I remember reading a news story in 1991 about a professional athlete named Hugh Millen. If you never heard of him, don’t fret; most people probably have never heard of him. You see, that was kind of the point of this news story. He was the New England Patriots starting quarterback, and he was able to walk around Boston’s Hot Spots and even attend a Sox game with other Boston Sports fans without being recognized. Keep in mind that a NFL team’s QB is generally the most high profile player on the team, and here was a starting quarterback who was able to walk around without any harassment, precisely because people had no idea it was him. This was even more amazing given the fact that they were in the midst of a 6 game upswing. The Patriots who were 1-15 the previous season finished at 7-9 during Hugh Millen’s first season as a starter. Yet they were still so steeped in mediocrity that fans couldn’t see their quarterback even when he was right there in a seat in front of them.
I know that Hugh Millen is not the savior of the world and a 7-9 record is far from a resurrection from the dead. However I was reminded of this as I struggled with the road to Emmaus story this week. Cleopas and his fellow sojourner were walking the road to Emmaus when they encountered Jesus and mistook him for some ignorant out-of-towner. We don’t know why we they were going to Emmaus, but as I hear Cleopas’ testimony I wonder if they’re moving on to find the next best thing, the new prophet and miracle worker to put their hope in, because he and his friend were obviously without hope. Listen again to his own words.
Luke 24:19-24 Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see."
These are not the words of a man who found hope in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The tone that I hear when I picture this scene is a solemn mixture of sadness and disappointment. I actually think “disappointment” may not be strong enough word. It’s the kind of ultimate disappointment that comes with lost or unfulfilled hope. I am sure that you can all remember times in which God answered prayer in ways different than we had hoped; we all know the despair of unfulfilled hope. It is precisely this kind of grief which blinded the two travelers to the fact that their resurrected Lord and Savior still walked with them in spite of their grief and in the midst of it as well.
Sadly this isn’t the only emotion that can hinder our ability to acknowledge God’s presence. Anger, sadness, loneliness, shame, even pride and ambition can all hide God’s presence in our lives. Pride and ambition can do it by hiding God behind ourselves, we become bigger than God. The others do it using our problems; they become bigger than God.
Brothers and sisters, praise God that His presence on the road to Emmaus did not depend on Cleopas’ ability to see him, and the truth of the resurrection is not dependent on his or even our capacity to understand it or believe it. We live in a world where we are often told that truth is only a matter of perception. Thankfully this was not the case in Emmaus and it’s not the case today either.
Ultimately, brothers and sisters, our perceptions fail us. They cloud our minds and our hearts and we are at a loss with nothing to grasp onto for hope and assurance. However, brothers and sisters, where our perceptions and emotions fail us, God does not. He journeys with us in our denial, disregard, disbelief and reveals himself in many ways; in the prayers and lives of other Christians, through our time with scripture, the music and liturgy of our church service, and the sacraments. That is right; much like those in Emmaus we meet God in the breaking of the bread and passing of the cup. This week I encourage you to think about where your Emmaus Road is, the place in your life where your perceptions fail and God is hidden. But also think about how God opens your closed eyes, minds, and hearts and thank God for those moments. Please pray with me.
Great God, We don’t always see you and appreciate you as we should. Sometimes we put our hope into other things or give up hope entirely. But you are an amazing God who continues to walk with us, and you persistently show yourselves. Thank you for not quitting on us; help us not quit on you.
In Jesus’ name.