Everything begins with forgiveness. Authentic life begins the minute we are able to forgive and receive forgiveness. Until then, all is theory and talk. The key moment on the Cross was when Jesus looked out at the soldiers and crowd and spoke the words, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” Our salvation was sealed at that moment. Everything that comes after that, including 2,000 years of church history, is just footnote to those words Jesus spoke on the Cross.
But most of us don’t know that we are forgiven, and we go through life lurching from day to day, bouncing back and forth from one professional help to another, from one religious expert to another.
So I like to describe Lent this year as our voyage of discovery, the discovery that we are forgiven. But also the discovery of what we do with our forgiveness. How does it affect our lives, our attitudes and actions? This is what I want to explore in this series of Lenten sermons that I’m calling Emmaus Walk. Many years ago I was doing a 15 or 20-minute teaching every Sunday morning between the end of Matins and the beginning of Liturgy. I called it Emmaus Walk, a preparation for encountering the risen Christ at the Liturgy.
The series of sermons I’m now calling Emmaus Walk will take us to Easter. But along the way I want to discover together with you the Christ who is walking with us every step of the way.
Do you remember the Emmaus story in the Gospel of Luke? Here is the first half of the story as Luke tells it (chapter 24, beginning at verse 13):
That very day two of them were going to a village named Emma′us, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognising him. And he said to them, “What is this conversation which you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cle′opas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since this happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body; and they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb, and found it just as the women had said; but him they did not see.”
The scene describes where most of us are most of the time. We have heard about Jesus Christ. We have listened to many Gospel readings in the Liturgy. We hear some of our friends and relatives talking with great conviction about Jesus, how their faith in him has transformed their lives. We go to church regularly, we follow some traditions handed down by our mothers or grandmothers. But we don’t quite know how to put it all together. We don’t know quite what to make of this Jesus Christ and all the talk about him. We don’t know why we follow certain traditions or how to pass them on to our children or grandchildren who have a different approach to life and who don’t worry about the same things we worry about. We begin to have doubts ourselves. Maybe it is all a myth after all.
That’s where Cleopas and his unnamed companion were on that Sunday afternoon long ago. (And by the way, why does the second, unnamed disciple have to be another man? Why couldn’t it have been a woman, as the beautiful but very unusual – very “un-Orthodox” – icon on the right imagines?) They had seen Jesus die on the Cross, they were deeply troubled by how things ended, they are confused and sad. They saw all their hopes disappear on the Cross. But now they hear that some women had found the tomb empty. They keep walking, not knowing what to make of it all.
Only one person can explain it to them – Jesus himself. He joins them in their walk, but they don’t recognise him. Perhaps his appearance was different after the resurrection? What happens after he joins them we’ll explore in the next few sermons.
Only Jesus can satisfy our questions, our doubts. And he does come to us. We don’t recognise him, because he comes to us as one of the least of his brothers and sisters as we heard last week in our Gospel reading (Matthew 25:31-46). Very often the answers we need at a particular moment come from the most unexpected persons. This is the mystery of the unrecognised Jesus.
The mystery of the unrecognised Christ is all around us. We just need to open our minds and hearts to see it and hear it. Christ is with us – usually in the least expected places and persons. We might see him in the person we forgive or who forgives us. We might hear his wisdom from the mouth of a child. We might understand his Cross in a tragedy such as the one in Florida this past week. Everything is a mystery of his presence, his unrecognised presence.