but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.
As human beings have evolved, we have learned to refine the use of our senses to gather information , to steer us in the right direction and act accordingly. Our brains are capable of taking in various streams of data and using them to our advantage and protection. We teach our children as soon as they can grasp the concept, that stoves and fire are hot and to be avoided. We teach them to discern our voices over the din at the playground and return to us for safety. We move out of the way when the ambulance sirens approach us on the road. We bombard our brains with data to be sorted, compared, processed and stored for later retrieval.
Despite our best efforts though, we can sometimes be wrong. We can look at an oasis in the desert, start counting the dates on the palm trees and then realize it is a mirage, it is false, and so we groan at that reality and keep urging the camel forward. And in contrast, we can also be searching for that special piece of paper with the shopping list on it , it is on pink paper with flowers , and not observe it right in front of our noses. A cloud descends over our eyes and we miss some of what is clearly visible because we are otherwise absorbed. We interpret the data to become what we want it to be, not , what it is. I think that same capacity allows a mother of a newborn to be the only one to see beauty in her otherwise scrawny, colicky baby.
Our gospel story today presents several similarities and contradictions which can mirror our own experiences. Let’s look at them.
We are presented with two travelers on a road, who will experience two differing journeys on this same road. As they go to Emmaus, they are absorbed in their grief and sadness. As they return to Jerusalem, they are exultant and in haste to tell their tale. Same people, same road, altered states of being.
These same grief stricken wayfarers have lost their capacity for sight of a certain kind. On the way to Emmaus they cannot see who their traveling companion is and yet on the way back, vision restored, they recollect “ were not our hearts burning within us while …opening the scriptures to us?” Same people, same eyes, altered vision.
Both disciples knew Jesus as a real person breaking bread and sharing meals…. before His death. It takes this repeated action to allow them to recognize him again….. after His Resurrection. The person who walked along the road with them, is the same person breaking bread with them and yet they could not see that at the time. Same disciples, same traveler, different appearance.
Their fellow traveler is now revealed for the one who was lost to them three days ago, and whose body is somehow missing from the tomb. How can this be unless it is that the prophesies have been fulfilled after all? And as quickly as they realize who He is, He vanishes.
Have you ever been so immersed in an issue or concern that time stood still? Some of us remember where we were when WWII ended, when JFK died, when 9/11 occurred or , the birth of our first child, and that event blocked out whatever else was going on. We became so engaged with processing our feelings about the event, that sight was lost to us, we were temporarily unable to see things in perspective as our focus shifted. Our brain was befuddled.
So in our story today, we cannot fault the inability of the disciples to see what is in front of them. They had to experience the appearance of the risen Christ and his disappearance, in their own fashion for it to be a truth for them. They needed him to be revealed and to leave in order to grasp who He was. Almost like a conversion moment crafted for them.
Some folks are lucky enough to experience a “conversion event” as a moment or specific time in their lives which they can label as an intervention by God that they could sense and know as one that changed them forever. Many of us experience mini conversions, several smaller moments where something special happens, but the source and cause is hard to name or describe. I am a slow learner, so no great moment of inspiration leapt into my brain and heart as God was growing in my consciousness. Instead, God used many different opportunities to be manifest to me so that over time, I could come to realize what was going on.
In those moments of giving, of serving, of putting myself last rather than first, those times cleared the clouds from my vision and let me see the presence of Christ in another. Once I realized that God was present in someone else and I needed to honor that presence, it helped me to see that the same was true for me. God was a presence in my life and as a bearer of that presence, I needed to be the best I could be. All of which creates a lingering paradox in our own faith journey……… How to see the presence of God in the absence of God. How to see the presence of God in the absence of God.
Often while singing a hymn , my heart can burn at the sensation of love and mystery and joy that I feel. Often being with grandchildren and their giggles, can do it too, unbridled love and joy, we can only sense. But what is there to see that provokes such a sense of love?
So it was with our travelers. It took time and repeated actions for them to finally and fully “see” who it was before them. The catalyst for change was the breaking of the bread. In the act of hospitality, Jesus revealed himself to them fully, the light bulbs flash over their heads and they see…..” their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.” When we offer our own form of radical hospitality to the stranger, we are as Christ was in Emmaus, present and full.
So he is present to us, even as he is absent from us. Two sides of the faith coin. Using our senses to make sense of what is unknowable and at the same time fully felt. In that paradox, we, as Christians, are asked to dwell and flourish.
But the beauty is we can make every day our journey on the road to Emmaus, start our journey blinded by the events of our lives, meet and understand the gift of a stranger, and return home with joyous hearts. We can be surprised by his real presence with us, so that our hearts burn in the recognition of that joy. What a gift to have that as an opportunity before us every day. What are we doing to make that happen?
Which part of the journey are you on? Where would you like to be? What can you not see? How will we help our newly baptized children to be encouraged in their journeys so that they too will feel the presence of God in their daily lives?
CS Lewis entitled one of his books SURPRISED BY JOY. That is the chance we have every day as we walk along, to look up and see our Lord a’coming down the road.
May your heart burn with joy as you feel God’s continuing presence in all your journeys.