Who would not want to receive the standing ovation or to hear, "Good job!" "You're wonderful!" "I appreciate what you've done!" "Thank you!"? Ahh, my guess is just about all of us appreciate gaining a little recognition. Without recognition, then who am I? Who are you? We're strangers to one another - unknown. Gaining recognition makes all the difference in the world.
I saw it the other day on the face of a 5-year-old girl. There she was at the airport searching a sea full of faces and then suddenly her eyes lit up! Flash! Grinning from ear to ear, bouncing pigtails, she ran to a grandfather whose arms were extended wide in joy for he recognized this little one. He picked her up in his arms and gave her a kiss-a marvelous scene! What that grandfather and granddaughter enjoyed in a sea full of strangers was a little recognition.
Well, I submit that it's the lack of recognition that empowers this story from Luke's gospel. The risen Lord has joined Cleopas and his friend on the Road to Emmaus, but for some reason their eyes are kept from recognizing Jesus. Stopping, standing, looking sad, Cleopas says to the one who has joined them, "Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?" He asked them, "What things?" They replied, "The things about Jesus of Nazareth...."
Now I want to scream at this scene! I want to say, "Look you two, can't you see! It's Jesus who is standing right next to you. UGGGH!" Why can't they recognize him? The text doesn't say that Jesus was in disguise. It just says, "Their eyes were kept from recognizing him." How? Is Jesus playing tricks on them? Maybe it is because Jesus is out of context.
Why, the last time I couldn't recognize a familiar face was because that person was out of context! I was at a ball game and there came a man who was searching for his seat about three rows ahead of me. When the man saw me, he immediately flashed a smile, waved at me, and said, "Hey, Donovan." Well, he obviously knew who I was, but who was he? I didn't recognize him. He looked familiar. He wasn't in my church. Maybe he was a member of the Rotary Club. Who was he? It was driving me crazy. Later in the game I had an opportunity to catch up to him, and I said, "I apologize, I know you. I know I know you, but I don't know you. Who are you?" He said, "Donovan, I'm Dr. First, your dentist."
Of course! If he had come to the game wearing some scrubs and a mask with goggles, and if I had a numb lip, maybe I would have recognized him.
Is that the trouble Cleopas and his friend were having on the road to Emmaus? They remembered a crucified Jesus. They remembered a dead Jesus. He was dead. Period. A risen Jesus is out of context. Is that why those two did not recognize him? It sounds good, but I don't know. What I do know is that I want Jesus to let these two in on his identity. "Come on Jesus, tell them who you are!"
But Luke drags out the scene...Allowing Cleopas and his friend to tell Jesus all they know...about Jesus.
"He was a prophet mighty in deed and word, condemned to death, crucified, we had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel."
And then they tell the resurrected one...about the resurrected one. "Some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive."
And then they tell Jesus, the one they cannot see, about Jesus, the one they did not see, saying, "Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did...not...see...him."
It is an absolutely frustrating scene!
Imagine having all the evidence of a risen Lord. You can remember the words that he spoke, telling you again and again, "The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised." (Luke 9:22)
You have the stone rolled away, the empty tomb, the angels in dazzling clothes saying..."Remember...Remember, what Jesus told you, 'The Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.'"
Imagine having all the evidence of a risen Lord-his words, the words of the angels, and now you have the risen Lord standing right in front of you...and you can't recognize him. You just stand there, staring at a stranger, looking sad.
Well, that's not hard to imagine, is it? There are many of us who know what its like to walk away from an Easter morning looking sad. We know what the Lord said about love, grace, forgiveness, and new life. We have the words of the angels. We have the story of new life. We can dress up in Easter colors and sing "Christ is Alive!" But the brightness of the sanctuary and the scent of the Easter Lilies can fade a mile or two down the road. Soon the Easter trumpet transitions into the car horn blasting at that crazy driver who cut in front of us.
We don't have to travel too many miles down the Easter road before we're caught in the traffic of this world-the hard realities of what we see and know. We have friends who suffer and die; we are taken over by our worries and frustrations. We get easily angered by time lost. Bitter about what is and what should have been. Dreams of the perfect life, shattered. We just can't seem to put the pieces together. "We had hoped that he was going to be the one to redeem Israel...to redeem us." We had such high hopes! How far do we get from Easter before we stop on the road and stare at one another and look so very sad?
Any stranger can recognize the hypocrisy between what we say we believe and how we actually live it out. "Oh, how foolish you are," says the stranger, "and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!"
