Please Stay With Us A While
Growing up on our dairy farm in Eastern Massachusetts was an out of time and out of place experience. I didn't know it at the time, but a working dairy farm 9 miles from Boston in the 1950's was unique. As was being one of the few Jewish kids in the town of Stoneham. But, in retrospect, growing up as an Orthodox Jewish lad gave me the grounds for a longer-term perspective on what it means to be a Christian than if I had been born to a Presbyterian or Episcopal family.
One thing about childhood on the farm wasn't unique. I'm sure most kids at least occasionally suspect the world of adults holds secrets that adults were not willing to share with children. I don't mean facts about human intimacy. Life on the farm made sexuality pretty obvious. I mean the big things. What is really going on? What is life really for? What's behind the curtain? I was certain the adults knew these things but for some reason felt that a child was not equipped to handle the great secrets of life. It wasn't until years later that I realized adults didn't know either. We were all wandering around in the dark. The difference was, most adults had stopped asking the questions.
So in school and over my lifetime, I've studied philosophy and psychology. I kept asking those questions. Eventually and with study I figured why adults did not have answers. Philosophy and psychology are human activities. These human disciplines are just that, disciplines and speculation. The big questions I was asking, are divine not human. God the father, is the divine adult who not only really knows the answers, but wants to share what he knows - and what he has - with his children. That's us. Adonai wants no secrets from us. But since divine truth is not accessible on this human level, he speaks to us in ways designed to open our minds.
God wants to open our minds to see divine truth. To that end when he judged mankind was ready for it, he gave us the Law and the Prophets, the written Word. And later, after the ground had been prepared, he gave us Jesus, the Living Word. God poured himself into a human being - at the same time both a real human being and the divinity. The Father goes to great lengths to teach us. We humans are not a quick study.
Easter Sunday has just passed. We celebrated the message of Easter, which is the Resurrection and the new certain hope that eternal life is both real and available. I think sometimes we Christians tend to focus more on the betrayal, the suffering and death of our Lord, and the empty tomb during Eastertime, and less on Jesus' risen life. We love drama. We spend Holy Week re-living the betrayal and arrest following the Last Seder, the trial, scorn, pain, passion, the horrible death of Friday, and the shock of Easter morning. Then, the children hunt for dyed eggs and we eat ham. We do not celebrate Emmaus Eve.
Emmaus Eve would celebrate Easter evening. That very Sunday morning, after Jesus rose from the dead, he appeared to Mary of Magdala and the other Mary, the wife of Cleopas and cautioned them to not touch him because he had not yet arisen to the Father. Later that same Sunday, after Jesus has arisen to the Father, Jesus makes his first appearance as the risen Christ. We read about it in today's Gospel. He does not first appear in Jerusalem. Jesus chooses to join two of his disciples walking on the road outside of Jerusalem on their way to Emmaus. He walked with them, taught them and had supper with them. And, as he walked with them he revealed the great secret that children always suspected adults were withholding from them.
What was the secret? What secret did Jesus reveal to these two disciples when he opened the scriptures to them, causing their hearts to burn within them?
Let's get into the scene. It's Sunday afternoon. Two Jewish disciples, Cleopas, who may be the husband of the other Mary to whom Jesus had earlier appeared, along with an unnamed disciple, were shuffling their way out of town, heading west, down from the hills of Jerusalem. Their hearts were heavy. They were filled with shock, shame and disappointment. The man they had put all their hope in failed. Their friend and hero had been shamefully executed. Their eyes were down, they were slogging along, one foot in front of the other, talking over with sad hearts what had happened over the weekend. Somebody catches up to them on the road. They have no idea who this traveler is, but they are easy to catch up with. The traveler slows to their pace and joins them.
"What's up?" he asks in Aramaic. Luke's gospel tells us their eyes were kept from seeing that it was Jesus who joined them.
