13 On that same day, two disciples were traveling to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking to each other about everything that had happened. 15 While they were discussing these things, Jesus himself arrived and joined them on their journey. 16 They were prevented from recognizing him.
17 He said to them, “What are you talking about as you walk along?” They stopped, their faces downcast.
18 The one named Cleopas replied, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who is unaware of the things that have taken place there over the last few days?”
19 He said to them, “What things?”
They said to him, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth. Because of his powerful deeds and words, he was recognized by God and all the people as a prophet. 20 But our chief priests and our leaders handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him. 21 We had hoped he was the one who would redeem Israel. All these things happened three days ago. 22 But there’s more: Some women from our group have left us stunned. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 and didn’t find his body. They came to us saying that they had even seen a vision of angels who told them he is alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women said. They didn’t see him.”
25 Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! Your dull minds keep you from believing all that the prophets talked about. 26 Wasn’t it necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then he interpreted for them the things written about himself in all the scriptures, starting with Moses and going through all the Prophets.
28 When they came to Emmaus, he acted as if he was going on ahead. 29 But they urged him, saying, “Stay with us. It’s nearly evening, and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.30 After he took his seat at the table with them, he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight.32 They said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us along the road and when he explained the scriptures for us?”
33 They got up right then and returned to Jerusalem. They found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying to each other, “The Lord really has risen! He appeared to Simon!” 35 Then the two disciples described what had happened along the road and how Jesus was made known to them as he broke the bread.
I have a serious addiction to film. I’m a cinephile, a lover of movies. Drama, comedy, action, sci-fi, fantasy, horror, romance, you name it. The odd thing is though, I have a soft spot in my heart for bad horror movies. I mean B-grade, obviously terrible and not-really-scary horror movies.
Fifties-style monsters, eighties-style rubber boogeymen, all of it gives me a good laugh. I lump them in with the comedy section, honestly. I don’t care for over the top gore—and if you do you may need to see the psychologist—but usually in those terrible ones the nastiness is so obviously fake that instead I just laugh my head off. The best parts are when the movies try to be scary and what it amounts to is a dude in a costume jumping out of a closet and the music gets loud. It’s the cinematic version of going “Boo!” It makes me laugh. Mainly because I’m removed from it.
If I get surprised in real life, it’s a very different story.
I am, in many ways, a very boring person, mainly because I don’t like surprises when they happen to me. I think I was rattled out of my brain a few too many times when my brother would jump out of a doorway and yell at me. I tell you what, my brother can do it 100x more effectively than any horror movie! Call it a personality quirk, call it terminal skittishness, but that’s just how I am. If the surprise happens to someone else, I laugh. If it happens to me, I’m jumpy for the next couple hours.
In all fairness, surprises can be fun—in fact, many people love surprises. When we get surprised, a couple of things happen in our bodies. First of all, in the event of a sudden shock, adrenaline kicks in, which triggers the fight or flight instinct in us all. When that adrenaline hits, some people also get endorphins from it, chemicals that trigger the sensation of happiness or euphoria. When you run or get in physical activity for long enough, endorphins are the chemicals that give you a “runners high”, which can make surprise an addicting experience. For some, the best times of their lives are when their adrenaline takes over. They love getting scared. They love jumping out of airplanes. They love running marathons, or boxing, or martial arts fighting, or driving fast. All of that is fueled by the element of surprise. Some people love it.
As for me… not so much.
I’m a stabilizing kind of personality. I like things to have a predictable plan, a well marked pathway for action, and back up plans in case the first plan doesn’t work. I want to know what I’m getting into, and I want to have some room for changes if changes need to happen. It’s not like I don’t like change; I just don’t like to be caught off-guard. I confess that this is not always a good thing when it comes to following Christ, because one of the things that Christ does best is surprise people.
In this third week after the events of Easter, of Resurrection day, we’ve gotten some distance from the actual event. We’ve gone over the first aftershock of doubt, and we think we’re ready for anything. However, the second aftershock is the very element of surprise in the good news of the resurrection. Why surprise? It seems kind of out of place. It’s not really an emotion or an event, but rather the way in which an event happens—suddenly, impossibly, unrecognized, and when our guard is down. The resurrection’s aftershock will hit us when we least expect it, in a way in which we can’t predict.
This story I read of the walk to Emmaus is one of the more famous post-resurrection stories: two followers of Jesus walk to another town after Jesus death, they meet him on the road though they don’t know it, they talk to him about scripture, they invite him to dinner, they break bread and when that happens, the mystery of Jesus is revealed and Jesus disappears from sight. Afterwards they go running back to Jerusalem to tell the others what they saw. It’s a story that’s formed the church for generations, and even spawned a popular revival movement in the modern church through Walk to Emmaus retreats, of which thousands across the world have experienced and share. It even forms the basic model of worship in the church: greeting, discussion of the word, sharing of the bread, and sending out into the world to share the good news.
At the core of the story is the element of surprise. The disciples were in grief, saddened, in despair and looking to escape. Such is common in people who experience grief. Some people cling to others and seek company to avoid being alone; others seek solitude and escape. This, I assume, is what these disciples were doing, and by the way they talk to Jesus, it is this grief that consumes them. Grief has a way of clouding our thoughts, and blinding us to that which is all around us. But it’s not always grief that does this.
There are many things that blind us in this world, things not nearly as benign or healing as grief.
Fear can cause us to withdraw and crawl into our shells, put up our defenses, and not allow anyone in for a close emotional connection. Ambition and pride can blind us to the needs of others in part so that we may focus on our own goals and success. Envy can blind us to that which we already have by consuming us with desire for what others have. Anger can blind us to beauty; sloth and despair can blind us to our spiritual journey and goals at hand; gluttony and greed can blind us to the deficit of goods that others need. In the end, it is Sin that keeps us in blindness, that clouds our eyes and obscures our vision of the risen Christ.
However, no matter what sin we have, no matter how blind we may be, we walk on. We keep moving. We go towards where we go and on the way, hopefully, we run into Jesus, whether we know it or not. And by some freak chance, we may be invited to the table of the Lord, or we invite the Lord to our table, one of the two. And in the breaking of the body, in the sharing of that which gives us life, we may yet get a glimpse of the risen Christ. As soon as we might see it it could very well vanish, but that’s not the point—we saw Christ. And it catches us off-guard. It surprises us, and changes the way we see things.
Surprise is an element of the gospel that is not often talked about, but I think it’s it’s important. Almost everyone who encounters Christ is surprised in some way, be it by grace and mercy, humility and caring, kindness or strength, something. We get surprised by the way God acts and by the new reality that is present in the resurrection. We are surprised by the riches and the beauty that the created world has in store for us that was always there, but we just couldn’t see it.
I like having a plan, and many of you do too, but in the resurrection, all those plans are often disrupted by the surprise of the resurrection. And honestly, that surprise is scary. I’m often scared of what it means to die to myself and to find new life in Christ. It means I need to let go of all the things that I thought I believed, that I thought I knew, and that I wanted to happen, and let God surprise me with all the wonders God can muster. And while it’s scary, it’s beautiful, and mystifying, and far better than I could ever conceive of in the first place.
Maybe it’s like that for you too, and that’s what I’m here to say to you today. Maybe we should let our guard down and be willing to be surprised by resurrection. Maybe you should let go of our grief, our fear, our sin, our caution, and let God transform us into what God wants us to be. Maybe if we do that, we’ll be able to get a glimpse of Jesus. And maybe we’ll realize he was right in front of us all along.