Inviting Jesus: April 30, 2017

May 1, 2017

Year A, Easter 3                                                                               
Luke 24:13-35                                                                                    

            I often find myself wondering why Jesus had to be so inconspicuous in his appearances after his resurrection.  He could have used a little more fanfare.  Perhaps he could have descended from the sky with a cape and angels escorting him. It would have gotten everyone’s attention.  It would not have left anyone in doubt that he was resurrected from the dead.  Alas, he was resurrected much like he was born the first time. Very few people witnessed it and even fewer recognized him for who he was. That made sense when he was born the first time.  He was a baby for goodness sake.  However, in his resurrection appearances, people should have known exactly who he was.  He was not appearing to random people. They were his friends and followers, people who had spent hours and hours with him. How could they not know who he was? There are many theories on why people did not recognize him.  I think the reason that most people did not initially recognize him was because they did not expect to see him. They were not looking for him. They were grieving his death, not searching for the living Christ.

Our reading from the Gospel of Luke is a perfect example.  We have two individuals walking down the road.  They were not one of the 12 apostles.  They were followers of Jesus, disciples of Jesus.  They were walking away from Jerusalem.  Jerusalem is where everything happened.  It is the Holy City.  Yet these two people are leaving.  Luke does not say why. He just says they are leaving.

While these two travelers are talking, a stranger approaches them and joins the conversation.  He asks them what they are talking about.  They are flabbergasted that this strange man does not know what just happened.  They tell this stranger that Jesus, a great prophet mighty in word and deed, has been crucified.  They tell him that some people in their group have reported that they saw angels and an empty tomb.  Angels were not a common occurrence. If they had believed this account, they would have almost surely stayed and waited to see what was going on.  But they didn’t believe. 

Notice the words they used.  “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”  They had such high hopes for Jesus, who was mighty in word and deed.  He was going to be the one to save them all—deliver them from the Romans, ensure that they were once again in God’s favor.  But he hadn’t.  He was killed by the very people who he was supposed to defeat.  It was a tragic ending to a great life.  While there were rumors that he was back from the dead, those were only rumors, wishful thinking of a few misguided people.  So they were leaving.  Where they were going really did not matter.  What mattered was that they were putting as much distance as they could between them and their unfulfilled hopes—the happy ending that never was. 

Because of their grief and inability to open their minds to the possibility that Jesus was alive, they could not recognize the Messiah who walked beside them.  While Jesus was a little frustrated and called them foolish, he remained patient.  He went back to the beginning and told them the stories that they had known since their childhood, of Moses and the prophets.  He told these stories in such a way that they were able to see the death of Jesus in a different light and perspective. 

This was not enough. They still not recognize him.  But just because they were not quite there yet, did not mean the story was over.  They asked Jesus to stay with them. They were worried about this man who was traveling alone.  They wanted to make sure that he had a good meal and a safe place to rest.  They invited Jesus to stay.

Jesus was never one to say no to dinner, no matter who invited him.  He agreed to have dinner with them.  He broke the bread and blessed it.  He didn’t do it with any fanfare.  He probably did not hold it over his head like we clergy tend to do. There was no altar or fancy silver.  He just broke the bread.  Then everything fell into place.  They saw Jesus, the Messiah, the one they had been hoping for not only for their lives, but for all of history.  And before they could even say, “Hey it’s you!”—he vanished.  What I find fascinating is that they do not seem troubled by this vanishing act.  Perhaps what he had given them in that short time was so fulfilling, that they could not possibly want for more.

            We expect a lot from Jesus.  We expect him to love us. We expect him to forgive us.  He loves us and forgives us beyond our expectations.  We also expect that he will be there when we need him.  He is.  He is always there.  Yet what we forget, is that Jesus has some expectations of us as well.  He walked with these two individuals on the road to Emmaus.  He walked with them for miles.  He listened to them and taught them.  But there came a point when these two individuals had to do something. They had to invite him to stay.  If they had said, “Well it was nice talking to you.  We have reached our destination and no longer need your company” they would have never recognized him.  They would have had an educational and perhaps inspirational conversation with a kind stranger, but they would have never experienced what it was to be with the risen Christ.  Yet even though they did not quite understand what was going on, they were willing to take a chance with this strange man.  They invited him to stay.

            I believe that Jesus is always with us, even those of us who do not believe. Yet to fully recognize Jesus, to know him, we need to invite him to stay with us. We have to be willing to take a chance that things might not go as expected.  Our lives might not work out exactly as we want.  Our prayers might not be answered in the specific way we requested that they be answered.  But just because things have not happened as we planned, does not mean that God is not on the journey with us.  Even though he is our constant companion, we still need to invite him to stay.  We have to show some initiative in this relationship.  It’s not a one way thing.  If we are willing to invite him in, our eyes will be opened and we will see him in all aspects of our lives.

            Those two disciples of Jesus did not merely recognize him in that moment.  Once they had that moment of recognition, they were able to identify his presence and his impact before they really knew who he was.  They said, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road…” That is what happens when we ask Jesus to stay with us.  We are given a new lens in which we see our whole lives. Perhaps that is why Jesus was so inconspicuous in his resurrection appearances. Maybe that is why he did not come down with a cape flanked by angels.  Because he knew that it would be much more fulfilling for us if we learned how to see him in our ordinary, everyday lives.   

There is a beautiful prayer on page 139 of our prayer book.  It is a prayer for the early evening.  I would like to end the sermon reading it together.   

Lord Jesus, stay with us, for evening is at hand and the day is
past; be our companion in the way, kindle our hearts, and
awaken hope, that we may know you as you are revealed in
Scripture and the breaking of bread. Grant this for the sake
of your love.