(With a big help from Barbara Brown Taylor's Blessed Brokenness)
How would you recognize Jesus if he walked up to you? What would be the give away? Would you look for a halo over his head? How about long flowing robes, long hair framing his bearded cheeks? Would you look for the celestial light beaming on him wherever he went?
Would you see Jesus if he walked right up to you and started to chat?
Where would you best see Jesus?
Luke says somewhere between here and Emmaus. As one writer points out, “Luke is the only gospel writer who tells us what happened on that road, but everyone has walked it at one time or another. It’s the road you walk when your team has lost, your candidate has been defeated, your loved one has died – the long road back to the empty house, the piles of unopened mail, to life as usual, if life can ever be usual again.” (BBT p.20)
That’s where the disciples found themselves. Defeated. Distraught.
On that road to Emmaus they took the time to chew over where they went wrong. They re-hashed the trial, the execution, the solemn procession to the tomb. They played the “what if?” game. “What if they joined with the revolutionaries? What if they soft sold Jesus’ message? What if they stayed clear of Jerusalem? Maybe Jesus would not have died.
They joked cynically about the crazy talk the women shared of angels and an empty grave.
Real death. Rumoured resurrection.
They probably took their time getting home, because who knows when they would see each other again? For some of them, fishing nets were waiting. For others, who could say what they were going to do?
Behind them, a stranger appears and asks what they’re talking about. They stop and look at him. “Have you been hiding under a rock?” they ask, “Are you the only one in town who hasn’t heard what happened?”
They reminisce about how good and promising life with Jesus was, while the stranger listens. Jesus had energized them. “He did some crazy stuff and got away with it. Boy, you should have seen how he gave to some of those religious leaders. They certainly had it coming,” they said chuckling.
Their eyes softened. “He did everything right, everything he was supposed to do. He said he’d heal the sick and he did. He said he’d raise the dead and now Jairus’ little girl is growing like a weed. He said he’d make the blind see…remember the trick he did with the mud?”
They laughed together, them smiled sadly.
“But he also said he was going to die,” the stranger said not looking at anyone in particular.
The two were silent. Probably wondering how the stranger knew what he knew.
“Yeah, but we didn’t believe him. We thought he was just caught up in the moment. We didn’t think he was actually stupid enough to…” said one disciple, his voice trailing off.
“…to get himself killed?” asked the stranger.
“We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel,” they said to him, admitting their defeat. “We had hoped.” Hoped. Past tense. One of the saddest sounds a human being can make. “We believed the world would change. We believed the Kingdom of God was just around the corner. We believed that life with God would transform our small, struggling lives into the beauty of heaven. But we were wrong. He died. It’s over now. No more fairy tales. No more lies. It’s time to go home.”
That’s when the stranger explodes: “You idiots! If you read your bibles none of this would come as a surprise to you! It’s all right there: the Christ is not the one who wins the power struggle; he’s the one who loses it. The Christ is not the undefeated champion; he is the suffering servant, the broken one, who comes in glory with his wounds still fresh. The holes in his wrists and gashes in his feet are the proof he is who he says who he is – that’s how you will recognize him.
“This means that you do not have to scorn the painful parts of your lives anymore. You don’t have to see your defeats as failures anymore. You don’t have to fear your enemies anymore; you don’t even have to fear death. You can go into scariest places in the world with nothing but a first aid kit; because you, like him, are not fighters but physicians – wounded healers – whose credentials are your scars.”
The disciples look at each other, but avoid eye contact with the stranger.
“What’s he talking about? Who is this guy?” they ask themselves. “How does he know so much?”
As they arrive at their house, the stranger tries to leave. But they want to hear more.
“You look hungry; eat something with us,” they say to the stranger. And they go inside.
It’s not his house, but the stranger plays the host. He offers the blessing over the food, and then breaks the bread. As he serves the pieces of the broken loaf, his sleeves get pulled up, and the disciples see the stranger’s hands; punctured, wounded, once bleeding. They suddenly recognize the stranger as Jesus, and Jesus vanishes from their sight.
I think the disciples didn’t see Jesus because they weren’t expecting him. Their blindness was not a willful disregard for what Jesus was about as much as it was an anticipation of something more glorious than what Jesus was giving them. They wanted a political victory. Jesus gave them death. They wanted freedom for their people. Jesus gave them forgiveness. They wanted a powerful retreat from a dreadful existence. Jesus gave them service to the world.
“The blindness of the two disciples does not keep Jesus from coming to them,” says Barbara Brown Taylor, “He does not limit his post-resurrection appearances to those with full confidence in him. He comes to the disappointed, the doubtful, the disconnected. He comes to those who don’t know their bibles, who do not recognize him even when he is walking right beside them. He comes to those who have given up and are headed back home, which makes this whole story a story about the blessedness of brokenness.
“Maybe that is only good news if you happen to be broken. If you are not, then I guess it would be better news to hear a story about how those who believe in God may skip right over the broken part and go straight to the wholeness part, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Jesus seems to prefer working with broken people, with broken dreams, in a broken world. If someone hands him a whole loaf, he will take it, bless it, break it, and give it, and he will do the same thing with his own flesh and blood, because that is the way of life God has shown him to show the rest of us: to take what we have been given, whether we like it or not, and to bless it – to say thank you for it – whether it is the sweet, satisfying bread of success or the tear-soaked bread of sorrow. To say thank you and to break it because that is the only way it can be shared, and to hand it around, not to eat it all by ourselves but to find someone to eat it with, so that the broken loaf may bring all of us broken ones together into one body, where we may recognize the risen Lord in our midst.”
May this be so among us. Amen.