Easter 3, Year A, 2014
St. George’s Chapel
May the words I speak and the words you hear be God’s alone. Amen.
The story of Jesus on the road to Emmaus is much beloved and almost as famous as the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan, all three stories which are only found in the Gospel according to Luke. Two followers of Jesus, still in shock over his gruesome death just two days before, are walking along a road when Jesus meets them. They don’t recognize him. Why does no one ever recognize Jesus right away? Does he look different? Has he changed so drastically that he no longer looks the way he once did? Or is it just that no one is expecting him to be around anymore, so they don’t look at him the same way? Whatever the reason, they do not recognize Christ.
We, too, fail to recognize Christ in our midst. Events this week have reaffirmed that racism is alive and well in our country. But this should not come as a surprise to us. As one sports commentator explained in the case of former Clippers owner Donald Sterling, it is almost laughable that the racist comments he made to his girlfriend has triggered such a reaction. While I don’t think that his punishment is undeserved, I’m left wondering, “Why now?” Where was the outrage years ago when he was denying African Americans and Hispanics housing and evicting those already in his buildings? If it took us this long to get angry, then we have failed to see Christ in our midst.
Some of you may have seen the video I posted on the parish Facebook page. The New York Rescue Mission is dedicated to helping the homeless of New York. In their video, they dress people as if they are homeless and then place them in the path of family members and loved ones. They record the unsuspecting family members and loved ones walking down the street to see what their reaction might be. Not one of them recognizes the fake homeless people; they all walk past after a mere glance in their direction. The family members are then shown the video tape and are told about the experiment. The shock of recognition on their faces is enough for us to see that they have been deeply moved, some even to tears. If you saw one of your loved ones on the street, how would you react? Would you even notice, or would you walk past them, thinking it’s not your problem?
The disciples on the road to Emmaus are shocked that the man they meet has not heard the news about Jesus, but the man surprises them by interpreting things about Jesus throughout scripture. After the three of them get to a village, Jesus makes as if he’s going ahead, but the disciples invite him to stay with them. They sit down to supper and Jesus gives thanks, breaks the bread, and hands it to them. They are shocked when they recognize Jesus, who immediately disappears. What is it that makes them finally figure out that it’s him? Perhaps when he lifts his hands in thanksgiving, they see the marks of the nails in his hands, and that triggers their memories.
What the Gospel account is trying to tell us is that we need to see the face of Christ in everyone we meet. The person living on the street as well as your millionaire neighbor. The person behind the register at McDonald’s as well as the person who cuts you off in traffic. The people living on food stamps as well as the hungry in other countries. As long as poverty, hunger, homelessness, violence, and discrimination still exist, we are not recognizing Christ within each other.
So how do we change the cycle? I think we begin by changing the way we interact with one another. If we take the time to get to know people, really know them, to the point where we can see their scars, then we can recognize the Christ within them. Everyone has scars, and we don’t always have access to them, but even knowing that everyone is walking around with scars helps us to recognize their humanity.
When I got to seminary I realized that most, if not all, of my classmates had experienced pain and suffering in one form or another at some point in their lives. In church they found a community that supported them and welcomed them with open arms, and the love they found there helped them to begin the process of healing.
Now I’m not completely naïve; I know that every community comes with its difficulties, and St. George’s is no exception. But even if we disagree on who to vote for, or which causes to support, or the best way to handle a problem, at the end of the day, we are all invited to the table. Remember the saying, “you are what you eat”? The same goes for Communion. When we come to the altar rail and receive the body and blood of Christ, we ourselves become the Body of Christ. And this spiritual food nourishes us for what lies beyond these doors.
As you leave here today, take a look around you at the people you meet; both the people you know and those you don’t know, the ones you like and the ones who are harder to like. Try to see Christ within them. We are all on this journey together; be gentle with one another. Get to know your fellow travelers and recognize that Christ dwells in each and every one of them, and also in you.
"Supper at Emmaus" by He Qi
image found here