Today is the second Sunday of Easter.
Did you know that Easter last six weeks on the church calendar? That might surprise you at first – but it’ll make sense when you think about it. Resurrection is a big deal! How could we fully celebrate it with just one day?
This year, resurrection feels like a doubly big deal because it’s happening on multiple levels. We’re in this resurrection phase as we come out of a pandemic year. Just look: people are in pews, students are in schools shots are in arms… and resurrection is happening!
But what do we do with this resurrection life?
We could go right back to the way things were. That’s a real temptation, whether we’re talking about post-Easter or post-pandemic. But that would be a waste; we’ve been changed – by the cross, by the experiences of the past year. Real resurrection isn’t a return to the previous life, but a new life. That’s what we want.
So to help us live these new, resurrection lives, we’re going to spend the season of Easter looking at the resurrection stories in the Bible. How did the disciples learn to live differently after the cross and after the empty tomb? Their experiences and examples have something important to teach us if we really want to live our resurrection lives to the fullest.
Today’s story starts us with a simple but important question: how do we recognize Jesus?
If we want to follow Jesus into a resurrection life, we have to recognize where he is; we have to see him to know where he’s going.
Apparently it’s not all that easy. Just look at the two guys from today’s Scripture. Jesus is right in front of them, and they completely miss him! But then comes a moment when they do see – and that’s what we want to focus on. How are their eyes opened?
As we take a closer look, I thought it might help us “see” Jesus by seeing him in some of the famous pieces of artwork that go with this story. Like this one, by Gustave Dore:
Here are the two disciples walking along with Jesus. They’re grieving. The Jesus they loved and followed and put their hopes in has died. They’ve heard rumors about an empty tomb and angels – but their grief is bigger than the kind of hope it would take to believe such things. So big, that when Jesus himself shows up and takes a 7-mile walk with them, they don’t connect the dots and realize it’s him. As they walk Jesus tries to explain it to them, going point by point through Scripture. That doesn’t help, either.
But then they make a decision that’s crucial to recognizing Jesus in the long run:
They invite him in.
They don’t recognize Jesus, but they do recognize a fellow traveler in need. The road is long and he needs someplace to rest. “Stay with us,” they tell him. That’s the turning point; if these disciples had let Jesus keep on walking, they would have missed him completely.
Could the same be true for us?
I wondered about that this week… because I almost made that exact mistake.
Early in the week a man showed up at the church needing help. I was having a busy day –Mondays kind of run away from me. When I heard he was coming around looking for the pastor, I honestly hoped I would miss him. To help him I’d have to sit down with him, talk to him, get to know him enough to figure out how the church might help. In other words, I would need to invite him to “stay with us for a while,” like the disciples did for Jesus – and I had other things to do. I mean, I’m very important.
But whenever I start to think I’m too important to stop and help someone, I remember Matthew 25.
Matthew 25 is where Jesus says one day he’ll come back and separate us into “sheep” and “goats.” In the story, both parties are surprised at how they’re categorized. Jesus explains that the sheep made the cut because they welcomed in strangers and fed the hungry and gave clothes to those in need and visited people in prison. “Whatever you did for the least, you did for me,” Jesus says. The goats, on the other hand, did the opposite – they neglected to help those in need, and by doing so, they neglected Jesus himself.
Jesus is showing up in people in need. If we see them, we see Jesus. If we ignore them, we ignore Jesus.
The disciples on the way to Emmaus proved themselves to be sheep. They welcomed in a stranger. Just like the sheep in Matthew 25, they didn’t know they were welcoming Jesus himself. But they were – and that’s what led to sitting down to a meal together.
Here’s a picture of that meal:
This is where it happens, the thing that really opens their eyes: Jesus blesses, breaks, and gives them the bread.
That sounds a lot like something we do on a regular basis, doesn’t it?
When we break the bread at communion, do you remember what we say?
“This is the body of Christ, broken for you.”
This, really, is the part the disciples didn’t fully understand. When Jesus was explaining all the Scriptures to them, back while they were walking, he tried to tell them. “Wasn’t it necessary that the Messiah should suffer all these things?” But they didn’t get it – and let’s not fault them, because Jesus is asking them to see things the opposite of our natural inclination. Our eyes are drawn toward the powerful, the beautiful, the rich, the famous. Their images are all over the news and social media and magazine covers. We want to look at those people; we can’t get enough of them. But Jesus doesn’t show up looking like that. Jesus shows up looking like this:
It’s brokenness that we find Christ.
So – back to that man who needed help. Eventually he caught me. I didn’t want to sit down with him – I wanted to finish my to do list. But I did sit down with him, because, well, Matthew 25.
At first I saw a guy who needed a shower. I saw an addict. I saw a guy who couldn’t get his life together. In other words, I saw brokenness.
But as we talked together, I remembered that he wasn’t the only broken person sitting there. I’m broken, too. It’s not presenting itself in the same problems, but it’s there. And honestly, it’s not as much that my separates my situation from his situation as you’d think. Whose to say my brokenness won’t leave me needing help one day, too?
As we talked, I remembered that Christ was broken for me. And that Christ was broken for him. Christ was broken for us.
I remembered… and I saw Christ in him. And I was deeply grateful that I had gotten over myself and sat down with him. If I hadn’t, I would have missed Jesus.
As we live into this resurrection life – resurrecting ourselves after Easter, and after this pandemic – we must remember this. To see Jesus, we have to welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, clothe the needy, visit the lonely. To see Jesus, we have to look toward the places of brokenness – in others, in ourselves, and in Christ. If we don’t, we’ll be living our lives without Jesus, and that’s no life at all.