26th April 2020
Acts 2.14, 36-41
Luke 24. 13-35
Revd Canon Cheryl Collins
The ancient Rabbis have a saying- ‘We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are.’
It seems to me that the stories of the resurrection are all about how we see or don’t see, and they are an invitation to us all to learn to see through God’ eyes God’s viewpoint, God’s perspective, the vastness of God’s view and the way that God sees even the smallest and most insignificant thing. How different from our own frequently blinkered perspective.
Scientists have conducted experiments showing how we only see what we want to see or what we expect to see, we have an internal editor which crops the picture before we are even aware of it. So perhaps it’s not surprising that seeing, really seeing is a major theme in the entire Bible, and particularly in these stories of resurrection. Last week Thomas declared that only seeing is believing for him and this week the two disciples on the way to Emmaus have their eyes opened by a traveller they meet on the road.
Scholars do not agree on exactly where Emmaus was, there are three alternative sites, each roughly 7.5 miles from Jerusalem and an alternative for the seriously fit, which is 19.5 miles away. But Emmaus is not just a geographical place, one Christian commentator describes it as ‘whatever we do or wherever we go to make ourselves forget that the world holds nothing sacred: that even the wisest and bravest and loveliest decay and die; that even the noblest ideas of humanity-ideas about love and freedom and justice-have always in time been twisted out of shape by selfish people for selfish ends.’ Emmaus is where we go to lick our wounds, put our masks of indifference firmly back on our faces and prepare to pretend that it, whatever it is, didn’t really matter anyway.
And it is to this village of shattered dreams that two disciples are walking. They had dared to hope that this new prophet Jesus was the one they had been waiting for. They had invested their hopes and their dreams in him. And then they had seen it all come to nothing, instead of a Messiah who would free Israel from Roman domination he ended up hung on a cross, a victim of Imperial ruthlessness and the fears of the Jewish leaders. As they poured out their story to this ignorant stranger, they ran through the whole sorry tale, even including the stories of the women who had claimed to see Jesus risen from the dead. Their account finishes with words that are truer than they know ‘but they did not see Jesus.’
Of course, we know that they are seeing him at this very moment, and we imagine that, unlike Cleopas and his unnamed companion, we would have recognized Jesus immediately. But the two disciples need a revision lesson in their own scriptures as Jesus reveals to them how the story is not a frustration of God’s promises in scripture, but on the contrary, their fulfilment. They find his words so compelling that they urge him to stay the night with him, but Jesus is ready to go further, further than they can imagine. When they sit and eat with him at the table they discover that in a strange way their guest had become their host. And when he performed the familiar ritual of sharing, taking the bread, blessing it, breaking it and sharing it they saw him with new eyes. Here was Jesus, not in the formality of the eucharist, but in the simple supper shared with a stranger. Their eyes were opened and they rushed back to Jerusalem to share this newillumination with the other disciples. ‘We have seen the Lord...and our hearts have burned within us, hope rekindled, courage restored.’
This gospel story has been paired for us with Peter’s first great sermon in the book of Acts. It takes place on Pentecost, the harvest Festival 50 days after Passover which celebrates God’s unfailing goodness. Peter offers the crowd his own commentary on Jesus’s story, and how it reinterprets the certainties they thought they knew. He follows it with an invitation, ‘Repent and be baptised.’ That is – ‘Turn your lives round and look at them from another perspective. Let God give you a clean state and a fresh start.’
Learning to see how God sees always leads us to transformation, as we discover that our small story is part of a bigger story. God sees as God is, and when God sees us, God sees a beloved. God sees us in the smallness of our lives, at the point where we’ve given up and turned for Emmaus, when we’re stripped of everything, God sees us. He saw the anguish of Hagar the slave girl, thrown out into the wilderness to die with her son and she called God ‘El-roi’ the one who sees me. God saw the despair of the Hebrew slaves making bricks out of straw, freed them from Pharaoh’s oppression and brought them into the land of milk and honey. God saw the faithfulness of the prophets of exile and sent His people home on God’s own highway.
God sees. And God invites us to see with God. To see with God the disillusioned and suffering of our world, to walk beside them, to hear their stories, to accept their broken hopes and to give them eyes to see how God’s love and God’s promises include them, and how their stories too can become part of God’s story of love for creation.
God sees. And God invites us to see with new eyes. To stop trying to trap God in the narrow boxes of our blinkered imaginations and to realise that God always goes further, has more than we can possibly imagine. God sees. And we are invited to let go of our expectations of God, of ourselves and of each other.
God sees. God sees our world, caught up in this pandemic. God sees our sadness and our isolation and God invites us to look again and see that God is not just present when we break the bread and drink the wine together, but in all the little hospitalities of our caring for one another in the midst of this strange time.
God sees and invites us to open our eyes and use our God-given imaginations to see the possibility of new hope arising unexpectedly out of this situation of death and despair.
God sees and God invites us to see the hard truth that the 200,000 deaths from Coronavirus in our world so far is but a part of the suffering in a world where over 3 million children die of hunger every year, another half a million die from the lack of clean water and even in our own country more than one child a week dies as the result of violence and a woman every three days from domestic violence. God sees all this, and God invites us to see it too. God sees that creation is still a place of abundant new life. New life for our world, new ways of making choices about how we live that show how clearly, we now see the world and our part in it. New life for our churches, new ways of being God’s people, new ways of imagining love made visible. New life for us, a life full of blessing. For God’s eyes see us all, God sees us all as beloved.
‘Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized Jesus.’