Have you ever met anyone famous? Or maybe somewhat famous? Or perhaps just have been in the same airport or restaurant as someone well known?
In early April, I attended the opening day celebration for baseball by attending the home opener for the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium.
This year’s home-opener featured a team *from Chicago* that won the World Series in 2016, and, is a team that most in St. Louis would consider the Cardinals greatest rival.
The energy on opening day was incredible. People filled with spirit and cheer because of the return of America’s “favorite past-time” following a long offseason.
Folks are everywhere around Busch Stadium for opening day. Many are across the street to gather in the BallPark Village waiting for the gates to open and the crowds to begin to file in on Opening Day, find their seats and wait for the greatest living Cardinals and the current team to be introduced. It’s quite the spectacle with all the Clydesdale Horses prancing along the warning track making their way to home plate.
Despite my lack of intimate knowledge of the appearance of former Cardinal greats, I convinced myself while standing in the BallPark Village that on the second-floor balcony, I spotted Bruce Sutter, a pitcher from the 1970-80’s who arguably developed and perfected the split-finger fastball pitch. Bruce was standing near the VIP club waving down to the crowds with a scepter in his hand.
For many seasoned Cardinal fans, this would not be so remarkable a feat as Sutter is well known in the St. Louis Area. And yet, I had a sense of pride in my ability to recognize this well-known figure based on his appearance from a distance.
So, if I, a casual, yet passionate, fan could recognize a Cardinal great somewhat out of context, I’d like to think that I could have spotted the risen Jesus Christ if he had chosen to accompany me just a few days after his resurrection.
Moreover, you might say to me that I’m relying more on my own ability to recognize someone, and while that’s true, the Holy Spirit also assists us in “seeing” the personhood of others.
The Holy Spirit opened the eyes of two early disciples of Jesus shortly after his resurrection on a rural road as they walked.
As Luke, tells the story, we, the reader get to be in on the joke. Luke says of these two travelers, returning home, perhaps, after Jesus’ death and resurrection. As listeners of this story, we are stunned to find out that anyone could fail to recognize the risen Christ, especially two of his closest followers.
But that is just what happens. Cleopas and his companion, just happen to be joined by Jesus on their walk to Emmaus. And instead of instantly recognizing who he is, they take him for a stranger. And they fail to figure out who he is until the end of today’s lesson when Jesus breaks bread with them. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.
As easy as it is to kind of laugh at poor Cleopas and his companion, thinking of them as fools who don’t know their leader, I must say I just may be able to recognize myself—and maybe a few others in their plight.
Cleopas and this fellow traveler without a name, I sometimes imagine her as his wife, were among the faithful. They were friends with the 12 disciples, we learn later, which suggest they were among the inner circle.
Their statement of faith, which they somewhat humorously share with the stranger-Jesus, uses all the right language, hits all the highlights. Surely, they would have passed any confirmation test on their first try.
Cleopas and companion were dedicated and faithful followers. They had certainly been to church Easter Sunday. Well, not just to church—they probably helped cook the churches’ Easter brunch. Surely, they had attended all the Lenten services, probably helped with the Wednesday meals, most likely had washed more than their fair share of dishes.
They were the type of couple that we can imagine as dedicated and faithful. The sort of people to volunteer, to show up, to serve on the committee after committee, the kind to come to church not just on Easter but 2 Sundays into it. And I imagine that they had become weary.
In all their efforts to be faithful, their vision had become blurred. They missed seeing the most famous person. Perhaps their dedication had gotten in the way. Maybe the stress of leadership, their stubbornness, their investment in an outcome had slowly squeezed Jesus out of the picture. So that when he showed up, they had no idea who he was.
What sort of objects blur your vision? What is grabbing so much of your attention that you are unable to realize that Jesus is right next to you? What is keeping your life out of focus?
Perhaps Cleopas and his companion were caught off-guard by the trauma of Jesus’ death. Perhaps this experience was too much to handle, more than they had bargained for, their grief eating them alive.
I wonder what kind of stress losing not only a dear friend but a leader can cause. Isolation? Need for distance? An overwhelming desire just to forget everything and leave town?
This is the part of the lesson that begins to look familiar, at least to me. Cleopas and his companion remain the center of activity. Disheartened at what has happened. Stuck in the middle of the story, unable to see through to the end.
They look for an escape, a way out, one that doesn’t require believing in something so extraordinary. They look, to perhaps, shed themselves of idealist principles. They can’t take any more disappointment or disillusionment. Wanting to get away from a life of faith which brings on struggle, despair, and cynicism.
And how familiar is this road—the one that makes us believe change is unlikely, one that drains our energy, one that makes us feel any real work done will not make a difference.
One thing the faithful know is that the life of the faithful can get weary. It can feel pointless. This weariness can erode our hope; it can blind our sense of purpose, can diminish our drive to keep at it.
And it is just then that Jesus shows up, re-enters our lives.
I like this Jesus… this Jesus that Luke writes about. It’s not a neon-tee-shirt Jesus or an extra-large billboard on I-80 Jesus. This is a reserved Jesus.
Jesus is a little cunning and a lot clever.
A Jesus who bides his time, very willing to let Cleopas and company do the talking, a Jesus who is not just offering answers but is willing, encouraging really, of Cleopas and companion to come to their conclusions.
What kind of presence draws you within? What type of conversations keeps you up past your bedtime? What kind of stranger is so compelling that you can’t get enough? That, however, long or short your conversation is, you are left wanting more?
We don’t get to know Jesus’ motivation for not blurting out that he indeed is the risen one. But we do know that because of his actions, his ability to remain mysterious, Cleopas and his companion are left wanting more.
They practically beg Jesus to stay with them. Jesus has listened to them. He has taught them. They are compelled to stay with him, to be close to him. They invite Jesus to stay.
And that’s when it happens. As Jesus breaks bread, their hearts turn, re-turn to him, their eyes are re-opened and they re-congnize. They re-know Jesus once again.
If you are one of those people who can recognize Jesus in everything, in every moment, in every person, then you have a lot to offer the rest of us. But if you are like Cleopas and his companion, like me, like so many others, and you can’t always make out Jesus, even when you have your glasses on and he is right in front of you, this story brings good news.
Our vision may not be perfect, but Jesus’ is.
He comes over and sits right beside us. He IS patient with us. He listens to us. Wants to hear what we say. He recognizes us from a distance.
Even more shocking, he recognizes us close-up. Despite, maybe because of our blemishes, our imperfections, our choices that look ugly, no matter the lighting. Jesus knows who we are, comes to us, recognizes us, and walks along on our journey with us.
He is companion, listener, teacher, and provider. He promises to show himself so that we may recognize him and be witness to what he has done and is doing in our lives.
Today we get to experience this promise. Today we welcome Cameron Hill into the fold. We promise on his behalf to tell him what we know, to show him what we have seen.
About Jesus in this world; about Jesus in our lives. About a hope so high we cannot avoid it. About a love that is always gathering us in, despite, and especially when we try to run away from it.
And then we do what we do every Sunday.
We come to the table for nourishment. Because when everything else has gone astray, when hope seems lost, when God feels distant, when disillusionment begins to steal our souls, Jesus opens our eyes and shows his love to us.
Crumb by crumb, drop by drop, God gives us something to chew on, liquid love to restore our souls.
And with a restored vision, we may continue our journey, sharing this meal, hearts burning with love, to all that may receive it.