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Jesus: Revealed in Relationship

The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield

Scripture: Luke 24:13-35

We often think of the weeks after Easter as joyful, buoyant. A celebration of grace granted by the resurrection. But that’s only because we already know the full story. We already know that Jesus is alright. He is risen, just as he promised. But his friends and disciples didn’t know it. Or at least they weren’t sure. In classic form, the men who followed Jesus didn’t quite believe the women who came back from the tomb telling them that it was empty.

Even when Jesus actually did show up, the disciples had their doubts—and understandably so, as Kathy so beautifully preached last week

And Jesus didn’t really help matters. Throughout this time after the resurrection but before the ascension, he kept faking people out, as Lainey described it in our Bible Study. He keeps showing up, making people feel strange—in a good way, for the most part: “were not our hearts burning within us?”—and then he disappears. Not just once, but a few times in our scriptures. Including today’s. “They recognized him, and he vanished from their sight.”

I think Jesus is getting them ready for what’s to come. Getting us ready for what’s to come. It’s practice for when Jesus is gone, for getting used to seeing him in a different way after he ascends. For finding him even when he’s not visible to us anymore.

So this Eastertide, these Sundays after the resurrection and before the coming of the Spirit on Pentecost, is an opportunity to practice recognizing Jesus. And today’s story of the travelers walking to Emmaus gives us some guidance.

This is the same day that Mary and Mary have discovered that the tomb is empty. Cleopas and his friend encounter Jesus on their walk to Emmaus, but we’re told that their eyes were kept from recognizing him. Which I think is…interesting. Jesus is waiting for the right moment to reveal who he is.

So trickster Jesus is like, “What’s up, friends, why the glum faces?” And Cleopas’ response is the equivalent of, “Sir, have you been living under a rock?” Cleopas is devastated that his teacher and leader has been killed. He’s in despair because he thought that Jesus was going to redeem Israel, and it seems like he had a certain idea in his head about how that would happen. Perhaps that Jesus would rally the people to revolution and defeat the Roman colonizers. After all, the heroes of their own scripture—Abraham, Moses, David—all defeated enemies in some way to lead their people into greatness. I don’t know exactly what Cleopas had in mind, but it certainly wasn’t the pain and humiliation and seeming defeat of crucifixion.

But the hidden Jesus goes on to interpret the scriptures to these two travelers. Now this was a seven-mile walk to Emmaus, so they had a few hours. I wonder what Jesus said to them. I wonder how he reframed their shared scripture.

But what I wonder even more is: why didn’t they recognize Jesus when he talked about the scripture? After all, that’s so much of what Jesus had done during his life.

Because that’s not when Jesus chose to open their eyes. Their ability to see Jesus wasn’t about their ability to understand the scriptures. Their ability to know Jesus wasn’t about knowing how to interpret them correctly. Of course the scriptures were and are important. We can assume that Jesus spent a lot of time on that walk talking about them. But that’s not what reveals Jesus to the travelers.

But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 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.

Jesus is revealed only after the travelers invite him to join them, sit down and have a meal with them. To stop trying to get to where they were going and take time just to get to know one another around a table. And when Jesus broke bread with them, their eyes were opened.

Many of you know my story of coming back to Christianity. It was through communion, through the breaking of bread at the table together.

After an upbringing in a fundamentalist Christian church that taught me I was going to hell for loving who I loved, I was done with God and I wanted nothing to do with Jesus. Even as I was eventually drawn to more spiritual spaces, even as I tried to attend open and affirming churches with giant rainbow flags hanging across the front of their building, I had no desire to see Jesus, and Jesus would not appear for me. In fact, whenever communion came around in those churches, I’d break down and leave. So profoundly did I feel rejected by the Body of Christ.

It wasn’t until seminary that God opened my eyes. It wasn’t in learning new and liberating ways to read the scriptures—which I did! But, to be honest, I didn’t quite trust what I was learning. It was still so embedded in me that there was only one way to read the Bible, and to read it in different ways was sinful.

Now how I ended up at a Christian seminary is a long story that I don’t have time to tell here, but my Christian seminary was also theologically progressive, as you might imagine. And it was the gayest, queerest, most gender-nonconforming place I’ve ever been.

I was at chapel one Tuesday morning early in my very first semester, and the service moved into communion. The minister invited us to leave our seats and gather around the table together, and to my surprise I did. Now I would guess there were about 60 of us, and we were packed tightly around that table. After the minister presided over the liturgy, we took the elements a little differently. The bread and cup were passed among the people, and we each served each other. We tore off a piece of the bread and fed it to the next person.

And when the bread was offered to me, I looked around. I saw my queer and trans and nonbinary siblings all being fully and authentically themselves, holding me in that space, and I saw my professors smiling over the whole scene. For the first time in my life, I felt totally safe being all of who I am. I took the bread, and my eyes were opened, and I recognized Jesus. He was all around me in that gathered body, that Body of Christ. And I was changed forever.

A year later I was a Christian. An Episcopalian. Five years later, I was an Episcopal priest.

In this season when Jesus keeps popping up and disappearing, we are reminded that it is our task to keep our eyes out for him. We do that not by having “right” understanding of the scriptures, though the scriptures will guide us. We do that through being in relationship with others, through fully and authentically expressing how God made us and making space for others to fully and authentically express how God made them.

That’s why we break bread together every Sunday. To be reminded that we belong just as we are, and that we are called to create belonging for others just as they are.

And in doing so, we find Jesus. We see Jesus. We know Jesus.

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