How He Is Made Known to Us
By Rev. Dr. Louise Westfall
Hidden in plain sight. Have you ever lost your glasses? Or keys? Not that I have, but friends have told me how frustrating it is to discover the missing items were right where they had put them, but in their hurry and distraction had passed right over them. Well.
Something like that is going on in the morning Scripture text. Even though we’re two weeks out from Easter, the text takes us right back to the evening of that day, and two of Jesus’ disciples who are headed home, lost in thought over the sad death they had witnessed. A stranger joins them, who is immediately identified as Jesus. But something keeps them from recognizing their friend and teacher. He is hidden in plain sight. A reading from Luke in the 24th chapter at the 13th verse. Listen for God’s word to you. [Luke 24:13-35]
Hidden in plain sight. Recently I saw a blog post by Bill Gates, formatted as a guessing game in which everyday scenes from countries around the world were shown and you were supposed to find the innovation that was having a positive impact on global health and human flourishing. Flour, fortified by vitamins, diminishing malnutrition and hunger; a counter-top refrigerator not powered with electricity that could keep vaccinations for a thousand children at the right temperature for a month; I certainly missed the impact of free-range chickens, inexpensive source of eggs and meat, which can be raised nearly everywhere. Gates pointed out that by many measures the world is a better place to live than ever before: childhood mortality is declining; literacy and women’s empowerment is on the rise; the World Health Organization has tracked the significant reduction in countries characterized by “extreme poverty.” Friday’s Denver Post confirmed that the number of children living in poverty in Colorado declined in 2015, falling to a still-unacceptable one hundred eighty thousand. Gates wants to challenge the narrative of discouragement and despair by recognizing the power of innovation, and his blog video was designed to show how we don’t look for what we don’t expect to see. We’re limited by our assumptions.
Just as the disciples were. They didn’t know it was Jesus who had joined them on the road because they didn’t expect to see him alive. Only as they entered into conversation with him: spoke of their wistful sorrow and dashed hopes, listened as he reminded them of a plan they’d seen unfolding before their eyes, and shared a meal with him were their eyes opened and they recognized him. Jesus remained hidden in plain sight until he became known to them through human connection. The disciples allowed themselves to be vulnerable and honest about their sense of disappointment. They consented to some pretty direct schooling by Jesus (even though their hearts were “burning” during the sermon!). They offered the hospitality of a meal and a place to rest before they knew who he was. Jesus took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. How often had they seen him do that?! At many meals, no doubt. But think about it: how he took children upon his knee, blessed them and gave them back to their parents; how he took the cutting criticism of the religious authorities, blessed its truth and broke their hypocrisy by the example of his love, and offered it back not only to his accusers, but to everyone. [This formulation was prompted through commentary by Jeffrey M. Gallagher, in The Christian Century, p. 20]
Take. Bless. Break. Give. In this familiar pattern they recognized Jesus. But they saw something else too: that not all was lost. What they assumed to have been the end, had suddenly become a beginning. They were not defeated or alone, and as if to demonstrate it, they had to get back to Jerusalem that very night, to be together with others who knew it too.
Friends, this is how Jesus is made known to us as well. Through simple human connection, born of paying attention and noticing, rather than flying on auto pilot. In authentic relationships that refuse to glide along the surface, but break through to the deeper truths of our lives. Over meals eaten together.
And maybe most of all, through expectation. How might things be different if we expected to meet Jesus at the kitchen table on a weekday, in the office or waiting area, at the bar during happy hour, over a meal with homeless neighbors? Heck, what if we expected to meet him in church?
Blanche became a fixture in a congregation I formerly served. Elderly, clearly struggling with mental illness, living on her own through a family trust set up by a family that had pretty much cut her off otherwise. You couldn’t blame them. She was combative and paranoid, but took to our church because of the massive amounts of food at our Sunday fellowship hour. One of the deacons came to me on her first Sunday, saying Blanche had emptied a plate of cookies into her shopping bag, and was making a bee line to the cheese platter. When I gently tried to guide her towards the emergency food pantry we kept, she brushed me off brightly saying, “Oh no this stuff is fine! And I don’t even have to cook it!” Many days however she just lurked, certain that the tall usher in glasses was giving her the evil eye. One time she became inexplicably angry with the associate pastor who was trying to give her a warm coat and brandished her cane to warn her away. Blanche was one big headache until that same associate pastor reminded us: Blanche is Jesus, and we are going to serve her. That recognition didn’t stop her from clearing the table at fellowship hour; but it sure did change our attitude toward her, and renewed our energy to address underlying concerns and find ways to bless her wholly.
It might have been perfect to be celebrating communion this Sunday, re-enacting the blessing and breaking of bread and giving it to one another. But we’re not having communion. And maybe that’s okay. The point of the Emmaus account seems to be that Jesus becomes known to us not simply through formal prayers and ritual, but in ordinary life, in everyday realities, when we are paying attention, eyes and ears alert with expectation. I wonder where we’ll see Jesus today. So let’s put that to the test: try it at lunch today, whether shared with others or alone. Expect to see Jesus. Take, bless, break, give, and recognize the Life that is offered to you. Taste and see that God is good. Easter is here to stay.