A friend of mine once wrote a series of plays based on memorable stories from the Bible. He called it ‘Brief Encounters.’ In these brief encounters he helped both actor and audience to see that these stories though centuries old, have an enduring quality to them.
These brief encounters came to mind because in these days of Easter, Jesus’ resurrection appearances are often brief encounters.They are mysterious and intriguing with an enduring quality that makes us stop and think time and again.
This evening is one example when Jesus meets some of the disciples through a brief encounter on the road to Emmaus. It’s a passage I know well, I chose it as the Gospel for when I began my ministry as a parish priest.
It spoke to me then and still does about how we might make Christ known.
How we should come along alongside people and listen, just as Jesus did.
How we should share our stories and talk to help make sense of this life, just as Jesus did.
Of how we meet Jesus the breaking of bread and of how ‘hearts’ are ‘burning within us’ when we meet Jesus along the way.
I could talk about any one of these this evening but instead I want to spend this time reflecting on some other words from the reading, ‘their eyes were kept from recognising him.’
I’ve always been puzzled by the mystery that surrounds the resurrection appearances. For in these brief encounters it’s clear that Jesus has changed.He is unrecognizable to people who knew him well. But then something happens, a word, an action and they know. Why though all this mystery?
For me it’s something about teaching the disciples, and in turn us, that his resurrection was so much more than a body being raised from the dead.
For whilst that bodily resurrection is certainly true and does matter the risen Lord’s appearances are also an invitation to a way of seeing.On the road to Emmaus they saw a man on the road. He was certainly real to them otherwise he was just a ghost, but they didn’t see who he was ‘their eyes were kept from recognising him.’
Perhaps this happened so they could learn to see more. To see God at work in the world in new ways. We know this story so well that we sometimes forget that these men had been shaped as people by a hierarchical world. People had and knew their place.The resurrection shook things up and was for all time and for all people.
So perhaps they were ‘kept from recognising him’ in person so that they might have their vision renewed and learn in some way to seek him in others.
This, a kind of seeing with resurrection eyes makes me wonder what I’ve missed, what or who I’ve seen but not recognised.Makes me ask whether I’ve missed the risen Lord because I wasn’t paying attention.
On the road to Emmaus they weren’t looking for Jesus, so though they saw they didn’t see.How often have we done that, seen someone but not seen them?
How often have we seen the beggar and looked away. Seen someone we know to be struggling and not been willing to be there for them.Seen the pain and brokenness in another’s eyes and looked away.We all do it sometimes.
At my best I try to see and be truly present to the person before me, to recognise their infinite value and importance.
I do that by trying to listen and focus on them, something that’s hard when someone else is joining the queue that sometimes form on a Sunday morning or when someone comes into my eyeline wielding some other apparently important document.
However, at my worst I don’t see, I don’t recognise another child of God.I put them in a neat compartment. I decide I don’t like them because they’re not like me.Worse perhaps I become so self-obsessed that I cannot see anything other than my own preoccupations and concerns.
When that happens which I’m afraid it sometimes does I almost always regret it.I’m left wondering what I missed. Consequently my evening prayers almost always ask forgiveness for what or who I have failed to see on any given day.
The brief encounter described in our Gospel this evening.Just like some of the other resurrection appearances. Challenges me to see with eyes that recognise the resurrection breaking through all over the place. In all kinds of strange places and people.
In the old and the weary. In the young and full of life. In the beggar. In the politician. In the shop assistant.In every person whom I meet but I have to be looking.I have to pay attention.
To use some words of a disciple of the mystic Thomas Merton, James Finley I strive to live each day with “A simple openness to the next human moment that brings us into union with God in Christ.’
That’s easier said than done of course, it’s really difficult sometimes and so of course we all fail in this noble task.
But that doesn’t mean we should give up because I do believe that these brief encounters are a place where we meet God.
A God who comes alongside the people whom he loves, just as he did on the road to Emmaus and shares our story.
In Lent some of you may have given something up. There have been tales of great endurance in the clergy vestry.Lynne with her tea and pastry and Alison with her caffeine and chocolate.All of which have been reinstated in their lives with great joy I trust.
But what of these days of Easter, might we strive to use them to see more deeply in the brief encounters we are given the God who is part of all our stories.
So may we listen, share and celebrate the God who in Christ walks alongside us and who sets ‘our hearts burning within us’ when we recognise him along the way.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed Alleluia!