Dear disciples on the way,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Honestly, I don't have a very good memory for faces from way back. On one occasion, I had returned to my hometown for some family event and we were at Rockway Gardens. One of the young children was getting restless, so we took a little walk down the path by ourselves and I heard a voice call out my name. I looked around dumbfounded. There was a man in a tuxedo running off from his wedding party toward me. “It's me, Greg,” he said. He even gave me his last name but I was too preoccupied with other thoughts that I could not place him.
We had grown up together on the same small street, played together almost every day until college, but I couldn't for the life of me recognize his face or his name at that moment. In all fairness he was blond when he was kid and now his hair was dark and peppered with grey. I felt so bad afterwards when I had put the pieces together and realized who he was. He was one of my closest childhood friends.
I should have welcomed him with a joyful hug instead of the cold shoulder of ignorance, especially on the joyful occasion of his sister's wedding day. As he returned to the wedding party I could hear him excitedly tell everyone who I was. I just walked away with my head down. My young son asked me who that man was. And I had to tell him, that I didn't know. Thankfully, there was a much more blessed end to the interchange between the two disciples and the intimate friend whom they failed to recognize on the road to Emmaus.
It is a bit of a strange and detailed resurrection account included in Luke's Gospel, which only off-handedly mentions Jesus appearing to Simon Peter without any details of that encounter. We might have expected a more lengthy account of Jesus appearing to the leader of the pack; or of the appearance to over 500 people at once that St. Paul mentions (1 Corinthians 15). We don't have any details about that one either.
Instead, Luke supplies us with a step by step account of Jesus appearing to two disciples, who did not make the lists anywhere else in the Bible, two unknown followers who had left the group of disciples in Jerusalem and decided to head off on their own. Luke graciously tells us that it was to these two members of the ensemble that Jesus made a special appearance, and by appearing to them we are all assured that our Lord is quite concerned also to reveal Himself to us, even if we don't play any prominent role in His Church.
Whether their failure to recognize Jesus was due to their unfamiliarity with Him personally, is doubtful. It is not likely that they could have been part of the nameless 120 or so disciples and always sat in the back and never really got a good up close look at Jesus. They could have been overcome with grief like Mary Magdalene outside of the tomb when she thought Jesus was the Gardener (John 20), but she more quickly recognized Him as He spoke her name. Jesus carried on a lengthy tutorial with these two on their two hour or so walk. Some surmise that Jesus' resurrected body looked different than it had before. It certainly wouldn't have been the bloody mess that was last seen hanging on the cross, but others were able to immediately recognize Him when they saw their resurrected Lord.
It is likely that these two disciples were divinely kept from recognizing Him, so that they might have this experience of Jesus opening the Scriptures to them to reveal the necessity of His suffering, death, and resurrection, foretold throughout the Old Testament. And so this resurrection account is not only for them to know that He was raised and that we might know through their testimony, like with Mary Magdalene and the other women who saw Jesus near the tomb, and Peter who saw Him at some point, and the disciples in the locked room and again by the Sea of Galilee, and St. Paul on the road to Damascus. Rather, through this resurrection appearance we come to know that we also have been given a direct personal revelation of our Risen Lord Jesus Christ. For He comes to us and is revealed to us in the same way that He came and was revealed to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.
We don't have a vision of blinding light (Acts 9). We don't hear Him call our name as we walk in the garden alone (John 20). We don't have nail marks in hands (John 20). We don't haul in a miraculous catch of fish at the word of a distant figure on the seashore (John 21). We have the Scriptures, the same Scriptures by which the two disciples on the road to Emmaus came to know that it was Jesus and He had truly been with them.
“Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27). God's Word, the Bible, front to back reveals Jesus Christ, the Son of God, crucified and risen for the sins of the world. And this isn't revealed merely as historical facts about a man who lived two thousand years ago, who fulfilled the prophecies written across millennia, who performed miracles and rose from the dead after a horrific execution. The Word of God reveals this Jesus not only as the Saviour of the Jews or of a small group of disciples who formed a religious sect that spread around the world and is still active today. More than all of that, the Bible reveals that this Jesus, the Son of God, came and accomplished all of this for you.
