The Rev. Canon Jan Naylor Cope
Transcribed from the audio recording.
In the name of the living God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
We’ve all heard the adage that seeing is believing and in this Easter season, as we encounter these post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus, it gets bandied about more frequently because, of course, we encounter the stories of the disciples being with Jesus, but not recognizing him: seeing him but not really seeing him. This morning, I would invite you, from the vantage point of being Easter people with a Resurrection lens, to consider the notion of flipping that adage on its head: that it is in believing that we see. When we believe, we will see.
We know from the stories, including the one you heard about Cleopas and his companion—that they walked for seven miles with Jesus in conversation. What’s that: two, three hours? But they didn’t recognize him. He was in plain sight but they didn’t really see him. We know the account of Mary seeing Jesus at the garden tomb and mistaking him for the gardener. She saw him but she didn’t recognize him. You see, the disciples had trouble recognizing Jesus even though he was in their very midst. I would posit the view that we, too, sometimes can miss people and situations that are in plain view.
Last week I saw a news clip that was terribly unsettling to me and, appropriately so. It was a video clip put together by the New York City Rescue Mission in a project called Make Them Visible. Perhaps some of you saw it as well. The New York City Rescue Mission was started in the 1870s by a man who, self-described as a rogue and river thief, who had his life transformed in the Sing Sing prison by reading the Bible and letting it take hold of his life. In that day, in the 1870s, he opened up this mission to offer spiritual help, food, clothing, and shelter to people in need, to the homeless. The mission decided to engage in a social experiment and they invited some families to be a part of that and they volunteered. But they weren’t, obviously, given all of the details because what they did was set up a camera crew in the TriBeCa/SoHo area where the mission is located. And a family member was dressed as a homeless person and then the other family member would walk by. To a person, the family members saw their parents, cousin, sister, wife, but they didn’t see them. The camera achingly captures a glance to the side and walking right past, including a husband of 34 years who walked right past his wife. People they know well, they love deeply: seeing but not really seeing. Part of what has continued to haunt me in the past week is, would I walk by my husband, brother, and son and not see them? Sadly, the answer is probably, yes.
Mother Teresa often spoke of “encountering Jesus in distressing disguise.” My friends, I think that people in situations can be in plain view—right on the streets of New York, Washington, D.C, Calcutta, and even, South Sudan, the Ukraine, South Korea, and all points in between—we can see but not really see. I think part of what happens in those gospel accounts when the disciples and we actually began to fully open our eyes is that we understand that it’s relational. It’s relational; think about it. It was only when Jesus called Mary by name, “Mary,” that she saw and recognized and embraced that it was Jesus. For Cleopas and his companion, it is once they are gathered around the table and Jesus breaks open the bread of life that they dared to see: it is in fact the risen Christ.
The key is in believing. In her book Amazing Grace, Kathleen Norris makes the point that the word believe, taken from its Greek word to believe, means “to give one’s heart to.” You don’t think your way to believing. It’s not a head matter, it’s aS heart matter. It is relational. Think of any love relationship or deep relationship that you have. You don’t think your way there. You give your heart to it and then you are able to embrace that relationship deeply and fully, to see it and recognize it for what it is.
Why would it be any different with Jesus? One can understand why the disciples had such a difficult time. After all, to a person, they’d given up their livelihoods and their lives to follow Jesus. Even Cleopas and his companion say. “We had hoped that he would be the one to redeem Israel.” They journeyed with Jesus as he set about bringing healing and wholeness and light and life and love to the people who desperately needed to receive it. For the disciples, their hope died on the Cross at Calvary. So one can understand, as logical, rational people, that they would have difficulty wrapping their minds around the news that he was alive. They knew he was dead, horribly dead. Clayton Schmidt puts it this way: “Faith is a mystery of the heart that the mind wants to solve.” My friends, it is when we give our heart to the great news of the resurrected Christ that we begin to see Jesus, one in another, active and alive on the streets of New York, on the streets of Washington, D.C., on the streets of Calcutta. Jesus living and moving and continuing to bring healing and wholeness and light and life and love to people who so desperately need it.
Spending a little time with the gospel story you just heard, it’s rich in detail but there are two details that aren’t spelled out that I believe provide a wonderful invitation for each one of us. Cleopas’s companion is not named. We don’t know who it was and I think that that invites us to journey along with Cleopas and Jesus on whatever our road to Emmaus may be. The sadness, the pain, and confusion that was evidenced on that Easter afternoon by people who believed that their hope had died on the Cross but when, in fact, Jesus was journeying right with them, in the midst of that sadness and pain and confusion. In her recently released book Resurrecting Easter: Meditations for the Great 50 Days, my friend Kate Moorehead who’s the Dean of St. John’s Cathedral in Jacksonville offers this view. She says she never could understand why Jesus didn’t just show up and say, “Here I am. It’s all going to be okay.” Instead, Jesus journeyed with Cleopas and his companion and journeys with you and me in the midst of our pain, our sadness, and our confusion guiding us back to the light. Jesus doesn’t solve the pain. Jesus helps us to make sense of it. And when Cleopas and his companion were able to find their way back to hope, that’s when they saw and recognized the Risen Christ. Believing enabled them to see and embrace the great good news that was beyond their imagining.
In these 50 days of Easter, that is our invitation. The timpani have died down from Easter Day. The lilies, if they’re still around are probably looking a little sad themselves. But are you willing to give your heart to the great good news that changed the course of human history? Jesus is alive, available to you and me, to continually help us to find our way back to the light and the hope. And may our prayer be that God will give us the eyes to see, the ears to hear, the heart to respond, and, like the disciples, go forth from this place with great joy proclaiming, “He is risen. He is alive. Alleluia.” Amen.