I can remember traveling down the Easter road looking sad, frustrated, bothered, in a fowl mood. My problem? Well, someone in my congregation had scheduled me to go on a Saturday mission trip to look at a number of group homes for homeless men and women in our city. "The bus is leaving at 9:00 o'clock from the church. You're signed up to go," she said.
I didn't need to be signed up...not after the week I had. I was worn out. Besides, I know about mission. "I'm the pastor for goodness sakes. I don't have to go and look at facilities. I was having a pity party, and I was looking pretty sad. Don't my parishioners know that Saturday mornings are for writing sermons, and Saturday afternoons are for watching football games, and Saturday evenings are for going out for dinner and enjoying myself?
"We signed you up to go!" Arrrgggh! Well, I drove to the church to pick up the bus to go to see the facilities. I put on my best pastoral smile.
I got on that bus a little late and picked a seat across from a man who, once the bus started, stood up on that bus. But because of his enormous height, he had to curl over until he was almost over my head. He gave a great big smile that came equipped with a gold tooth right up front, and in a deep voice he introduced himself as "Alphonso." Well, Alphonso launched into a story about his life about the terrible side of alcohol and cocaine addiction and having been kicked out of his house and then his mother's house, and then his brother's house, and his sister's house, and his aunt's house. He said, "Pretty soon there wasn't any house to be kicked out of, and I was on the streets." He shared his pain, and I felt as though I could reach out and touch his wounds.
But then he said, "A stranger rescued me and got me into the Phoenix house program, and God is so good. God is so very good. I'm thankful that God never gave up on me. I got a job, and a job gave me a home, and a home gave me a family. God is so very good."
What I thought was going to be a journey to look at facilities, well, this wasn't about facilities. We got off the bus and walked up the sidewalk, up the steps and in the door and again...no facilities. Testimony! "I thank God that I have a roof over my head," she said. "I thank God that I have food on my table! I'm learning how to type, so I can get a job. I thank God, and I thank God for you too." She looked at one of our members and said, "Because without people like you, who help make this place possible, I don't know if I would be alive. I just thank everyone I see, because you never know who the angels are among us."
One of the women who works for the organization told our group, "I'm not saying that we don't have failures. Sometimes we don't hear back from our graduates, and when we don't hear back, we worry. Most of the time we don't hear back because they've fallen off the wagon or are embarrassed to call us." She said, "I've gone down to police stations in the middle of the night and told a young girl in chains, 'When you get out of jail, I'll be right here for you! Don't you ever think that I've forgotten about you. I haven't. I haven't forgotten about you...because God never forgets about you!'"
There was one resurrection story after another that day. I was walking around the one of the houses we had visited, pondering what I had heard, and I wandered into the kitchen. And there was one of the residents holding a box of animal crackers. She smiled at me and held out that box. "Want one?" I shrugged and reached down inside that box and pulled out a cookie, and I looked at it. When it comes to animal crackers, I always want to know what I'm eating. It was a lion. She reached down in the box and said, "I got a lion too!" She laughed and said, "God bless you!"
I said, "God bless you..."
"What's your name?" she said. I said, "Donovan. What's yours?"
As I left that group home on my way to the bus to go back to the church, I thought about a God who never gives up on anyone. I thought about how we can't either. I thought about strangers who come out of nowhere to reach out a hand. I thought about angels unaware. I thought about past pain and new hope. I thought about how miserable my day had started and how good it was now. I thought about all of this, as they mixed in my mind with that after taste of animal crackers and grape Gatorade.
Now, you may think I'm silly in saying this, but that aftertaste and all those resurrection stories, well, it reminded me-it reminded me of communion. And the one I thought was a stranger...well, now I see....
"When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, and he vanished from their sight."
You know, I'm just thinking as we walk this Easter road, we can either stand around looking sad, or we can stop feeling sorry for ourselves and just listen to his words, believe and do! Visit the strangers. Feed the hungry. Lift up the poor, taste and see that the Lord is good! And we'll gain a little recognition! Congratulations! Good job! You know that God is Good! God never gives up on anyone! People empowered by the resurrection. The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed!
Let us pray. Lord God, we give you thanks for being with us on the roads we travel. Forgive us when we see all the things in this world that can drive us to despair, and don't see that you are the one who is with us providing us with all grace and hope. We ask that in our most trying times that you grant us some recognition. May our hearts burn within us; may we also see the hope that you are risen, risen indeed! Amen.