Jesus Sighting

“With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him but he vanished from their sight.” (Luke 24-31)

The New Testament recounts as many as 12 post-resurrection sightings of the Risen Jesus to over 500 witnesses, starting with Mary Magdalene at the tomb. There are differences regarding the sequence of events and identity of witnesses, but what is common to all of them is that for a period of 40 days until his ascension, Jesus presents himself as alive!  

In last Sunday’s gospel from John, for example, Jesus appears twice to a group of disciples in a locked room;  the first time with Thomas absent, then a week later with Thomas present.  In today’s gospel from Luke, he appears to Cleopas and an unnamed disciple walking along the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus.  Besides occurring after the resurrection, all these Jesus sightings have something else in common – the Risen One is not recognizable at first. 

Two things happen in the Emmaus story that lead Cleopas and his companion to recognize the stranger on the road.  First, Jesus interprets his death and resurrection in light of their common Jewish faith tradition.  After reflecting on their experience of the stranger earlier in the day, the two say to each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?" (v. 32).   Second, Jesus dines with them, doing what he did only days before at the Last Supper.  Luke writes: "When he was at the table with them, (Jesus) took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight" (vv. 30-31).   In other words,  Jesus, after Easter is revealed in Scripture and in Eucharist.   

But these aren’t the only ways he’s revealed.  Recall that the Lord vanishes as soon as he is recognized.  What’s the significance of that part of the Emmaus story?  The resurrected Jesus is perceived differently than the human Jesus, no longer through physical eyes and sensory evidence, but through the eyes of faith and, just as importantly, faithfulness to his mission in the world. 

The resurrection, you see, was the dividing line between earthly life when Jesus was limited to the mortal body of a Semitic male living in first century Judea, and eternal life with no limits whatsoever.  No longer subject to the laws of physics, freed from the confines of flesh, space and time, he now reveals himself at will in a radically new way -- in any place, at any time, in all types of bodies: male, female, White, Black, young, old, rich, poor, disabled, non-disabled, native, immigrant, Catholic, Protestant, Hindu, Moslem, liberal, conservative, Democrat, Republican, friend and foe. 

The war was over, but the fight had just begun.  World War II devastated Europe, and the fight was on to pick up the pieces and go on with life.  Undoubtedly, just as is in wars before and since, the saddest sight were the numbers of children who had been orphaned.  Many starving in the streets.  Their present existence was unfortunate and their future looked hopeless.           

Early one foggy morning, an American soldier was making his way back to base when he spotted a young girl with her nose pressed up against a bakeshop window.  The little girl’s hunger was evident as she watched every move the baker made preparing the day’s goods.  Taken in by the emotional sight, the soldier pulled his jeep over, got out and quietly approached the young girl.  There was a silent plea on her face.

Suddenly, the soldier’s heart was heavy.  He asked the girl if she would like one of the tasty morsels.

Startled, she replied, “Oh yes!”

The soldier made his way inside and purchased a dozen pastries.  Stepping back into the chilly morning air, he smiled as he approached his smiling friend.

“Here you are.”

Turning to leave, he felt a tug at his coat.  He looked back and heard the little girl softy ask, “Mister, are you God?”

Whenever you or I relate to one another with love, we experience and reveal the Risen Lord.  To understand Easter is to live this timeless reality.  The tomb is indeed empty but the Lord is alive and active in the world.  He is visibly present in the community of Transfiguration, for example, where we witness Him among us in large and small ways.  He is present when we gather in his name; when Scripture is proclaimed; when we share in Eucharist.  And he is present when we speak out against injustice; respect the environment; shepherd our children; show kindness to a classmate; practice good citizenship; extend hospitality to a stranger; befriend the lonely; comfort the suffering; contribute to a worthy cause.  The list goes on and on.  

Whenever we allow Jesus to be in and work through us, we echo and re-echo Easter morning’s joyous exclamation …. He is alive!  He is alive!

 

Anthony J. Sciolino
Acts 2:14, 22-23
Peter 1:17-21
Luke 24:13-35. 
3rd Sunday of Easter. 
April 6, 2008.  (Cycle A)