BIBLE READING:†† Luke 24:13-35
The story of the road to Emmaus is perhaps one of the strangest resurrection appearances, because Jesus must have been with Cleopas and his friend for several hours. Most of the resurrection appearances are fairly brief; Jesus appears unexpectedly, speaks to the disciples and promptly disappears again. But we're told Emmaus was at least 14 kilometres from Jerusalem (that's at least a couple of hours walk) and after that Jesus remained until a meal had been prepared.
He put the time to good use. He explained and interpreted all the scriptures to Cleopas and his friend, starting with Moses and all the prophets. And still the two disciples failed to recognise him.
Donít you find that very strange. How could they fail to recognise someone they knew so well? As you are probably beginning to realise, I frequently fail to remember names, but I usually recognise people I know well. More than that, I often see people perhaps on television, who remind me of someone I know. A turn of the head, the facial features, a mannerism, something makes me think of someone I know.
Yet although their hearts burned within them while the stranger was speaking, the two disciples weren't even reminded of Jesus. Grief stricken by the recent horrifying events of the trial and crucifixion, Jesus was very much in their minds. Yet they didnít notice any resemblance at all between the stranger they met on the road, and Jesus. Clearly there weren't any wounds in the hands or feet or sides of this Jesus, as there were later that same day when he appeared in the upper room to more of the disciples.
So the risen Jesus was quite different from the earthly Jesus. And the risen Jesus was seen differently by different people, and recognised through different characteristics. Mary Magdalen recognised him when he spoke her name. The gathered disciples recognised him when they looked at his wounds. The Emmaus couple recognised him through the breaking of bread, through brokenness.
The journey to Emmaus must have alternated between sadness and joy. The conversation centred on Jesus. The talk was not only about him, but by him. But for all he said, for all the teaching he gave them, they still didn't recognise him. They only recognised him when he stopped speaking and teaching, and started doing. And the thing that he started doing, that enabled them to recognise him, was breaking something and giving it to them.
Brokenness is a vital part of Christian experience, because it strips away all the layers, all the veneer, and reveals the real, trembling, vulnerable person that's underneath. That's why Jesus enjoyed the company of social outcasts so much. Because they were broken and vulnerable people who had no veneer left. They used their energy not to build defences around themselves, not to work at being socially acceptable, but simply to survive.
Not that I'm saying we should become poor and broken and discarded by society in order to be acceptable to Jesus. For most of us brokenness is not a way of life. For us, brokenness tends to come differently. Death, divorce, redundancy, serious illness, all are occasions of brokenness. They're occasions of immense suffering, when energy is used simply for survival and there's no spare energy to worry about the social niceties or what other people may think.
Theyíre occasions which strip us and leave us with nothing, no resources of our own, nothing to offer. We're forced to lean heavily on other people and to rely on their strength, because we have none of our own. They're occasions when we are helpless and vulnerable, and are ready to accept otherís help.
They're also occasions through which we can recognise Jesus. We may each recognise him in different ways, through different events. So did the disciples. He may not appear in the form we expect. He didn't for any of the disciples. We may not be aware that we've been walking with him. Neither were the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.
But all those disciples who met Jesus after his resurrection were changed by the experience. And that's our test for encounters with the risen Christ. Are we changed by it? Has our perspective on life been radically changed? Have we become different people, with different values and different priorities, even if we only began to realise we were with Jesus after the event?
It is possible to experience brokenness without becoming desperately poor and without the sort of traumatic shock which plunges us straight into it. It's possible to experience brokenness by becoming increasingly aware of our real selves. By voluntarily allowing the social veneer to be stripped away. By allowing ourselves to be vulnerable with other people. By allowing ourselves to admit to what we really think and feel.
This sort of self-awareness quickly leads to an encounter with the risen Christ, and we will be changed by it.
The prophet Isaiah, about 800 years before Christ, describes the eventual end result of brokenness, of an encounter with God. He says, "On this mountain the Lord will make for all peoples a feast, and he will destroy the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will wipe away tears from all faces. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation."(Is 25:6-9)
Broken God, You allowed yourself to be broken and stripped by human beings, and used that brokenness and stripping to my advantage, to show me the way to your kingdom. Despite all I forced upon you, you still went on loving me.
Broken God, I hate and dread brokenness because it hurts so much. But when I am vulnerable and fragile - broken, help me to live and learn and grow through it, that I may meet with you, my risen and living Lord. Through Jesus Christ. Amen