life might.
What we do know is that the disciples reversed their direction. They ran back to Jerusalem. They became the hands and feet of the living Lord—-the Lord who loves us, seeks us and who is with us always—if we can only see.
Help us to see. He is risen. He is risen indeed. Let it be so.