Luke 24:13-49 That same day two of the disciples were making their way to a village called Emmaus, which was about about seven miles from Jerusalem, discussing all that things that had happened as they went. While they were discussing these things, Jesus approached and began to walk with them, though they were kept from recognizing Jesus, who asked them "What are you two discussing as you go your way?" They stopped and looked sad. One of them, Cleopas by name, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who doesn't know the things that have happened these past few days?” Jesus said to them, “What things?” They said, “About Jesus of Nazareth, a prophet powerful in the word and deed in the eyes God and all the people, how our chief priests and leaders delivered him up to be condemned to death and crucified him. We were hoping that he was the one who would set Israel free. Besides all this, today, the third day since these things happened, some women of our group just brought us astonishing news. They were at the tomb before dawn, and didn't find the body; they returned and informed us, that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who declared that Jesus was alive. Some of our number went to the tomb and found it to be just as the women said; but they didn't find Jesus.” Then Jesus said to them, “What sense do you have! How slow you are to believe all that the prophets have announced! Didn't the Messiah have to undergo all this to enter into glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, Jesus interpreted for them every passage of scripture which referred to the Messiah. By now they were near the village they were going to, and Jesus appeared to be going further. But they said eagerly, “Stay with us, it's nearly evening evening- the day is practically over.” So the savior went in and stayed with them. After sitting with them to eat, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, the broke the bread and began to distribute it to them. With that their eyes were opened, and they recognized Jesus; who immediately vanished from their sight. They said to one other, “Weren't our hearts burning within us while this one talked to us on the road, and explained the scriptures to us?” They got up immediately and returned to Jerusalem; where they found the eleven and the rest of the company assembled. They were greeted with, “Christ has risen! It's true! Jesus has appeared to Simon!” Then the travelers recounted what had happened on the road, and how they had come to know Jesus in the breaking of the bread. While they were talking about this, Jesus actually stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” In their panic and fright, they thought that they were seeing a ghost. Jesus said to them, “Why are you disturbed, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?
Last week, in John's account of Jesus appearing to the disciples in the upper room, we saw Thomas affirm his belief in the risen Christ. But in the text this week from Luke, who tells the story from a different angle- here it is a week after the resurrection and people are still confused and locked in grief.
The distance from Jerusalem to Emmaus is about 7 miles- about 3 hours of walking at an average stride. One of the things John and I love to do together is walk in the woods- not so much for the exercise (as you can tell) but because it gives us a chance to really talk without interruption or even traffic noise for a few hours. Being in that environment helps us listen to each other better, and gain more insight into what is really important in each other's lives. I can imagine a similar feeling on the road that day to Emmaus- a simple dirt road, no cell phones, traffic sounds or interruptions. And though it was the main form of gerting from one place to another, it was also a time for the disciples to just time to talk, reflect, and gain understanding, this time into what has just happened in Jerusalem. As Jesus joins them, they are kept from recognizing him- he asks what they are talking about, and the text says, they stood still and looked sad... they are perhaps in that state of numbness that often accompanies grief- "Most people are stunned as if they are unable to grasp the reality and the meaning of the news. They have heard the words but not the message . Survivors have been heard to say, ... It didn't seem real." Many times, you hear, "I can't believe he(or she)is dead." The bereaved may find themselves performing the daily routines "like an automaton." In intense pain, we are likely to "dissociate," that means, in a manner, stepping away from ourselves, so we don't feel the pain from too close a point. As a result of such a dissociation, we may not be fully thinking, seeing, hearing, or feeling everything."-Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D. Clinical Psychologist Mind Publications 3 hours talking heart to heart- and their grief is so raw and so deep that they don't know that Jesus is walking next to them.
In fact it's not until they are eating dinner later in the day that their eyes are opened and they recognize Jesus in their midst. His familiar action and words give him away- known to us as "communion"- Jesus breaks bread, and blesses it and gives it to them and says, "do this in remembrance of me." As a not so small aside, it's why we celebrate communion. It's why we need communion... probably more than once a month. We need to be reminded that Christ is in our midst. Through that simple meal we reopen our eyes to the idea that Jesus is alive in the world, working in and through us, drawing us recognize our value, our purpose, and God's love.
But let's go back to the disciples for a moment. Most of us would give our eye teeth to have experienced walking with Jesus for 3 hours. However, I don't think we need much convincing that most of us, if having been given that same opportunity, would do any better than the disciples in recognizing the risen Christ. I would wager that most of us readily admit to allowing our focus to be distracted, even closing our eyes to Jesus among us. Sometimes it can be, like the disciples, that we've dissociated because of grief or some other crisis- and sometimes it's too painful to acknowledge Jesus. At other times it's inconvenient. Sometimes it conflicts with our agenda- we have things we need to accomplish- or we have people we want to stay mad at- or we have hurts we aren't ready to move on from. SO it's easier not to recognize that Jesus walking next to us. I wonder though, how it would feel to acknowledge Jesus- not just when we want to, but all the time.
