This story of the disciples on the road home to Emmaus is one of our favorites; two disciples, Cleopas and his companion, are walking home after the Passover celebrations, depressed because Jesus was dead. I like to think they are husband and wife, since they invite the stranger into their home at the end of the story.
This is the third day after the burial, but they have given up hope. They do not believe the story the women told, of having seen the risen Jesus. Instead of feeling joy at having a Messiah who entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey just a week before, they grieve the death of Jesus and all they had believed he represented.
As they walk along, discussing their grief, their anger at the Romans, and their dashed hopes, Jesus shows up and asks what they are talking about. Somehow, they are prevented from seeing that the man who had joined them was Jesus. This stranger helps them reflect on scripture and the concept of the Messiah as a suffering servant. They have plenty of time to explore all of scripture, since it’s a seven-mile walk, a couple hours at least.
When they reach home, Cleopas and Mrs Cleopas invite the stranger to join them for supper. The table is set, the stranger takes the bread and breaks it. Suddenly, they are able to see that the stranger is really Jesus, and he disappears. Cleopas and Mrs Cleopas hurry back to Jerusalem, to tell the other disciples that they have seen Jesus!
Jesus shows up when we are least expecting him, in surprising ways. We often don’t realize Jesus has been with us until we look back and reflect on the experience. Let’s see how Jesus shows up in other ways and times.
When she was about thirty years old, in the year 1372, Julian of Norwich became extremely ill. She was in a fever for a week, and close to death. When the crisis passed, she had a series of visions of the passion of Jesus. She saw his suffering in many different ways and spent the next 20 years writing about her visions.
These writings were compiled into a book called Sixteen Revelations of Divine Love, which is now a classic of medieval mysticism. The visions declared that love was the meaning of Julian’s religious experience, provided by Christ who is love, for the purpose of love.
When Julian was ill, Jesus showed up for her to be present in her suffering. When she was on the mend, he revealed himself to her again and again so that she could share him with others. Six hundred years later, we still marvel at her visions and her reflections on them. This week, we commemorate her witness of Jesus’ presence in her life, and her insistence that the cross was about love.
There’s an email story, listed as not true by Snopes, but it works here, just to make my point about Jesus showing up in surprising ways.
One dark and stormy night in the 1960’s an older African American woman was standing on the side of an Alabama highway. Her car had broken down and she desperately needed a ride. Soaking wet, she decided to flag down a car, any car. A young white man stopped to help her, which was unheard of at that time, especially in the south. The man took her to where she could get a taxicab, since she was going in the opposite direction to where he was going.
She seemed to be in a big hurry, but wrote down his address and thanked him. Seven days went by and a knock came on the man's door. To his surprise, a giant console color TV was delivered to his home. A special note was attached.
It read: “Thank you so much for assisting me on the highway the other night. The rain drenched not only my clothes, but also my spirits. Then you came along. Because of you, I was able to make it to my dying husband's bedside just before he passed away. God bless you for helping me and unselfishly serving others.” Sincerely, Mrs. Nat King Cole
There are lots of stories like these, many with at least a grain of truth in them. They all tell about someone who went out of his or her way to help a stranger. Those of us old enough to remember the 1960s know how unusual it would have been for a young white man to stop to help an old black woman, and take good care of her. This young man was Jesus, showing up to help a person in need.
In last week’s episode of the TV show NCIS, a man who called himself Blue was a homeless veteran. He was known in the homeless community for his passion for helping others. Blue has a dog named Dave, and everyone in the community knew Dave. Emma was a runaway girl wishing she could return home, but not wanting to return to the anger-filled home she left. When Blue went missing, Emma found Dave and took care of him.
In the hunt for Blue and the effort to discover what happened to him, Abby – the NCIS team researcher – met Emma. She figured out who Emma really was, and also found a video of her parents asking her to come home, and promising things would be different. Abby gave Emma a pre-paid phone card so she could call home. A day or two later, Abby visited the camp again, and Emma said her parents had sent her bus money, so she was going home.
Blue was Jesus for Emma; Emma was Jesus for Dave; Abby was Jesus for Emma, suddenly showing up in her life and helping to put it back together.
When I broke my ankle a number of years ago, two families were Jesus for me. Mike and I had planned to go out of town to a conference. I encouraged him to go, told him that I would be fine at home; I assured him people from the church would bring in food and keep me company. But he refused to go unless I was somewhere with people all the time. For one week I lived in an assisted living home run by church members; the second week, I was the guest of some friends who also had their grandchildren for the week. Both families made sure I was safe, well-fed, well-cared for. They were Jesus for me when I needed them.
When has Jesus shown up for you? Was it a surprise that Jesus was there, or were you aware at the time that Jesus was with you? Did you only put it together when you looked back at the experience?
When have you been Jesus for someone? When have you sat at a bedside and prayed with someone? When have you brought food or offered a ride? Do you reflect on the money you put in the offering, considering the many people who will be touched by your gift? Do you think about how your offering brings Jesus to others?
Please pray with me: Lord Jesus, you show up in our lives in so many ways. Sometimes we are expecting you: when we share your meal each week, and when we pray. Sometimes we are surprised and only notice you were with us when we look back. Help us to see you in each other, and help us to be you for each other. Amen