I think Jesus must have been in a super-good mood, after the Resurrection. He seems to have spent most of his time playing the same joke on his disciples: sneaking up on them, acting all nonchalant, then BAM. They’d recognize him, and either have a teary reunion (a la Mary Magdalene) or he’d disappear (Road to Emmaus). I don’t know exactly what got into him during his Time in the Tomb, but his newfound love of pranks cracks me up every Easter season.
I humbly suggest that, instead of Christmas pageants, or even Passion Week cantatas, we should dedicate a day of the liturigical year to sneaking around in disguise, and trying to suprise other church members with our kind deeds.
(Then leaping out from behind furniture, and yelling, “SURPRISE!” because why should Jesus have all the fun?)
Rev. Megan L. Castellan
April 30, 2017
You may have noticed that in these post-Resurrection stories we’ve been reading since Easter, Jesus has been a bit different. He’s not doing his usual, Jesus-y things. There’s less preaching, healing, and teaching, and more…..apparating? More disappearing and reappearing? More walking through walls, cooking fish, and showing off flesh wounds.
This is not your imagination; the Resurrected Christ is, in fact, noticeably different from the pre-resurrection Christ. And scholars talk about this at length, only they call it “Points of significant discontinuity as well as areas of continuity.” They do not address whether JK Rowling derived any inspiration for Harry Potter from Jesus’ exploits, however.
These changes also seem to befuddle the disciples a bit. Over and over, they seem to have trouble figuring out what to do. They don’t know what they’re supposed to do in the aftermath of Christ’s death and resurrection, even when Mary Magdalene and the other Mary(s) give them fairly specific instructions, and when Jesus does show up, they are still confused, and often have trouble recognizing him.
This is mostly not their fault–they’d been through a lot, and times were uncertain, and really, who does expect someone to rise from the dead and appear within a locked room? After the trauma they’d collectively suffered, I think the disciples can, for once, be given a bit of slack for their general confusion–because the world was just confusing right then.
And so, on this particular day, we meet another pair of disciples, trying to make the best of things, and sort of making a hash of it.
Now, things get weird in this story right away, but you don’t notice it unless you’re looking for it. The text tells us that the two disciples are Cleopas and….we don’t know. The other one never gets a name, nor a specified gender. Western art usually depicts Other Disciple as a male, (assuming that all disciples were male), while Middle Eastern Christians have held that the Other Disciple is Cleopas’ wife, Mary–who has already made an appearance when she tagged along with Mary Magdalene to the cross, then to the empty tomb, so she does seem to be pretty involved. For ease of preaching, I’m going to go with Middle Eastern Christians on this one.
So Mary and Cleopas are out on the road to Emmaus, and they are arguing back and forth about what’s happened in the past week. While the rest of the disciples are back in Jerusalem, locked in an upper room somewhere, afraid and in hiding, it seems this pair has decided to flee town in the wake of Jesus’ death. They are arguing about this, apparently, so much that they do not really notice when Jesus appears beside them and asks them what they are arguing about.
They explain the situation to him–there had been this wonderful friend and teacher, Jesus, who did miracles no one had seen before. They had hoped and believed in him like no one else, but then he had been crucified by Rome. Now they didn’t know what to do. So, they were leaving.
Jesus, it would seem, absorbs all this, and starts walking with them, as they continue to discuss. When it grows dark, they invite him to have supper with them–it’s the nice and hospitable thing to do— and when he shares the bread with them, something triggers in their memory, and suddenly they realize who he is.
In a flash, Jesus disappears again.
But the disciples race back to Jerusalem, and tell the others what they experienced.
That’s the curious part of this story. Two people–lost, confused, hopeless, and irritable–encounter Jesus, and now they’re rejuvenated, and empowered. These are the folks who were literally fleeing from the scene as fast as they could, and once they recognized Jesus, they turned right around and headed back.
And let’s be clear–it’s not like Jesus pulled a magic trick (beyond the weird undercover Messiah trick of sneaking up on them then disappearing.) He didn’t overthrow Rome. He didn’t dethrone Pilate. He didn’t make Palestine safe for Christianity, and he didn’t erase the memory of that horrible last week. All the things that Mary and Cleopas were afraid of are still back in Jerusalem.
What Jesus did was change them. Just by his presence, just by his listening, just by being with them for a while, somehow, he gave them the strength and courage to go back to face what they were most afraid of facing.
Jesus didn’t change the world; he helped Mary and Cleopas change the world.
Perhaps part of why Jesus acts so oddly post-resurrection is that a shift is under way. Before his death, he was living out the Gospel. After his resurrection–we are the ones who need to live it out. Us. You, me, Mary, Cleopas.
We are the ones who are sent back to Jerusalem, to heal, to teach, to comfort the lonely, to lift up the oppressed, and feed the hungry. We are the ones sent back to preach good news to the sorrowful and let the captives go free. We now step into the path Jesus paved for us.
And like the disciples on the road discovered, we don’t do this alone. We have the resurrected Christ walking alongside us, to accompany us, and guide us. Christ sneaks up during our moments of doubt and confusion, to show us where to go, and remind us of all we have learned and all we have to give. Christ is with us when we least expect it: in moments of pain and in triumph, so that we are never alone on this journey.
The journey we have been taking with Jesus doesn’t stop at the Cross, and doesn’t stop with the empty tomb–it leads on into a wider world, where we are called on to each tiny village that needs our help. So onwards we go.