This Sunday the account which Anne read for us is from Luke’s
gospel, and we are back again to Easter Sunday, resurrection day.
When the text says, “On that same day . . .” it is referring
back to the fact that the women had returned from the tomb that
very morning to tell the disciples that Christ was risen! and the
disciples had dismissed that as an idle tale. That afternoon, two
believers, one named Cleopas and another who is unnamed were making
the seven mile walk from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus. Naturally
they were discussing the events of the crucifixion -- it happened
just three days ago -- and the rumors of resurrection which had
started circulating that same morning. These men are joined on the
road by someone whom they do not recognize, and this man asks what
they’re talking about. And they say, “Are you kidding?
Haven’t you checked your news feed or turned on the TV or
paid attention to anything? You have got to be the only person in
Jerusalem who doesn’t know what’s been going on.”
This is, of course, an ironic statement, because Cleopas and his
friend are talking to is Jesus Christ -- they just don’t recognize
him. They are the ones who don’t know what’s going on:
or to put it a different way, they are in the middle of what’s
going on, and they don’t know it.
We mentioned with both of the previous accounts of the resurrected
Christ in John, that the people who knew him best -- Mary Magdalene
and ten of the disciples -- don’t seem to recognize him immediately.
For Mary, she knows it’s Jesus when he calls her by name.
For the disciples, including Thomas, it’s when they see the
marks of the crucifixion: the nail holes in his hands and the wound
in his side. Cleopas and his friend are even slower on the uptake.
The walk with Jesus for seven miles -- two hours? -- and they are
in conversation the entire time, with Jesus teaching them about
himself from the scriptures. That is a Bible study I would have
loved to have been a part of. But even after that, they don’t
So I have been asking myself the past few weeks, What is it that
these believers just don’t get? What are they not seeing?
I mean, I get that someone being raised from the dead doesn’t
happen every day -- even though Jesus told his disciples that was
what they should expect. But how could they not recognize him? I
am not a huge comic book fan, but I am somewhat familiar with the
DC universe and the iconic figure of Superman. I have to confess
I think it’s a bit lame that no one recognizes Clark Kent
is Superman, because Clark is wearing glasses and a tie and has
his hair combed back, and Superman has no glasses, is wearing a
cape, and has a lock of hair over his forehead. C’mon. People
don’t look that different. I confess I had to re-think this
a bit after last Sunday when it took me a couple beats to recognize
Craig Miller with a new haircut. In my defense, Craig was wearing
a mask, and it only took me a few seconds to figure it out.
So whom did Cleopas and Co. encounter on the road to Emmaus? Superman
or Clark Kent? And, given that the resurrected Christ is the only
Savior any of us will ever encounter, whom do we see? Or whom do
we miss because we are looking for someone else?
I just finished reading Trouble I’ve Seen by Drew Hart. It’s
one of the books Outreach Team has ordered as part of our small
change ministry. The sub-title of the book is Changing the Way the
Church Views Racism. Hart does some analysis of divine power vs.
worldly power which was familiar to me, but set in a context of
race and privilege which helped me to see that discussion in a new
light. Of course Christ is powerful: for heaven’s sake, he
had just conquered death itself, a force thought to inevitable and
permanent. But he did not win that victory with a show of divine
force -- he did not out-man, out-gun, or out-maneuver the Roman
Empire with legions of angels or a display of super-human strength.
Jesus’ enemies and detractors -- the Jewish religious leaders
and the Roman soldiers--mocked him and dared him to do those things,
“If you are the Messiah come down from the cross and save
yourself!” And he didn’t. Jesus died on the cross that
day. Without fighting back, without cursing those who abused him,
even forgiving those who were responsible. What kind of superpower
is that? Not what our society expects or respects, for sure.
We love Superman. He flies in from somewhere else, immediately
assesses the situation and takes action: stopping trains, lifting
up cars, resisting bullets, gathering up the bad guys and taking
them to justice, leaving us good citizens to wave our grateful goodbyes
while he flies away. That Superman. He’s the greatest. Jesus
Christ is not Superman. Jesus was not super-human, he was human.
Jesus’ ministry was not about being invulnerable, it was about
being vulnerable. Jesus ministry was about presence, not a show
of force. Here’s why I think Jesus’ presence is what
we need. When was the last time you were on a train speeding toward
the edge of a cliff? Most of us live lives which are more complex
than good guys (always us) and bad guys, or mortal danger vs. safety
and comfort. Super-human power is great, but it has its limits,
because power can’t solve everything. In fact, power creates
problems of its own. Will the ability to leap tall building help
you if your son won’t speak to you? Will it help you make
decisions for your aging parents? Will it allow you to see a conflict
from someone else’s perspective?
I believe what Jesus Christ offers to those who believe in him
is the possibility of transformation. In Christ we can be changed
from doubters to believers, from those who are lost to those who
are saved. We can also work to transform our society from a place
which is unequal and unjust to a place where everyone is respected
and valued. We can transform our churches to be places of welcome
and witness. These are not things which Christ does to us; they
are things which Christ does through us. Transformation happens
when we know and accept Christ as revealed through the scripture,
and as we walk with him over time. Transformation rarely happens
with the strike of a lightning bolt, but Christ doesn’t just
drop in, solve our problems and then fly away: Christ begins the
journey with us and teaches us all along the way.
I imagine you know the end of the journey to Emmaus, but it is
a wonderful story, so I want to share it. Cleopas and his friend
reach Emmaus as the sun is setting, and they urge the stranger they
met to spend the night with them. They sit down to a meal together,
and the stranger takes bread, blesses it, breaks it, and shares
it with them. Where have we heard that before? And that’s
when they recognize that they have been walking with Jesus, and
realize why they were so inspired when he opened the scriptures
to them. Jesus did not come to them as Superman, revealed in white
light and acts of strength and power; Jesus came to them as their
friend revealed to them in the ordinary and familiar act of sharing
a meal, a meal which Jesus transformed to be a memorial of his body,
blessed, broken and shared with his disciples and all who believe
in him as Savior. Cleopas and his friend are so excited they return
to Jerusalem that very hour -- running seven miles in the dark in
sandals -- to tell the disciples what happened, and how Christ was
made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
So, Clark Kent or Superman? I don’t think Jesus breaking
and sharing bread was like Clark Kent throwing aside his glasses
and ripping open his shirt to reveal the Superman logo underneath:
look how strong he is! I think it was more like Cleopas and his
companion realizing that their friend had been with them all along,
teaching and revealing the scriptures, walking alongside them on
the road. Jesus was not dead, he was risen indeed. Their despair
and sorrow were transformed to hope and joy; their confusion and
doubt were transformed to clarity and purpose. Their eyes were opened
to the new possibilities of the kingdom of God. May Christ be made
know to you along your journey, and in the ordinary miracles of
this Easter season. Amen.