On Easter we focused on the various reactions the disciples had to the resurrection, including doubt and disregard.
The sermon ended with the hope that we might experience the risen Christ today. We ended with the possibility that if we still gather, every week, that we might see in our midst Jesus.
This isn’t a question we had time to unpack, and something I want to address here.
I was recently reading N.T. Wright’s book, “How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels.” In it, he focuses on four perspectives that are equally important for understanding the Gospels. One of these perspectives has to do with for whom the Gospels were written. While they are certainly stories of what happened in Jesus life, God also choose specific stories that would be necessary for the life of the early church (and then by extension, us).
This unique perspective is the key to the unlocking the question: how do we, who live on this side of the ascension, experience the risen Christ?
In Luke 24, we find one such story. It’s a story written, I believe, because the church needs instruction on how we might experience the risen Christ.
13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.
What a particularly unique story: Jesus was alive! Yet, they did not recognize him.
More than any reaction to the resurrection, this is one of the most common today. While we believe that Jesus is alive, and that God’s Spirit is everywhere, we often go through life unable to see God in our midst.
Knowing that this was written not only because it happened, but because the early church needed it, we can read it with a fresh pair of eyes. For it’s us, today, who are walking through life, unable to see him in our midst.
In fact, I believe these disciples remained anonymous in this story for a reason: they were meant to represent disciples in general, in all times and places, including people like you and me. We are meant to insert ourselves into the story.
Thus, read the rest of this story with this in mind:
17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
19 “What things?” he asked.
“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”
25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.
30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
Their eyes were opened, in the breaking of bread and the sharing of scripture.
Jesus was walking in their midst. They were talking with Jesus. They were learning from Jesus. Jesus was right there, yet they could not see him. Until they broke bread and studied scripture.
If this is what it took for them to recognize the risen Christ while he was in their midst only days after the resurrection, then how much more will it be true for us?
Not just the study of scripture, but the kind of study that leaves our hearts burning; and not just the breaking of bread, but the kind that that opens our eyes to the risen Christ; this is how the early church experienced God in their midst, and the same is true for us.