Thoughts on the Gospel Reading
3rd Sunday of Easter, Year A
(See TEXT below )
May 8, 2011
Today's Gospel reading from the Lectionary opens to us another post-resurrection appearance of the risen Jesus to his followers, this time to Cleopas and an unnamed disciple as they returned from Jerusalem and the scene of the crime, the crucifixion.
This is my favorite New Testament description of the risen LORD because it shows the stark contrast and the change of character between the moment when believers in Jesus thought he was dead and when they discovered that he was alive. Their transformation is both powerful and poignant.
There are two ideas I want us to explore as a way to get underneath the skin of the text:
1) the disillusioned disciples
2) the incognito Christ
THE DISILLUSIONED DISCIPLES
"Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days?"
This is the question they asked of the stranger -- Jesus present, but not known -- as he walked with them. After they relate the greatness of Jesus' ministry: "a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people," and how the religious leadership had him executed: "our chief priests and rulers both handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him," they make this statement: "But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel."
This is the way of the world. We usually does not live very long before the loss of dream occurs, or the reality that our realized dream really fails to fulfill. Cleopas and friend are returning home, campaign lost, dream over. Their man, their Messianic hope, their Jesus, has died. It’s all lost now, for how could there be a dead Messiah? (N.T.Wright)
The text tells us they were conversing and debating what had happened because they had received word that some of the Jesus-believers claimed to have seen him alive. Could this really be? People do not really rise from the dead, do they? This type of discussion is called hoping against all hope.
I love this story because it is so human. It depicts life as it really is to us in the here and now, focusing on our common struggle by unsealing what is often left unsaid in polite company -- especially polite, religious company -- that all of us are touched by a mutual thread of disillusionment that runs through the entire human condition.
Let me attempt to illustrate in a very small way. Recently, I happened to overhear the conversation of a late middle-aged couple eating Sunday afternoon dinner. They were in the booth behind me and they, like me, were waiting for their meal.
I heard the husband say, "You know, if I can retire next year, and if our health holds, out I would like to take a long vacation..."
Now, what is so interesting is that it happened to mirror a conversation I had with my wife not too long ago, a conversation about her retirement and my health. What was even more interesting was not what was said but the tone of the man's voice. Remember, I could not see them speaking, I could only hear them, even so I recognized the tone of his words -- not optimistic, world-weary, worn, frayed, ground down by life's events.
Brothers and Sister, I know you recognize the tone as well, although you did not hear him. You recognize the tone because you have used it too! This is the real world.
The question offered to us from the text is the very human question of how can we gain a handle on our broken dreams and doused expectations so that they do not break us? How can we get beyond a disillusioned discipleship to a contentment in all situations? (Philippians 4:11)
The only answer for the Christian believer is a solid, underlying belief in the providence of the GOD who is there. If we can somehow relinquish our dreams and struggles into GOD's hands, trusting that whatever happens in this life can be taken into the power of providential creativity and turned into the accomplishing of divine design, then we will be able to see through our dreams to a deeper angle and to an inmost aim. Then we will be able to see an opening of hope within the darkness of disillusionment.
In his little book, "Into Your Hands, Father", Wilifrid Stinissen reminds us that if we are troubled by what is occurring in our life "we do not see things that happen in the right context, namely, as material in GOD's hands."
Material in GOD's hands? Yes. The events of our life -- both good and bad -- if daily offered in allegiance to the risen, living Christ can be transformed by GOD’s power into the stuff of providence and plan.
What must also be discovered is that this daily offering, in truth, is the primary practice of discipleship. This daily offering is actually what it means to live as a follower of the Christ.
Remember, at the moment of our faith in the Christ our life ceased to be our own. At that moment the direction of our life became his direction; the purpose of our life became his purpose. That is why at the outset we are told to count the cost (Luke 14:28) because discipleship means we acknowledge through all we have and all we are that we were bought with a price, and therefore, daily, we willingly decide to glorify GOD in our lives and not ourselves. (1 Corinthians 6:20)
THE INCOGNITO CHRIST
Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him."
Important questions plunge and race from this statement right to our own daily experience of the Christ. For example, in one of last week's lectionary readings we were reminded from St. Peter that: "Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy..."(1 Peter 1:8)
We have not seen him, but we love him. The question becomes: Is this love for the Christ made more difficult because we have not seen him? I think it is. Still, even though we have not seen him there may have been times when somehow our hearts burned within us while he motioned to us in our hearts.
Said another way, the living Christ does not come to us with sirens and flashing lights. His movement toward us is subtle, quiet, anonymous. His presence with us is disguised and obscure, and really only discovered afterward, by looking back upon it.
Or, said still another way, the presence of the Christ is only mediated, discovered through the Spirit by two primary advocates: the Holy Scriptures and the Koinonia fellowship.
Today's text reads: "And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight. Then they said to each other, "Were not our hearts burning (within us) while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?"
In the scriptures, the presence of the Christ is opened to us. In the Scriptures his life and sacrifice, his mission and mercy are displayed to us in order to penetrate and shape the pattern of our own life. These ancient words become the stuff of our life and the authority of our practice of the Jesus-way.
Likewise, at the table, in the breaking of the bread and the blessing of the cup, the Christ is mediated to his people. However, while this idea certainly includes Holy Communion, there is also more in view. What this actually signifies is the reality of the shared nerve of the Christ with his followers -- the Koinonia fellowship or the mystical union of the Christ with his people. Somehow, gloriously and deeply, we are forever linked with the living presence of the risen Christ, and in the end, this is his greatest gift to us from resurrection, for here disillusionment finally ends in peace.
13 Now that very day two of them were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus, 14 and they were conversing about all the things that had occurred. 15 And it happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, 16 but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him. 17 He asked them, "What are you discussing as you walk along?" They stopped, looking downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, said to him in reply, "Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days?" 19 And he replied to them, "What sort of things?" They said to him, "The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 how our chief priests and rulers both handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him. 21 But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel; and besides all this, it is now the third day since this took place. 22 Some women from our group, however, have astounded us: they were at the tomb early in the morning 23 and did not find his body; they came back and reported that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who announced that he was alive. 24 Then some of those with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women had described, but him they did not see." 25 And he said to them, "Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures. 28 As they approached the village to which they were going, he gave the impression that he was going on farther. 29 But they urged him, "Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over." So he went in to stay with them. 30 And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. 31 With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight. 32 Then they said to each other, "Were not our hearts burning (within us) while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?"
33 So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the eleven and those with them 34 who were saying, "The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!" 35 Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.