Luke 24:13-35 – Blockages to recognising the risen Jesus

I love this story of the two disciples, Cleopas and another who is not named, on their journey to Emmaus.  While on the journey they are talking about the events in Jerusalem over the last few days.  While they are walking, Jesus comes ‘near them’ and walks with them on the way, but they do not recognise Jesus.

Just recently I stopped at the service station in Bannockburn to fill my truck with diesel.  A rider on a motorbike pulled up and began filling the tank with petrol.  As I walked past he said, ‘Gooday, Tim,’ and I looked at him, I am certain, with that look that says, I recognise you but I don’t know who you are.  I wasn’t so rude as not to say hello and ask how he was going, but my look was enough for him to tell me that his Rodeo had packed it in and the motorbike was his leisure vehicle.

At the time this did not give me any further clues to this person who clearly knew me reasonably well and I felt I should have known.  I held onto the idea that I would know him better as someone who normally drives a Rodeo and I wouldn’t ever imagine riding a motorbike.

It’s funny how an incident as insignificant as that can persist in your mind; thinking who was that person.  It was some days that the penny dropped and I realised who that person was… one of the Brothers from the Community of the Transfiguration, formerly in Breakwater, now just down the road from me in Teesdale.

I popped in to the Community on Saturday for a number of reasons, mainly to simply catch up, but while I was there I had the opportunity to apologise to the Brother for not recognising him.  We talked about how easy it is to know someone well, but when they are out of their usual context and in different costume, it seems to slip out of our consciousness.  I recall a member of St Stephens not recognising me initially down the street, because their conscious image of me is, I presume, in a white alb with vestments.  I have not recognised people I have played bowls with because the only image I have had of them was in their white bowls uniforms in the context of the bowling club.

This story of the Road to Emmaus does not surprise me that the disciples did not recognise Jesus when he walked with them.  Firstly, although they were disciples, they weren’t one’s that were in the close group of the twelve; we have not heard Cleopas mentioned previously and the other on the road is not even named.  Secondly, they were still in a mental haze about Jesus being alive.  He was dead and buried, but

some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.[1]

These two disciples weren’t particularly close to Jesus and his appearing to them was outside their context of understanding, for ‘we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.’[2]  It wasn’t until he did what was familiar to them, breaking the bread as he had done in the past, that they recognised the person who had been walking with them to be Jesus.

The accounts of the disciples’ responses to Jesus are important because they are, as the disciples of the writer’s future, our stories.  We, too, can find it difficult to recognise the risen Jesus with us.  Perhaps even more so than those disciples who knew Jesus in his earthly existence because we are those who, as we heard last week, have not seen Jesus but have come to believe.

The writer of the letter in Peter’s name has some understanding of this danger of being distracted from not only recognising the risen Jesus, but trusting in the promise of grace that is ours in him, ‘do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance,’ he writes.[3]  What we formerly understood, what we formerly believed, like Cleopas and the other disciples were so convinced that Jesus was going to redeem Israel in a particular way, can obscure our seeing Jesus’ presence and the way God is at work through him that is different to our way and our expectations.

The letter of Peter may not have originally been such, but it contains what appears to be a sermon for a baptism event.  This baptism is taking place under the threat of, or actual, persecution of the early Christian Church, possibly by the worst of the Emperors, Trajan.

I can imagine how threats upon life could be a distraction from seeing God at work; the revealing of Jesus Christ; the promises of an inheritance won for them by Christ’s death and resurrection.  We don’t need to look too hard in the context of our own world to see how illness and accident becomes a distraction from seeing the risen Christ at work in their life and the life of those who are experience adversity.  By this I don’t mean that God wills terrible things to happen to people so that good things can come.  It is apparent, however, that people cannot see what can be when they do not continue to trust in God when bad things happen.

So, what are the things with which Peter’s hearers might be drawn back to of their ignorance?  It is probable that the writer of Peter is addressing converts in the part of Galatia that Paul has not been to – Paul often went to the places where Jews would be found despite being seen as a missionary to the Gentiles.  So these converts would more than likely have been converts from Greek and Roman paganism.  No real threat to the authority of Trajan – the Emperor was, after all, also worshipped as a god.  The temptation would be to return to the worship of creation and the Greek/Roman gods they formerly had in their ignorance.

The letter in Peter’s name gives us a hint to the things that we might be an obstruction to our recognising the risen Jesus and trusting in the promise of grace won for us in the resurrection,

You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish.[4]

How easy is it for money and wealth to become a distraction from the things that God wants to reveal to us and to this, I would also like to add, as those who do, science.  Not that these things are in themselves opposites to being people of faith, but they do speak of the desires to which we can return because we have been conformed by them in our former ignorance.

It is potentially easy for us to miss the presence of the risen Jesus and the potential of the working of God when we continue in our expectations that things will continue the way they are and keep the things of God in a place where we expect the things of God to happen.  The resurrection encourages us to be a people who expect God to reveal himself and open our eyes that we might recognise him at work in, through, and around us, and move us into the new things he wants us to experience wherever we may be and in whatever circumstance we are in.

[1] Luke 24:22-24

[2] Luke 24:21

[3] 1 Peter 1:14

[4] 1 Peter 1:18-19

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