| Encountering the Risen Christ
The story of the road to Emmaus is perhaps one of the strangest of the resurrection appearances, for Jesus must have been with Cleopas and his friend for several hours. Most of the resurrection appearances are fairly fleeting; Jesus appears unexpectedly, speaks to the disciples and promptly disappears again. But we're told Emmaus was seven miles from Jerusalem (that's at least two hours walk) and after that Jesus remained until a meal had been prepared.
He put the time to good use. He explained and interpreted all the scriptures to Cleopas and his friend, starting with Moses and all the prophets. And still the two disciples failed to recognise him.
I find that very strange. How can you fail to recognise someone you know so well? I frequently fail to remember names, but I never fail to recognise people I know well. More than that, I often see people perhaps on television, who remind me of someone I know. A turn of the head, the facial features, a mannerism, something gives me a fleeting glimpse of someone I know.
Yet although their hearts burned within them while the stranger was speaking, the two disciples weren't even reminded of Jesus. In view of the recent horrifying events of the trial and crucifixion, Jesus was very much in their minds. Yet they noticed no resemblance at all between the stranger they met on the road, and Jesus.
Clearly there weren't any wounds in the hands or feet or sides of this Jesus, as there were later that same day when he appeared in the upper room to more of the disciples.
So the risen Jesus was quite different from the earthly Jesus. And the risen Jesus was seen differently by different people, and recognised through different characteristics.
Mary Magdalen recognised him when he spoke her name. The gathered disciples recognised him when they looked at his wounds. The Emmaus couple recognised him through the breaking of bread, through brokenness.
The journey to Emmaus must have been terrific for them, stimulating, fascinating, enjoyable. It centred around Jesus. The talk was not only about him, but by him. But for all he said, for all the teaching he gave them, they still didn't recognise him. They only recognised him when he stopped speaking and teaching, and started doing. And the thing that he started doing, that enabled them to recognise him, was breaking something and giving it to them.
Brokenness is a vital part of Christian experience, because it strips away all the layers, all the veneer, and reveals the real, trembling, naked, vulnerable person that's underneath.
That's why Jesus enjoyed the company of the social outcasts so much. Because they were broken and vulnerable people who had no veneer left. They used their energy not to build defences around themselves, not to create an acceptable social manner, but simply to survive.
Gill Goulding, a Roman Catholic nun who works in this country with people for whom brokenness is a way of life, has said this, "Life is raw on the margins. There is little time or energy to assume the distancing protective masks which society elsewhere seems to assume. Instead, there is a sense of being stripped of all inessentials, as individuals become more aware of their real selves and energy is devoted to surviving…. Most people on the margins have no specific religious tradition, yet they demonstrate a spiritual aliveness, openness and exploration of real depth and quality which puts many of us church people to shame. Perhaps if we desire to see Christ, we must know and love him in his contemporary suffering humanity, particularly amongst the marginalised." (from "Trust", no.10, April 93).
Not that I'm advocating poverty and all its attendant evils as a way of life to be sought after in order to gain spiritual benefit. Far from it. We need to support those on the margins in every possible way. Fortunately, for most of us brokenness is not a way of life. We're not on the margins. Remain not be rich, but neither are be dragged down by grinding poverty. But and thank God for that. So for us, brokenness tends to come differently.
Like the priest whose 22-year-old daughter was married in January, and six weeks later was diagnosed as suffering from cancer. You can imagine the devastation of the whole family, and especially the young couple themselves.
Bereavement, divorce, redundancy, serious illness, are all occasions of brokenness. They're occasions of immense suffering, when energy is used simply for survival and there's no spare energy to worry about social niceties or what other people may think.
They are occasions which strip us and leave us with nothing, no resources of our own, nothing to offer. We're forced to lean heavily on other people and to rely on their strength, because we have none of our own. So they're occasions when we need to forget pride in our own independence, and accept other people's help.
They're also occasions through which we can recognise Jesus. We may each recognise him in different ways, through different events. So did the disciples. He may not appear in the form we expect. He didn't for any of the disciples. We may not be aware that we've been walking with him. Neither were the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.
But to all those disciples who met Jesus after his resurrection were changed by the experience. And that's the litmus test of an encounter with the risen Christ. We are changed by it. It radically changes our perspective, the way we view life. We become different people, with different values and different priorities, even if we only begin to realise we have been with Jesus after the event.
It is possible to experience brokenness without becoming desperately poor and without the sort of traumatic shock which plunges us straight into it. It's possible to experience brokenness by becoming increasingly aware of our real selves. By voluntarily allowing the social veneer to be stripped away. By allowing ourselves to be vulnerable with other people. By allowing ourselves to admit to what we really think and feel.
This sort of self-awareness quickly leads to an encounter with the risen Christ, and we will be changed by it.
The prophet Isaiah, about 800 years before Christ, describes the eventual end result of brokenness, of an encounter with God. He says, "On this mountain the Lord will make for all peoples a feast. And he will destroy the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will wipe away tears from all faces. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation." (Is. 25:6-9)
You allowed yourself to be broken and stripped by human beings, and used that brokenness and stripping to our advantage, to show us the way to your kingdom. Despite all we humans forced upon you, you still went on loving us.
Broken God, I hate and dread brokenness because it hurts so much. But when my life events lead to brokenness, help me to live and learn and grow through it, that I may meet with you, my risen and living Lord.
Through Jesus Christ.
Reverend Canon Stuart Ansell