Luke 24: 13-35 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem,and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 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?” 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,and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 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. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning,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.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.” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on.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.When he was at the table with them, 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. 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?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
Cleopas and his walking companion, probably his wife, had been among the disciples, had been part of the Jesus movement- believers in Jesus as Messiah. But like many other Jesus followers, once they saw Jesus arrested, beaten, and crucified, they felt defeated and scared. They probably stayed locked away with the other disciples who had fled and were hiding from the authorities, but when the women had come back with stories of visions of angels and resurrection, even though it sounded ridiculous- they checked out the tomb for themselves- but by then all that they saw was that Jesus's body was missing- and it all became too much. "It's fake news Cleo"-says his wife, "lets go home!"
You know It's 7 miles, or about 3 and a half hours walking distance from Jerusalem to Emmaus. And I know this much about a couple in conversation for 3 hours or more- you can only talk about something for so long- no matter how big the issue. There are things happening on the road- nature, plants and trees are blooming, birds are flying, clouds forming patterns and pictures- you notice these things on a long walk. There is life along on the road, villages you might pass through, shops, houses, smells of food being cooked, kids outside playing, the sounds of laughter, or arguing, or babies crying- There are other people on the road- some passing and waving- "hey not so close without a mask'- Point being, there are other things going on in your life besides the big news of the day- grocery shopping and movie night and dogs that need to go out- interruptions-situations that get our attention, or intention, or things that are just plain funny- not lessening the severity of the crisis, but still- life in full color doesn't stop.
So, when resurrected Jesus interrupts them on the road, they are so deep in conversation, maybe talking about the crucifixion, or maybe looking for someone who sells coffee toffee crunch ice cream for Cleo's late night binge, that they don't recognize him- actually, It says, 'their eyes were kept from recognizing him.' Whatever they were talking about had their focus, and they were blind to the fact that Jesus stood before them.
When he asks them what they are talking about- they stop... and they don't say anything. In fact, Luke takes a whole verse to tell us they didn't say anything...
How long was that pause? How long did it take them to shift from whatever they were talking about right back into the shock, and grief, and anger? It takes a minute, but moving from whatever space of life we're in back to the crisis, the interruption suddenly becomes an upheaval, and the pain washes over us anew, and we feel it rise up into the back of our throat, and we feel the sting of tears well up... and yeah... we can't talk about it.
And Jesus is so very gentle; he says nothing. He doesn't remind or rush or push... he just walks with them. If there is a more compassionate way to minister to someone, I don't know it.
Cleopas breaks the silence with sarcasm: "what have you been living under a rock? How can you not know what's going on?"
"Tell me everything." says Jesus. My friend Pete used to say "A true friend already knows the ending but still sticks around for the show." Such a small thing- to offer the grace of listening- to hear the whole story from that person's perspective- to endure the play by play, the one sided-ness of it all. It's a gift Jesus offers to each of us; and if we look at the words of Cleopas as a prayer, which, aren't they? Isn't any time we speak to Jesus, a prayer? So if we frame the words of Cleopas as a prayer, they quickly become our own prayer, for Covid 19 or for any time of crisis or loss-
"I'll tell you what happened- it all came crashing down, that's what- everything was supposed to be different- I had hope, I had faith- but then this happened... and that happened, and I got scared, and not for nothin- Where was God? I am SO disillusioned and and disappointed- yes! And besides all this it's been 3 days- and moreover, even though people are saying there's hope, well, I don't see it- so I can't believe it and I feel and duped- I am angry, and hurt- and alone."
Only then does Jesus speak. And he tells them the truth, of what happened and why it had to happen that way, and where God was and is, even in our darkest hour... and their hearts "burned within" them as he was speaking. Yet, the road to recognition is often a long one.
If our story ended there, it would be enough. Because often this is how we experience the risen Christ- when we are in the midst of suffering, someone, maybe one we know, or sometimes in the form of a stranger, comes alongside and brings a listening ear, or a scripture, or a prayer, or even the gift of silent presence. And we feel something- it resonates within us; we feel ourselves respond to the compassion, the thirsty Spirit within us feels quenched by love of God being poured over us. And sometimes we recognize this as a Jesus encounter, and sometimes we don't.
Look what happened in the story; when they came to the end of the journey, and Cleopas and his wife are ready to make the turn toward their house, Jesus walks on as if he will keep going. Jesus didn't worry about whether or not they would thank him, or know who it was who just spent time with them, he never even told them his name- he stepped in to their suffering as quiet as a whisper and ministered to them with the compassion and love of God- and that was enough.
Whether we recognize it or not, Christ ministers to us- whether we give thanks, or ask forgiveness, or repent, or change, or ever give God a second thought- we are pursued and cared for and soothed by the Spirit of the Living God.
Recognition, my friends, is for us; it benefits us- so when we are suffering, we know who to turn to- when we need help, we know from where our help comes, recognition means we can return to the Christ in all times, it means surety of faith, it means relationship with the divine, it means growth and life, and healing and reconciliation for all of us. Recognizing the Christ means we begin to see the Christ in ourselves- that living breathing spirit that encourages and nurtures as we grow into everything God has designed us to be-that we’re made in the image of God and are raised with Christ! It means we can see God's Spirit in others- in the strong and powerful and in the least of these... it means eyes open to life giving, love affirming power that is beyond what we can ask or think.
But one more quick thought- did you notice the moment Cleopas and the others finally did recognize Jesus in the breaking of bread- he vanishes from their sight? They could have shrugged it off like we do sometimes, or excused it away, but instead, they allowed their eyes to remain open to the truth-. That the risen Christ abides here- with us- in us- and invites us to embrace God in ourselves and each other. If you can do one thing this week, and not just this week, but from now on- in the midst of the life in full color, welcome the interruption-and even the upheaval that comes with it- it might just be what leads you home to Christ.