In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The potty-mouthed chef, Gordon Ramsay, could not be recognized. He had applied a prosthetic nose and other disguising make-up, put on a wig and some off-the-wall clothes, and acted like one of the other contestants being picked up at the airport to compete on Hell’s Kitchen. The others spoke about the tough chef, ranging from bragging comments like “I’m a four-star general in the kitchen!” to impersonations of the chef’s yelling tirades. And then came the revealing moment, when they realized that he had been there all along!
The two disciples on the road to Emmaus went through a similar experience, although Jesus is infinitely far from being a harsh, foul-mouthed mentor. Nevertheless, they soon came to realize that Jesus had been there all along!
Tradition says that these men were two of the Seventy that Jesus sent out, and that Cleopas may have been Jesus’ uncle, and the other disciple here may well have been Saint Luke himself. But no matter who they are, even these men – these close associates of Jesus – do not realize who is travelling with them. They do not recognize Jesus, or where they can find Him.
Why do they not recognize Jesus? Saint Augustine tells us: “Here we are with two others, walking along the road and talking to each other about the things that had been happening in Jerusalem – about … the death of Christ. They were walking along, talking the matter over, grieving for Him as if He were dead, not knowing He had risen again. He appeared and joined them as a third traveler, and entered into friendly conversation with them. Their eyes were held from recognizing Him; their hearts, you see, needed more thorough instruction.”
They needed catechesis! They needed the instruction and formation in the faith that Christ alone can bring. Only when the Word of God has its way with us, can we recognize Jesus in faith. Without faith, one will never truly recognize Christ. And without the Word of God, one will never have faith!
These two – Cleopas and his companion, along with the apostles, had been scandalized by the cross – just like everyone else! It was too much to take in. It was so horrifying that they forgot what Jesus Himself said. Again, Saint Augustine preaches: “Jesus appeared. They saw Him with their eyes and did not recognize Him. The Master is walking with them along the way, and He Himself was the way. But they weren’t yet walking along the way. He found, you see, that they had wandered off the way. After all, when he had been with them before the passion, He had foretold everything: that He was going to suffer, to die and to rise again on the third day. He had foretold it all, but His death had erased it from their memories. They were so shattered when they saw Him hanging on the tree that they forgot about His teaching. They did not expect Him to rise, nor did they hold on to what He had promised.”
We too fail to hold on to what He has promised. When we panic from the reports of Chicken Little’s in the media, and respond with fear to their cries of “recession,” we doubt God’s providence. We become like the Israelites who purposefully gathered too much manna, not trusting the Lord to send what they needed. And He sent worms to devour their faithless hoarding.
We fail to hold on to what He has promised when we shy away from defending innocent life. A number of our school children recently did hold to the Lord’s promises, as they created posters, or wrote essays defending God’s gift of life. Jesus declares that [He has] come that [we] may have life and have it abundantly! When we fall for Satan’s lies that such a basic issue to the Gospel is merely political, and keep our mouths shut for fear of some radicals, we have a first commandment issue, fearing them more than God!
We fail to hold on to what He has promised when we pretend that our loved ones are not hurting themselves when they skip the Divine Service. We turn the other way as some enter a sort of spiritual anorexia, denying themselves the true Food that gives true Life. Jesus has promised to forgive, renew, and prepare us, body and soul, to live with Him forever. Those who cut themselves off from that Gift, are straying further and further from our Lord, and thus, from a blessed eternity. And those of us who stand by silent, are helping them along that dangerous path.
We fail to hold on to what He has promised when we act like there are things more important than the Divine Service – even if we are there in the Service! Whether we slip out needlessly to the bathroom or narthex, or we quietly slip out our cell phone to check email or text someone, or simply stand there with our mouths shut, defiantly refusing to respond in prayer or praise. At those moments, we endanger ourselves, and the little ones around us whom we are teaching in word and deed to find Christ’s Holy Liturgy boring and pointless.
Yet our dear, Risen Lord rids us of these failures. He cleansed us in the waters of Holy Baptism, through which He washed us into forgiveness, rescue, and salvation. He purifies us from all stains and blemishes that erode our trust in His promises, and gives us His great promise of resurrection through this baptismal connection. He has baptized you into His death and burial – the very thing that scandalizes the world, saves you! And now, He leads you to hold on to His promises.
And how does He do that? He leads you to hold on to His promises as He catechizes you! He teaches you and forms you in the faith as the very Word of God encounters you. The Word made flesh convicts you of your sin, and then forgives you! And having been changed by that Word, we desire Him more.
Dear friends in Christ, your desire is fulfilled! You have many opportunities to be encountered by Jesus, to recognize Him as He comes to you in His teaching of His Word and in the Breaking of the Bread – the mystical communion of His Holy Body and Precious Blood. In the Divine Service, our Risen Lord comes through words and bread and wine, simple and common like the stranger on the road. The two disciples did not see through the hidden-ness at first. Sometimes, we fail to see through it too. If we treat His Word like anyone else’s, we are still blind to Him. When we think that His Flesh and Blood are still common bread and wine, we are looking away from Jesus.
But the amazing thing is: it is through these means that He forgives and renews us from that looking away! As sure as I am standing here, talking to you, our Risen Savior is “making you right” before God, and opening your eyes. And as sure and certain as you come to His altar, and Jesus places Himself in your mouth, your eyes will be opened, and you will recognize Him in the breaking of the bread.
Today you have the joy of having your eyes opened, and receiving Jesus in Word and Sacrament. Today you are welcomed by our Lord in Table Fellowship in which God welcomes you to be united with Him, and to be the absolute closest with Him that you can be, this side of heaven.
Today, as Jesus enters your ears and mouths, you behold Him with your eyes, and respond with glad “Alleluias.” And as you leave this Holy House, you carry a joyous “We have seen the Lord!” on your lips, inviting others to have their eyes opened as well.
Come, dear friends in Christ. The Lord bids you to come to His altar that the Risen Christ may open your eyes! Amen!