In the sermon yesterday I suggested that the story of the Emmaus Road answers questions about how we come to recognize the Risen Christ. But it raises as many questions as it answers. For instance, if they encountered the Risen Christ in bodily form, why didn’t they recognize him? He’d only been out of their sight for a few days. Why does the story identify the incognito Christ as a “stranger?” While I didn’t make it the primary focus of the sermon, there is an important statement in this passage about their conversation with the stranger, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”(Luke 24:32) In saying this they are affirming that their “truth” in this encounter with the risen Christ is something they knew in their heart not something the saw with their eyes. We live in a culture that wants every proof to be empirical. But religious truth is recognized, not in material evidence but through a faith that perceives the meaning behind it. Faith sees things an eye for the world cannot see. Faith is spoken in the psalms, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork”(Ps 19:1). Others simply see stars on a canvas of night.
Rob Bell, in his book, What We Talk About When We Talk About God is explaining story of the anointing of Jesus with expensive perfumed oil (Luke 7:36ff) when he points out an often missed element in the story – that Jesus sees a truth the disciples don’t get it. They both experience the same event but they see it differently. (Jesus sees it as a religious act of preparation for burial while the disciples see it as an extravagant waste of money)
“They [the disciples] miss the power and significance of the moment because they don’t have the eyes to see what is going on right in front of them. There is a strong word here in this story for our day: you can be very religious and invoke the name of God and be well versed in complicated theological systems and yet not be a person who sees. Its one thing to sing about God and recite quotes about God and invoke God’s name; it’s another to be aware of God’s presence in every taste, touch, sound, and embrace. With Jesus, what we see again and again is that it’s never just a person, or just a meal, or just an event, because there’s always more going on just below the surface. Jesus sees what others miss. He is aware when others are oblivious. I love how the apostle Paul puts it in a letter to friends: “May the eyes of your heart be enlightened.”
This spotlights the dilemma. There is a material truth and a spiritual truth in every person, event, meal, relationship, experience, etc. The work of the Holy Spirit through the gift of faith helps us see the spiritual truth beyond what the eye might see. The physical being of Christ is not necessary to see the Risen Christ. That is a different kind of truth born out of a relationship we form with God. God is infused in everything. It is faith that seeks God in the world. Faith opens our eyes to see a truth that we may not see unless we make ourselves open to encounter it. If you are not open to an experience of love, you will not experience it. If we ignore or deny spiritual truth then we have simply decided not to see.