I saw Jesus the other day right here in Asheville. Can you believe it? He was serving breakfast to the homeless at Pritchard Park. Then I saw him again. He bagged an elderly lady’s groceries at Ingles and carried them to her car. Then I saw him a third time. He was sorting canned goods to be distributed to those in need at Manna Food Bank. Then I saw him again later that evening. He was wrapping his arms around a sobbing woman in the emergency room at Mission Hospital after she had received some devastating news.
I don’t know what it is about Jesus but he’s popping up everywhere these days. Jesus is making his presence known and it doesn’t look like he going to stop doing it any time in the foreseeable future! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! The tomb is empty and Jesus is showing up at Pritchard Park, the grocery store, the food pantry and the hospital. There’s no telling where he might appear next. Keep your eyes wide open and, perhaps, you will see him, too!
I’ve been a parish pastor for nearly 30 years. Every once in a while I get asked a question that I’m certain we’ve all asked at some point in our lives: “Where is Jesus? Where is God in the midst of my pain, my sorrow, my loneliness, my anger, my fear?” It’s a question we’ve all asked at some point in our lives. But I don’t think it’s a question that shows a lack of faith. It is a question that is asked by people of faith who, for whatever reason, cannot see the presence of Jesus in their lives.
This spiritual blindness is usually only temporary and it often occurs when our lives are in crisis; when our vision shifts toward the darkness rather than the light; when we see the glass as half empty rather than half full. “Where is Jesus? Where is God in the midst of my pain, my sorrow, my loneliness, my anger, my fear?”
If you’ve ever asked this question, or if you are asking it right now, you’re in good company! According to Matthew, Jesus asked it while dying on the cross “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” [Matt 27:46] The disciples asked it on Easter Sunday when, according to Luke, the women’s news about the resurrection of Jesus “seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” [Lk 24:11]
John tells us that after the disciples heard the news of Jesus’ resurrection they continued to hide behind locked doors, afraid the Jewish leaders would come after them next. They were unable to grasp the reality of the resurrection until Jesus appeared before them, showed them his hands and his side, and said “Peace be with you” [Jn 20:19-21]
So, if you’ve ever asked the question “Where is Jesus?” you are in good company, indeed! And today’s gospel lesson is yet another tale of the disciples’ inability to see Jesus, even though he was standing right in front of them.
The story starts with two disciples who are traveling on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. One of these disciples was Simon, the other was Cleopas. Luke tells us that these two disciples are followers of Jesus but they are not part of the original twelve. [vs. 33] As they continue their journey, Jesus appears by the side of the road and begins to walk with them. However, our gospel lesson tells us that “their eyes were kept from recognizing him.”
Now, I don’t think this means that Jesus somehow put a spell on them so that their minds were unable to comprehend who was standing right in front of them. I also don’t think it means Jesus was wearing some sort of disguise, like a celebrity trying to hide from the paparazzi.
The truth of the matter is these two disciples had their minds fixed on the events of Good Friday. Their story is not unlike that of the women who gathered at the tomb or the disciples who huddled in fear behind locked doors. Their minds were fixed on Jesus’ arrest and trial, torture and crucifixion. Resurrection was the farthest thing from their minds.
This becomes abundantly clear when the stranger on the road asks them “So, what’s the news from Jerusalem?” The two disciples looked at their traveling companion dumbfounded. Cleopas replied “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” In other words, they looked at their traveling companion as if he had crawled out from under a rock. It would be like someone coming up to us this week who was totally unaware of Mark Zuckerberg testifying before Congress or the bombing in Syria. We would wonder if they had been stranded on a desert island with no access to people, newspapers, T.V. or the internet.
“Dude, where did you come from? Everyone knows what happened this week in Jerusalem. It’s the talk of the town. I can’t believe you haven’t heard what happened. So let me fill you in on all the details.”
Cleopas then proceeds to tell this clueless stranger about Jesus’ trial and crucifixion. He tells him about the women who gathered at the tomb, their vision of angels, and their belief that Jesus had risen from the dead. He also said that several of the disciples went to the tomb and found it empty just like the women had said.
The important thing to notice about Cleopas’ story is that it makes no mention of the disciples’ encounter with the risen Christ. Therefore, we can assume from the details in Luke’s gospel that these two disciples began their journey to Emmaus sometime after Easter morning and before Easter evening. They were in the same state of mind as those disciples who were huddled in fear behind locked doors before Jesus appeared before them and said “Peace be with you.”
Jesus responds to Cleopas’ story with a Bible study. He says to Cleopas and Simon, “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?”
Jesus then begins with the story of Moses and winds his way through the teachings of the prophets, showing them how their words were fulfilled in what happened to Jesus. I’m sure it was the Bible study to end all Bible studies. However, this masterful teaching was not enough to open Cleopas’ and Simon’s eyes. They were still clueless with regard to the identity of their traveling companion. It’s hard to imagine, but it’s true
When Jesus was finished with his teaching, and the three of them reached Emmaus, Cleopas and Simon invited their traveling companion to stay with them for the evening. Jesus accepted their invitation. And when they sat down to share a meal Jesus took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them. FINALLY, the light bulb went off in their heads. Their eyes were opened and they recognized that it was Jesus who had taught them on the road, and who was now breaking bread with them. As soon as this happened, Jesus vanished from sight.
Cleopas and Simon said to on another “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” Finally, they got it. They understood that Jesus had risen from the dead. Their perspective shifted from Good Friday to Easter Sunday, from death to new life.
Cleopas and Simon packed their things and immediately headed back to Jerusalem. They found Jesus’ inner circle of disciples and exclaimed to them “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to us. It took us a while but we finally recognized him in the breaking of the bread.” I’m sure the other disciples shared with Simon and Cleopas their story of how Jesus appeared before them this same night, showed them his hands and side, and said “Peace be with you.”
Friends in Christ, there is a lot we can learn from Cleopas’ and Simon’s story as people who sometimes ask the question “Where is Jesus?” The truth of the matter is that Jesus is standing right in front us. He walks beside us on the road of life, but our hearts and our minds are unable to recognize his presence among us. The reason for this is that we are stuck on the Good Friday experiences of life, unable to make the shift to Easter Sunday. Our minds are focused on suffering and death and cannot envision healing and new life. It happened to those first disciples. So why should it surprise us that it happens to us as well?
However, the good news of our gospel lesson is that during the times of our lives when we cannot see that Christ is risen, Jesus will come to us again and again and again until our eyes are opened, the light bulb goes off in our heads, and we realize that Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! He journeys with us in good times in bad bringing new life and new beginnings to our deaths and dead ends.
Jesus makes his presence known through the Word of God and speaks to us through the Old and New Testaments. He nourishes our spirits through the bread and wine of Holy Communion. We see him working in our world though acts of compassion and service done in his name.
Jesus is everywhere, all around us if we only have ears to hear and eyes to see him. Therefore, whenever we find ourselves surrounded by the Good Friday experiences of life, may we trust that Jesus walks with us whether we see him or not. And that somehow, some way, he will make his presence known in our lives. Our eyes will see and our minds will know that Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! AMEN
Copyright ©2018 by David Eck