I am reminded of my childhood Jesus model- the Santa Clause 'knows when you are bad or good, so be good for goodness sake'- type of God. "God is always watching Linda- so be good- and don't hold a grudge- and don't be so sensitive- hey that's your responsibility- watch your step or you will fall into sin- do it yourself- do better- don't do that- did you read your Bible today?- don't forget to say your prayers!" God is always with you... how can anyone deal with that?
So we don't... we refocus our eyes on things that are manageable We make Jesus into a part time walking companion- one we turn to when we need help, or when we're hurting, or when we want change- or want someone else to change. For example- who wants Jesus watching when we're gossiping about someone? Or walking past someone who is homeless? Or any number of things in our lives we would rather not have Jesus sidle up to us and join in our conversation. Or would we...
The painting on the front of your bulletin is called, "The Kitchen Maid by Velázquez, and I've included a poem about the painting by Denise Levertov- through this beautiful art 'we can relive the numinous shock of an ordinary person when she realized that the rumors of resurrection were true. By the time that Cleopas and his unnamed companion had walked with Jesus the seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus, the evening darkness had descended upon them. When Jesus acted as if he would continue walking, they implored him, "stay with us, for the day is almost over." And so their dinner at Emmaus... Unless we believe that the men cooked their own meal and served themselves, there had to be a woman behind the scenes. But Luke leaves her unnamed and unmentioned. And herein is the genius of Velázquez and Levertov — their artistic fictions imagine a historical reality. Velázquez painted two versions of the "Kitchen Maid" (in Spanish, La mulata, La cocinera, or Escena de cocina). It's the earliest known work by him, painted when he was about eighteen. The copy in the Art Institute of Chicago shows only a mulatto maid. And for many decades the version in the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin also showed only the servant girl. But when the Dublin painting was cleaned in 1933, it revealed Jesus and the two men in the distant background of the upper left corner. Clearly, the Dublin version was the dinner at Emmaus. The main figure and visual center point in both paintings is the kitchen maid in the foreground. Jesus and the men are relegated to a back room in the background. We see them only through a window-like opening. Velázquez depicts the maid as a mulatto, the offspring of a Spanish Christian and an African Muslim. Barry Wind comments that the Hispanic antipathy of that day toward Moors considered them "lazy, lubricious, and figuratively subhuman.” The subject of this painting, then, is a person marginalized at every level — by her mixed race, religion, gender, and class. While the men speak of spiritual matters in the back, she's hard at work in the kitchen."...The woman is badly distracted. In her left hand she holds a ceramic jug of wine. She's glancing over her right shoulder, listening carefully to the back room conversation."* Look at her face! Velazquez has captured the moment when she realizes exactly who she has been serving all evening- and she's so shocked she needs support herself on the sink!
I can't add much more to that. But I can recognize myself in that face, and in that body posture; I can feel her shortness of breath and the numbness of shock in the realization of "Holy smoke that's Jesus!" And I don't know what we're supposed to do with all of that except to take it in and own it for ourselves. What would it be life for you to recognize Jesus at your table, or on your phone conversations, or your car rides, or your work place, or sitting next to you on your computer at night?
Many would go the place of shame or embarrassment- even self loathing that Jesus may peek into our deepest darkest selves. And that's enough to make you weak in the knees- and have to support your body weight on the edge of the sink, amen? How easy it is to revert to that childhood image of God- the one who is watching and continually disappointed. But my friends as long as we hold that image of God in our hearts, we can never be free to be all that God has designed us to be.
Let me tell you, as one who does not live a perfect life, about the Jesus I know. I know that Jesus wants my best. That Jesus calls me to a higher standard than I believe is possible for me to attain on my own- I know me after all. The Jesus I know, however, also knows me... knows every doubt I have about myself, knows every fault I have acquired, every sin I have committed and knows exactly why I've done it. The Jesus I know, knows my heart- and hurts when I do wrong- not just for the person I've injured, but for me... because Jesus knows I can have a better life than the one I am choosing when I sin. The Jesus I know shows up without warning, and comes and goes sometimes without me recognizing it was Jesus until after he's gone. And sometimes I grieve that I didn't see him. Sometimes I rejoice that he cared enough to intervene. The Jesus I know never shames me, or guilts me, or punishes me when I fail, which is often. I do a good enough job of that on my own- no divine help needed. My bar of self expectation is so high I can't see it- so it's easy to mess up. Instead, the Jesus I know pulls me out of my self, and into the wider community- get up! The Jesus I know pushes me back out- call me to do- invites me to be- and encourages me to live in a way that puts God first in my life- becasue when it comes down to it- if I do that, everything else in my life will fall into place. And finally, the Jesus I know, no matter what I think or do or feel, never stops loving me- and never stops loving you.
Why not take a walk this afternoon and find out for yourself? Give yourself a chance to really talk without interruption or even traffic noise for a few hours. Listen... communicate... get to know the Jesus walking with you on the road, who has been with the the whole of your life
* Clendenin, Dan, The Eucharist at Emmaus, Journey With Jesus, 2017