Scripture:  Luke 24:13-35

Hindsight Is 20/20

They say that hindsight is 20/20.  Things are always much clearer when you look back at them after the fact...  That is certainly true about what Cleopas and I experienced that day as we walked the dusty road to Emmaus, where we encountered the stranger who changed our lives.

As I think back, it was pretty obvious that there was something especially strange about that stranger.  After all - how could it even be possible that he was in Jerusalem for the Passover celebration and not have heard about the death of Jesus?  No matter how people felt about him, everybody was talking about it.  People clearly had strong feelings about him.  He was a blasphemer, some said.  He deserved to die, others proclaimed...  Some were even spreading rumors that his followers had stolen his body from the tomb so they could claim he had risen.

But somehow, the news hadn't reached the stranger who joined us on the road.  So when he caught up to ask, he asked us what it was that we were talking about.  He wanted to know why it was that our hearts were so heavy, why we were so clearly upset as we walked that road together.  "What are these things," he asked us, "What are these things happened over these past three days that have left you so troubled?"

What Things?

The question stopped us dead in our tracks.  Where could we even start?  Could we actually say it, out loud?  It would be the first time that we actually spoke those words out loud to someone in the outside world...  that Jesus is dead.  To speak those words out loud made them feel so real, so sad, so...  final.

We started by sharing the happy memories.  We told him about the times that we sat around the table together, about all of the miracles that Jesus had performed, all of the things that he taught, and how he had showed us all that God's love for us is so much deeper than we had ever imagined...  And we told the stranger about how this message of love had been too big of a threat to some of the people in Jerusalem and Rome who wanted to maintain the structures of power and oppression.  And they had killed him.  They crucified him and laid him in a tomb. 

We shared the crazy story that the women had told us earlier that morning - that angels had spoken to them at the tomb and told them that Christ had risen from the dead.  A story that none of even Jesus' closest disciples other than Peter had believed...  The rest of us knew the only truth that could possible be real - that this man who we had hoped - had truly believed - was the one to redeem Israel and the whole world...  Was dead.  

Jesus is dead.  I finally spoke those words, and they stabbed like a dagger through my heart.

And I realized, in those moments of sharing, that along with Jesus... our own hopes, our dreams, and our vision of the Kingdom of God had died, as well.  I, along with the rest of Jesus' followers, was left with nothing more than an empty tomb and an empty life.

You Foolish People

As we poured out our hearts and the stranger listened, he shook his head.  At first I thought he felt sorry for us, that he empathized with our loss.  But his head was shaking in disappointment.  He looked at us with eyes filled with sadness, and told us, "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe!"  Cleopas and I just looked at each other.  How could this man say these things to us?  Does he not see that we are mourning?  Who is he to judge us like that?

My first reaction was to try to separate myself from the man...  To move to the other side of the road or something, at least.  But as I listened, I realized that he was sharing stories with us from the scriptures.

Stories from Moses and the Prophets.  
Stories about God and God's people.
Stories about the Messiah.
Stories of hope and peace and promise and new life.
Stories about the Kingdom of God.
As I listened, I thought I felt a twinge of something familiar, deep in my heart.  Maybe I was just tired...  But it felt an awful lot like hope.

Arrival In Emmaus

Before I knew it, we had arrived in Emmaus.  As Cleopas and I turned to go into town where we would be staying for the night, the stranger kept walking on.  It was dark, and that road can be a bit treacherous at night, so we were surprised that he wasn't stopping for the night, as well.  I was a bit reluctant to invite the man in - it had been a difficult journey after the longest three days of my life, and I was too exhausted to be a good host - but, still, I was reminded of all the times that Jesus had invited strangers in...  So I called out to him, "Come stay with us!"

Shortly after we arrived at the house where we were staying, we sat down to share our evening meal.  It was nothing out of the ordinary, a simple meal of bread and wine.  It was a typical table, not too different from this one, actually.  Cleopas and I had no idea, as we sat down at that ordinary table (for that ordinary meal, in that ordinary place), that something extraordinary was about to happen.

The stranger asked if he could offer the blessing for the meal.  Cleopas and I felt like our spirits were in no place to be offering blessings of any sort, so we happily obliged.  So the stranger took the bread for the meal, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to us...  And as he broke that bread - as he did something so simple, so ordinary - I suddenly realized that the stranger; the man who we had walked with and talked with for hours; the stranger who had listened to us and comforted us and challenged us - this man was none other Jesus Christ himself!  In that instant, we knew that what we had heard from the women that morning was true - Jesus is ALIVE!
Then, just as abruptly as he had joined us on the road to Emmaus, he was gone again.

At first, Cleopas and I sat in stunned silence, amazed at what had just happened.  After a couple of minutes, I reached over and pinched Cleopas.  "Cleopas!" I said, "Tell me this isn't a dream!  Tell me this is real!"  And Cleopas said, "I'm awake.  Jesus lives!"  And in that instant, I knew that the world was forever changed.

Recognizing Christ

To this day, I still feel like a fool for not recognizing Jesus earlier.  It's hard for me to accept that I was able to be in his presence for hours and not even realize it.  How could I lose hope so quickly and completely that I wasn't even able to see the risen Lord when he was right in front of me?

It makes me wonder, you know...?  How many other times has the risen Christ walked beside me when I have failed to recognize him?  How often do all of us miss out on encountering and recognizing Jesus in our midst?

Emmaus wasn't the first, nor will it be the last, place where I have encountered a stranger.  There have been times when I have hurried past a stranger on the street, making sure that I don't make eye contact as I pass by.  But I wonder - had I seen the stranger's face, would I have seen the face of Christ?

I think that we all struggle to take seriously the truth that Jesus continues to present with us each and every day.  He was present at Emmaus, and he is present now - even in this very place!  But so often, we forget that the truth of Easter is the truth every day, that we are invited to seek and expect the presence of Christ on every road that we travel and at every table where we join together for meals and fellowship.

How often do you slow down enough in your busy life so that you might be able to see him?