Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”
Three weeks after Easter, Jesus continues to surprise us. Only this time it’s not outside a tomb or locked inside a house, but along a seven-mile stretch between Jerusalem and Emmaus.
Two men, each filled with anxiety and discontent, return home, broken and defeated. Having heard the news from Mary Magdalene that morning, it’s safe to assume their conversation focused on trying to make sense of it all.
Along this boulevard of broken dreams, Jesus meets them ... incognito. It wasn’t like he was wearing a wig, or some kind of disguise but for whatever reason they could not recognize a guy they’d spent all this time with.
How is that possible? Had the salt of their tears blurred their vision? Maybe they were afraid to make eye-contact ... knowing they were probably wanted in conjunction with Jesus’ disappearance. How did they not recognize his voice or his disposition?
This story echos that of Lois Lane who, for whatever ridiculous reason, never recognize Clark Kent was Superman. Why? Could it be because Superman didn’t wear glasses.
It is here, in their brokenness and confusion, Jesus comes butting into their conversation; wanting to know what they’re discussing. It’s as if he wants to hear them testify. And testify they do. Cleopas tells Jesus all about Jesus. “We had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel.” The One who was to lift up the lowly, save the righteous, and fill the hungry with good things. They even told him what they had learned from the women in their group, making themselves accomplices in his mysterious disappearance.
Jesus listens, and perhaps to comfort them he begins to interpret the scripture to reveal himself to them but from a different perspective. Still they could not see the forest through the trees. Now this is not to say they were blind. Their eyes might have been closed but their hearts were wide open.
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They not only testified to the gospel with fearless passion but they lived their faith proudly and publicly - inviting this stranger into their community. They may not have recognized their Rabbi, but that’s not to say they didn’t see Christ in their midst. They did, in a stranger who was worthy of their story, their home, and their food.
It wasn’t until they sat at the table, and “Jesus took the bread, blessed it and broke it” that their eyes were opened. Really opened. And for one brief moment they saw with perfect clarity what discipleship was all about. Then just as quick as he first appeared, the stranger vanished from their sight. Leaving their hearts burning with this divine revelation.
What does this story say to us, today? How might we see Christ in the face of a stranger? How might the Christ in us help others see to see their place in God’s heart?
An ancient mystic once wrote, “The day of my spiritual awakening was the day I saw and knew I saw all things in God and God in all things.” [Rohr] When we are able to see Christ in others, we are given “glimpses into the universe as God sees it.” [Mabry] Such insight and awakening happens first in the heart. Jesus opens the eyes of his disciples by opening their hearts to those around them the hungry, the thirsty, the sick and dying.
Jesus wants to open your heart too. Not just so he can come in us, but so he can come out and live, fully alive. As his empty tomb revealed, Christ is not meant to be contained but to be shared. It’s in our testimony, our hospitality, and the way we care for and love others that God awakens us and transforms us from the inside out.
As Richard Rohr puts it, “When you are properly aligned with the love of God, you can’t help but to see Christ in ways that are not always obvious.” This is exactly why it’s so important for us to practice mindfulness, to be continually present wherever you are knowing that’s exactly where Christ is. This pandemic, this moment, this space is the most important place to be right now. Because this is where God comes to meet you and be with you.
We are always walking on a road to Emmaus. Sometimes we’re carrying heavy hearts, or suffering from a great loss, or experiencing a crisis of faith. That’s okay. In fact, that’s perfect. Because it’s here, on this familiar path, that God comes to meet you – seeking you out by connecting with the Christ in you – to change your perspective, so you can see through God’s heart and catch a glimpse of divine life in the ordinary.
I had a profound spiritual awakening about 25 years ago. I had just pulled money out of an ATM when I connected eyes with a man who had obviously fallen on tough times. His matted hair was as wild as his beard. But his eyes gentle and kind. His clothes were soiled and frayed, but his voice was strong when he greeted me. Though I responded in kind, secretly I didn’t want to engage. I just wanted to get in my car and get on with whatever it was i was going to do.
As I turned my eyes to avoid him, I felt his gaze upon my heart. And heard him ask, “Do you have anything to eat?” The way he phrased it sounded as if I were the one who needed to be fed. Sadly, I shrugged him off, believing in that moment he was just another beggar looking for a handout. His question didn’t make sense until I was driving away. He saw something in me that I couldn’t. As his gaze lingered on my heart, I realized who this man was.
I quickly pulled into KFC and grabbed a meal for the two of us. When I got back to the place where we met, he was gone. I drove around the block, down the alley, and through the neighborhood but couldn’t find him. He had vanished. This man was no vagrant or stranger. “He was the hungry one I did not feed, the thirsty one whose thirst I did not quench. He was Christ...incognito.”
In her book Bread of Angels, Barbara Brown Taylor calls Jesus “an elusive stranger.” Sometimes we can spot him before he gets away, but most of the time we don’t realize it’s him until he’s gone. Taylor said, Jesus “prefers traveling incognito.” And for good reason. “If we were always sure who he was and where he could be found, then we would stop looking for him in every face, in every place.” I believe through Christ, God transforms the way we see and love one another by often making us blind to the obvious.
Faith is never easy. It’s not supposed to be. Instead it’s a lifelong journey of seeing with open eyes eyes that changes the way we see God, others and ourselves.
Faith is a lifelong journey of seeing with an open heart that welcomes Christ within us, and the Christ around us, ...
Faith is a lifelong journey of seeing with open hands that reach out to Christ in every moment and down every road we go.
Faith is a lifelong journey that begins at the empty tomb and walks with us until we are home where we belong...in the heart of God.
Bartlett, David L, and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word: Year A, Vol. 2 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010) pp. 418-423.
Mabry, John. Growing into God: A Beginners Guide to Christian Mysticism (Wheaton, Il: Quest Books, 2012) pp. 13-14.
Rohr, Richard. The Universal Christ: How a forgotten reality can change everything we see, hope for, and believe. (New York: Convergent, 2019) pp.178; 203.
Taylor, Barbara Brown. Bread of Angels. (New York: Crowley, 1997) pp. 53-56.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”