An Angel Unawares

An Angel Unawares

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 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?”That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.   Luke 24:28-35

Happy Easter! As part of our continuing Lentecost sermon series: “The Jesus Diaries: Personal Encounters with Our Risen Lord”, we continue our journey and conversation in meeting our Lord after the Empty Tomb.

It can be an on-again, off-again thing… journeying with Jesus has been compared to walking a tightrope 2 inches off the ground, but thinking and acting like you’re 20 feet up. You always have Jesus around to steady you, to put your toe down for second if you need to, but you don’t act or live like it. God in Christ is always with us, closer to us than we ever really know, but it can often be difficult to realize.

When we rediscover this, life takes on a whole new meaning. It doesn’t often happen, though, without some help from someone else… a brief story…

After his wife died, the British author C.S. Lewis wrote that he thought that his grief might be lessened if he intentionally avoided the places he and Joy had frequented by limiting his travels to only those places where they had never been together. So he switched grocery stores, tried different restaurants, walked only along streets and paths that he and Joy had never taken. But it didn’t work. To paraphrase Lewis, “I found out that grief is like the sky above — it is over everything.”

So it goes, sometimes…. but not always.

The two travelers in our New Testament lesson seem to think that by getting out of Dodge maybe they, too, could walk away from their grief and leave the bad memories of the previous Friday behind.






Jerusalem had become haunted with memories; hope dashed to the rocks. Jerusalem was the place where their dreams had died. Now it was time to hit the road and leave their troubles behind.

So, on a rocky, dusty road…or maybe it was muddy and potholed… two of them were on their way to a village called Emmaus (which means ‘Warm Springs’- sounds like a nice place to go after some difficult times.) They were processing all that happened; walking away from their problems, or so they thought. They had expectations that Jesus had not met. Jesus of Nazareth failed them. There is also something more than meets the eye in their journey. In those days, a Roman garrison was located in Emmaus, so the path from Jerusalem to Emmaus could also mean a journey away from their faith in Jesus to looking somewhere else. It’s movement borne of despair, from hope to emptiness.

They walked, perhaps not knowing what they were looking for, but just to walk it out and talk it through.

And someone came and joined their walk, listened in and asked them about what they were talking about. It was Jesus, but they couldn’t see him. What caused their ocular fuzziness, we’ll never know. Their inability to recognize Jesus was not a physical defect. Interestingly, there is no physical description of Jesus in the New Testament. Although the early church thought that Jesus was the most important person ever to live, they did not think it important to physically describe him in their writings. There is a spiritual reason for this omission in not telling us about Jesus’ height, weight, bearing, and of course, the color of his eyes.

Physical descriptions are self-limiting, and Jesus was known less by his appearance and more by his words and actions.

The reason these two wanderers do not recognize Jesus is not because their eyes can’t pick up his physical characteristics. They don’t recognize him because they have forgotten his characteristic gesture. It’s not until they are at table with him, after they’ve invited him in to stay for a time, pleaded with him a bit, as was part of the custom of the day; made it abundantly clear that he was welcome; whoever he was, that it wasn’t too much trouble at all, that they wanted him to be their guest, that something began to dawn on them.

Before their conversation, they had all of the facts, but none of the meaning. They remembered how Jesus died, but forgot how he lived. Their sadness had washed all over the joy and meaning he had brought to their lives. It was then in the midst of that conversation, when he took bread, blessed, broke, and began to share it that the light bulb of recognition was relit.

They had forgotten what Jesus’ message was all about, so they couldn’t see who he was. They did not recognize him right in front of them, until sitting, talking, preparing for a meal, their eyes were opened and they recognized who he was….It only appears to be a split second between when they finally recognized that it was Jesus and when he vanished from their sight. “He became invisible among them” is how another translation puts it.

So his entrance into and exit from the story are special moments of manifestation. At the beginning, he is unrecognized; when he is recognized, he disappears. The risen Christ has ‘done his job’; he has brought people into a deeper realization of who they are, and taught them, again, the essence of his message.

Jesus becomes invisible in the story when the truth of his message is made real. Christ becomes both present and invisible when he is remembered correctly. Jesus’ visibiliblity is transferred to those who act like him, when his message takes on action in flesh and blood, in caring, concern and commitment for others; and even before that- Christ becomes present when we ourselves realize Jesus’ love for us; just as we are… So let me quote our “Preparation for Worship” piece by the Presbyterian minister & author, Fred Buechner…

“I believe that although the two disciples did not recognize Jesus on the road to Emmaus, Jesus recognized them, that he saw them as if they were the only two people in the world. And I believe that the reason why the resurrection is more than just an extraordinary event that took place some two thousand years ago and then was over and done with is that, even as I speak these words and you listen to them, he also sees each of us like that.”

If Jesus was disappointed in the disciples and all the others who deserted him at the end; those who – out of despair and disillusionment, took the road to Emmaus rather than stick it out by his side, we never hear of it.

Jesus Christ forgives, then walks with us in our journeys, wherever it takes us. And as we come to recognize Christ with us in our journey, wherever we are, we become better at who we were meant to be in the first place. Christ will simply meet us as we walk, each of us on our own roads, and with us all together. Whatever path we take, Jesus will meet us there.

In each our lives, there are people like that for us & with us… maybe parents, dear friends, who have been there for us; messengers of Christ in our midst…. angels for us; and as we reflect on who they have been, we can become for others what they have been for us; how they have taught us, led us, modeled Jesus’ life for us- not so much always with words, but through actions and lives lived in faith.

In significant ways, we bear witness in the same manner in which we have received it.

Some years ago, Fred Rogers, Mister Rogers of children’s television fame, appeared before the National Press Club in Washington. The National Press Club is used to hearing top administration officials, diplomats, opinion makers on the most important issues of the day, and some members of the Club had joked that with Mister Rogers on the podium, they were probably in for a very light lunch.

However, …when Fred Rogers stood up to speak, he said that he knew that the room was filled with many of the best reporters in the nation, men and women who had achieved much.

He then took out a pocket watch and announced that he was going to keep two minutes of silence, and he invited everybody in the room to remember people in their past – parents, teachers, coaches, friends, others – those who made it possible for them to accomplish so much. And then Mister Rogers stood there, looking at his watch and saying nothing. The room grew quiet as the seconds ticked away, but… before Fred Rogers tucked away his watch, one could hear all around the room people sniffling as they were moved by the memories of those who made sacrifices on their behalf and who had given them many gifts.
(Take two minutes to do the same…..)

Dear friends in Christ, the gift of Emmaus awaits you. Wherever you are on that road, may your eyes be opened that when the Risen Lord comes to you, you can be renewed in faith, and live out the Good News graciously given to you.

Christ is Risen! Alleluia, Amen.