Luke 24- Emmaus Road and the Hiddenness of God






In the Gospel today we read about two disciples leaving Jerusalem, “while they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him”. … After the resurrection, two disciples of Jesus are walking with their resurrected Lord and they don’t recognize him. Isn’t that strange?

This isn’t the only time this happens. We read that Mary Magdalene encounters Jesus outside the empty tomb, but for some reason she assumes he is the gardener … until he says her name. … People have tried all kinds of ways to explain this. Maybe she is blinded by her tears and her grief. Maybe seeing Jesus was too much for her mind to process, so she couldn’t see him. Maybe Jesus is hiding behind some bushes. … I’m not sure if Rembrandt meant his painting to be comical, but when he painted this scene Jesus is even dressed like a gardener! He has a big sun hat on and he’s even holding a shovel! It’s so amazingly odd!

It’s funny to watch films that try to portray these moments. Jesus walks along the Emmaus Road with his companions and they hide his face with a big hood over his head. Somehow they don’t recognize his voice. … It can be a bit like Clark Kent putting on his glasses and suddenly no one recognizes that he’s Superman.

It could very well be that we are being told something about resurrected bodies. They seem to be able to appear behind locked doors, moving from one place to another in the blink of an eye. NT Wright talks about resurrection bodies belong to both the earthly world and the heavenly world, so they seem to have these unusual properties.

I wonder if we are also being taught something about encountering Jesus as we live the Christian life. … These are not the only times we are told about Jesus not being recognized by his disciples. In Matthew 25 we read about the judgement. To those who have been kind to him, Jesus will say, 
“’Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” (Matt 25:34-40).
 Those who expressed kindness didn’t recognize him in the person they served. There was a hiddenness about Jesus. Mother Theresa called poverty Jesus’ “most distressing disguise”.

One of the great mysteries of our faith is the hiddenness of God. Why doesn’t God make Himself more obvious to us? Why is it possible to miss God? How can some people go through their life never really noticing or acknowledging God? …

The spiritual teacher and philosopher Dallas Willard talks about this in his book “The Divine Conspiracy”. In this book he says that God is involved in a conspiracy to change the world by secretly intruding into it with the Kingdom of God. The nature of a conspiracy is that is it secret and operates outside of people’s understanding and observation. … Willard says that God is hidden so that He won’t overwhelm you. If God didn’t hide from you, then you wouldn’t have the option to hide from Him. If you woke up in the morning with the Trinity staring you in the face, your free will would probably be overwhelmed. Freewill matters to God. It is important because God wants our cooperation with His plans. God wants us to choose Him. If you don’t want God, then you can ignore Him; That wouldn’t be possible if God was obvious.

CS Lewis wrote a book called the “Screwtape Letters”. They are a collection of imaginative letters written by a senior demon called Screwtape to a lesser demon called Wormwood on the art of leading a human being astray. The demons have to try to understand what God is up to if they are going to steal the soul away. In this letter Screwtape is describing part of the plan of God,
“Merely to override a human will (as [God’s] felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo. For His ignoble idea is to eat the cake and have it; the creatures are to be one with him, but yet themselves; merely to cancel them, or assimilate them, will not serve. He is prepared to do a little overriding at the beginning. He will set them off with communications of His presence which, though faint, seem great to them, with emotional sweetness, and easy conquest over temptation. But he never allows this state of affairs to last long. Sooner or later He withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all those supports and incentives. He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs- to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best. … He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles.” (Letter 8, Screwtape letters by CS Lewis).

CS Lewis (through Screwtape) is saying that God wishes to preserve freewill. And to overwhelm a human being with God’s presence doesn’t give them the choice to reject Him. Love requires free will, and God desires the love of human beings. … Patterns of choices (as human beings face a variety of circumstances) are what develop and expose our character. God desires us to become a certain kind of person. … So Jesus is hidden to his companions on the road to Emmaus, just as he feels hidden to us. And it seems as though God might have a very good reason to be hidden from us.

As they walk along the road they tell the stranger everything that has happened concerning the death of Jesus- how they hoped he would have been the messiah- and how some of the women went to the tomb and found it empty.

Then the stranger opens up the Scriptures to them. Verse 27 reads, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Lk 24:27). Their hearts burn within them as they hear his teaching. But they still don’t really see him.

What we see is the ancient pattern of Christian worship- Word and Sacrament. The first half of a Eucharistic celebration is to read from the Scriptures. As those Scriptures are unpacked, hopefully we start to see Jesus there. We see the way his teachings fulfil what we read- We read in the Old Testament that we shall not murder, but Jesus points to the seed of murder, which is anger. In many other ways he teaches us the appropriate interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures. … We read passages from Psalm 22 with phrases like, 
“they have pierced my hands and feet”, “they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots”. 
And from Isaiah 53, 
“He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.” “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.” “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.” “And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.” 
How can we read these and not see Jesus? … How can we read the story of Joseph sold for pieces of silver and who suffers so that he can save the people, and not see the story of Jesus? How can we read about Isaac, with the wood for his sacrifice on his back, climbing to wear he was to be sacrificed by his Father Abraham, and not see Jesus carrying his cross to the pace of his sacrifice on the hill of Golgotha? … So, when we come together for the Eucharist, we read the Scriptures and we find it lit up with the light of Jesus.

And then we move from the Word part of our service to the Sacrament of bread and wine. The pattern Jesus uses with the couple on the road to Emmaus is the pattern we read about in the Gospels, 
“And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’” (Luke 22:19-20).
 And again we see this pattern in 1st Corinthians 11:23-26 where we read, 
“For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’” … Jesus was very purposefully pointing to the Eucharist. We have this incredible line at the end of our Gospel reading, “he was known to them in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:35).
 I think Jesus is saying something about how we can seek him when we don’t see him.

We might not always see God in the obvious ways we wish to. God is often hidden from us, and according to people like Dallas Willard and CS Lewis it seems like God has good reasons to do that. But, that doesn’t mean we can’t encounter him. … Perhaps we can encounter him mysteriously through the presence of a stranger- Maybe as we offer kindness to someone in need- and particularly in the breaking of bread and sharing of wine among the Body of Christ. And, no doubt, in a myriad of other ways. Probably in ways we don’t expect.

AMEN

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