Dr. Thomas Lane Butts: That Jesus!

One of the most poignant resurrection experiences in the Bible is Luke's account of the mystical and unexpected appearance of Jesus to two dispirited followers on their sad trek from Jerusalem to their home in the little village of Emmaus. They were talking about all the things that happened in the last few days when they were joined by a stranger who asked what they had been talking about. They stopped and said, "Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?". (Luke 24:18b) They gave him a resume of how Jesus had been crucified and placed in a tomb.

They told him that some of the women of their group went to the tomb early that morning and could not find the body of Jesus, but they had a vision of angels who said he was alive. Then some men went to the tomb and found it empty as the women said, but did not see any angels. These two men decided it was all over and they were on their way home to Emmaus.

The stranger began to recite the teachings of the scriptures about the messiah. He began with Moses and the Prophets and interpreted the meaning of all that led to the death of Jesus. They were so betaken by the wisdom and insight of this stranger that when they arrived at Emmaus they begged him to stay with them for the evening meal. And, when they were at table, the stranger took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Suddenly they realized that this stranger was none other than the risen Jesus. The moment they recognized him, he vanished from sight. They were so overjoyed that they got up and returned to Jerusalem that very hour. They told the disciples what had happened to them on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Like God, his Father, Jesus was subtle and mysterious beyond their understanding. Jesus had been right there with them and they did not realize who he was until he was gone. This was not the first time that God's presence was not known until after the fact, and it would not be the last.

This story put me in mind of a similar experience that happened to one of my dear friends, Rosemarie Stallworth-Clark. After the death of her father, Rosemarie took her mother into her home and cared for her for the next six years, but as her mother needed more and more attention Rosemarie finally realized that she would have to move her mother into a local Hospice facility. Because her devotion to her mother was intense and emotionally absorbing, Rosemarie stayed with her mother day and night. While there, she met and developed a spiritually helpful relationship with a woman whose daughter was also a patient at the facility. As the relationship with this woman developed, Rosemarie said to her, "I want to see Jesus when he comes to take my mother." This gentle woman responded, "I surely hope you do see Jesus. Maybe you will."

That night Rosemarie collapsed into the make-shift bed in her mother's room. Although she was physically and emotionally exhausted, she managed only an occasional fitful doze. The quiet in the room was broken only by her mother's "death rattle" and the soft sound of the wind in the oxygen mask. In the early morning Rosemarie was startled from her light sleep when she realized that the only sound in the room was just the wind in the oxygen mask. Her mother was not breathing. As two nurses came into the room, she jumped up from her bed and asked, "Is she gone?" The nurses nodded -- it was 6:30 A.M.

Rosemarie looked around the room, scanning every space from the floor to the ceiling. No Jesus -- not even an angel. She was overcome with grief and disappointment. Jesus had come for her mother and she had missed him. What to do? She reached for the phone and calmed herself by beginning to do those things that must be done when someone dies. She commenced to call family, friends, the local pastor, and Rev. Butts 400 miles away, who would do the graveside committal for her mother as he had for her father six years earlier.

After doing all those things you do to keep busy following the death of a loved one, she walked out in the hallway and found her spiritual friend. "Mother's gone -- left early this morning". "Yes, I know" she said. "Word gets around here". They walked down the hall with their arms around each other. Crying softly, Rosemarie said, "I didn't get to see Jesus when he came for mother".

Rosemarie wrote this description about what happened next. "She stopped me and turned me to face her, placed her hands on my shoulders to stabilize me, then compassionately and fiercely said to me, ‘That Jesus, he is a tricky one!' We collapsed into each other's arms laughing. Mother was gone. I had missed seeing Jesus, and we were laughing. That Jesus, he IS a tricky one!"

In her final recollections of that terrible, yet beautiful and unforgettable day, Rosemarie remembered, "Later I saw my new friend and with eyes aflame with faith, she said to me, 'And by the way, you did not miss Jesus! He is all around you...in the radiant light about you...even within you. And there were lots of angels too. I can see them clearly.'"

Then Rosemarie said, "I don't even know the name of that beautiful woman of faith, and I never saw her again."

Who might she have been?