For such a short chapter, there are a lot of familiar stories this week. That’s good in the sense that we’re all on familiar ground, but it makes it difficult to come up with something to write about that isn’t just a rehash of what’s been said over and over again. I’ve been told that many pastors dislike writing Easter Sunday sermons for that very reason. Though, they also have to deal with the “C and E” (Christmas and Easter) Christians, who don’t have any of the “back story” behind those events. Hopefully that’s not a problem for those who have been reading “The Story” along with us.
I’m going to focus on the “walk to Emmaus” story. Like the others, it’s familiar to many of us. Two disciples are walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, talking about everything that’s happened, when they are joined by an incognito Jesus. After they belittle him for not knowing what they’re talking about, they provide a quick recap. Jesus then goes into “rabbi mode,” explaining scripture to them. And they still don’t recognize him. But at least they recognize his wisdom as a teacher, so they ask him to stay with them. Then, finally, when they’ve stopped to share a meal, Jesus breaks bread and they recognize him at last.
The most common question on this passage, I think, is why? Why didn’t the disciples recognize Jesus? The text simply says “… they were kept from recognizing him.” So what was it? Was Jesus wearing a disguise? Was he actively trying to deceive them? I don’t think so. I think it was they themselves who stood in the way of seeing Jesus for who he was.
When Jesus first appeared to them, they were deep in their own thoughts. They had heard the reports of others who saw the empty tomb, but they were just trying to make sense of it all. They were so caught up in their own world that, when Jesus approached them, they actually mocked him! “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” I can hear the condescension in their voices as they explain it to him. At which point, Jesus takes them to task, explaining scripture to them yet again.
To the disciples credit, they at least begin to realize that there’s something special about this guy they met on the road. They still don’t know who he is, but at least they want to spend more time with him. Perhaps they were looking for a new rabbi to follow. In any case, they urge Jesus to stay with them. And it’s there, finally, when he blesses and breaks the bread, that they see him for who he is.
I see the disciples in this story as being on a journey, and not just the physical walk. They are on a journey of faith. They start out on their own, confused and isolated. They don’t know who this Jesus guy really is. As they move along their road, they study scripture. They learn more about Jesus, but they still don’t know Jesus. Finally, they reach the third stage, where they stop. Stop trying to make it all make sense. Stop thinking so much about it, and just be with Jesus. Then they know him.
Thanks to the encouragement of my son-in-law, I’ve taken up running. Though, in my case, the pace isn’t must faster than a walk. But there are advantages to my slower pace. I run on roads that I drive over all the time. But you see things at that slower speed that simply are not visible as you race by in a car. Little details that don’t even exist at higher speeds suddenly take on more significance. I think that’s what’s happening for the disciples. Once they stopped focusing on where they were going to go, and what they were going to do, they could really see Jesus.
We are all, as Christians, at various points along that journey. Sometimes we’re confused and questioning. Sometimes we’re studying. And sometimes, rarely, we can just stop, and know Jesus. And I think that all of those stages have value. We need that time of study, to make sure that the stops are with the right person! But we also, I think, need those times of confusion and questioning, to lead us to newer, deeper insights.
There is one stage of the disciple’s journey that I didn’t talk about. And that’s what happened after they recognized Jesus. They didn’t stay where they were. It wasn’t a permanent stop. They moved on, to join with the others. To continue their journey of faith.
One last thing. This has very little to do with the chapter, but thinking about stopping got me thinking about a song that was popular when I was a teen. “Stop And Smell the Roses” by Mac Davis. It’s where I got the title for this post. Enjoy.