Even though you have not seen Him, even though you have not recognized Him walking beside you on your journey of faith, even though your eyes are only opened to His presence here and there once in a while, it doesn't change the fact that He has come for you, to save you from your sins, to reveal Himself risen and victorious for you, to show you that He is ever near as you walk the road of your life, no matter where it leads.
So often we are blinded by the cares and concerns that occupy our thoughts and push aside every other item that deserves our attention even the people around us. We are blinded by tragedies like pandemics and shootings. We are blinded by our own indifference by which we stumble through life not really caring whether there is any deep meaning to anything we do. It is a blindness that dwells in the deep dark recesses of our fallen nature which leads us to the more obvious blinding that comes with things like drug abuse, the pursuit of wealth, fame, and leisure, and plain old neglect of God's Word and Sacraments where He has promised to reveal Himself to us.
It is interesting that when Jesus was physically present walking with them, the disciples' eyes were kept from recognizing Him, but once He was known to them in the Scriptures and the breaking of the bread, “their eyes were opened, and they recognized Him. And He vanished from their sight” (Luke 24:31). They did not lose him, rather, once they knew that Jesus was there in the Word and Sacraments, they no longer needed to see Him with their eyes.
The Bible reveals to us Jesus, and not merely a Jesus who was and who will be, but a Jesus who is. The Word of God tells us that Jesus is present to save sinners. Through the Bible we see Jesus. We see that He is with us to forgive and strengthen and give eternal life and victory over sin, death, and the devil. The one who we hope will redeem us, is in fact with us to redeem us.
Not death, nor the grave, nor the devil, nor hell, nor sin, nor our own weaknesses and frailties and inabilities are able to prevent Jesus from being with us to save us. Our own blindness, due to doubt and worry and dulling senses, does not prevent Him from being with us to deliver us. You cannot see Him but He is there. Perhaps, we might say, especially when you cannot see Him He is there. When you are in despair and full of anxiety over the things that have happened in these days, Jesus is with you whether you see Him or not. And in order to see Him, you have Moses and all the Prophets. You have the Scriptures which testify not only to what He has done, but also to His presence with you, one for whom He has done everything.
He is present to forgive your doubts and your distractions. He is present to put away your sins of neglect of His Word. He is present to wipe away the sins of having forgotten the precious Sacraments in which His Word bestows His saving grace upon you. It was necessary that the Christ suffer and die for these sins. It was necessary that He rise again to have the victory over sin, death, and the devil. And it is necessary that He be present to be your Saviour, to save you, that quiet disciple who has never been included in any biblical account or bulletin announcement, or sermon illustration. You may be unknown to the rest of Christ's Church, but He knows your name, for it was joined to His at your baptism. He recognizes you as one of His own. And He walks with you on your road, ever glad to hear your plea for Him to stay and abide with you.
Jesus' dependable presence with you is in His Word. You can know He is there when you hear His Word. You cannot rely on visions or bright lights or scars in hands and feet. But you can always rely on His Word and it comes to you in so many ways. It is in that book you have in your house. It is in the passages that you memorized as a child. It is in the songs and hymns that the church sings. It fills the pages of our liturgy. This is how you know that Jesus is with you. He is the Word who was with God in the beginning (Genesis 1:1). He is the Word who was made flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). And His presence is made known to you in the Scriptures and the breaking of the bread.
May our heartfelt thanks and praise resound to God as we pick up His Word daily and recognize Jesus with us to save. May our daily desire to feast our eyes on Him in the Scriptures create a renewing hunger to feast on His body and blood in the Sacrament, knowing that right here where He promised, He is with us to gladden our downcast hearts and assure us of our redemption. As we continue to pray, “stay with us” there is no doubt that He will stay, until we the day when we do see Him with our eyes.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.