"Are you the only person visiting Jerusalem who hasn't heard what happened?" Cleopas asks. "What's that?" Jesus asks.
Cleopas tells him about Jesus of Nazareth, a powerful prophet in word and deed. He tells Jesus, "Our chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him. But we had hoped he was the one who would redeem Israel. What's more," Cleopas tells Jesus, "some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb and his body was gone. Moreover, they had a vision of angels who said he was alive! Then some of our friends went to the tomb and found it just as the women said. But they didn't see Jesus."
"How foolish you are, and slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken." Then beginning with Moses and the prophets, Jesus opened the scriptures to them as they walked along."
These two Jewish disciples on the road to Emmaus were very much like the Jews of today. As Isaiah prophesied, a veil has been placed over their eyes so they cannot see Jesus. Not only didn't the two disciples recognize Jesus as he joined them, they didn't recognize Jesus even as he walked with them and taught them. But these were his disciples who had seen Jesus in the flesh. How could this be?
It's not only Jews who do not recognize Jesus. Many Christians do not recognize Jesus. I don't mean confessing Jesus is Lord, or acknowledging he is the Son of God, and a member of the Holy Trinity. I mean, recognize him as he comes up to us on our sometimes happy and sometimes painfully sad journey, and joins us.
Let's look at when and how the two disciples woke up to who was traveling the Emmaus road with them. As evening was beginning to fall, they decided to stop at an inn close to Emmaus. Jesus continued on as if he were going further, leaving them. But they urged him strongly, "Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over." So Jesus stayed with them, went in with them and sat at table with them. They still did not recognize him.
They sat down to supper. Jesus took matzos, it still being Passover and leavened bread forbidden, and said the prayer of thanks for bread; "Boruch atoh Adonai eloheinu Melech hoa'olom, hamotzi lechem min ha'aretz." Blessed art thou O Lord our G-d, King of the Universe who brings forth bread from the earth.
As Jesus prayed this familiar prayer, their eyes were opened, and they saw Jesus. They suddenly realized who had drawn close to them; who had walked with them on their journey, teaching them, comforting them. And as suddenly as they realized this was Jesus, he disappeared from their sight.
Why didn't they recognize Jesus earlier? Why did they recognize him in the breaking of the bread? And why did he suddenly disappear from their sight?
I think the answer to all three questions is the same. We do not have just one set of eyes; we have two. One set of eyes is stimulated by the light of this world. The reflected light of the apparent world. Light photons impact our optical receptors and brain and show the surface appearance of things. Our other set of eyes, our inner eyes, reflect the primordial light of truth G-d created on Day One before creating the sun or moon or stars. This is the set of eyes stimulated by faith.
Cleopas and his friend had a set of expectations of what the Messiah of Israel would be and accomplish. Their expectation was different from the plan written before time began; the plan revealed by Moses and the prophets. They had read the scriptures, but not understood. Jesus connected the dots for them. As he opened the scriptures to them, their inner organs were stimulated. As they described it, "Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?"
When our inner heart, our soul, is stimulated, our inner ears and eyes are opened. This is the meaning of Moses teaching; "You shall love the Lord your G-d with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might." This is what Jesus taught as the first and most important of all the Laws. Not just with your heart, which is your sincerest affection, but with your soul, your inner heart. This is faith, which penetrates beyond logic, beyond reason, beyond the appearances of the physical world. This is Faith. Without Faith, as Isaiah prophesies, "'We can look and look, but never see. Listen and listen, but never hear." Our real eyes are inner eyes, our real ears are inner ears.
Cleopas and his friend had not opened their inner eyes, and did not recognize Jesus as he drew near to them. Even as he accompanied them, teaching them, they didn't know who he was. If Jesus himself had not chosen to come close to them, to join them, to walk with them and talk to them, perhaps their inner eyes and ears would not have been opened. But, when Jesus' presence, Jesus teaching and Jesus praying all came together, they recognized Jesus with them.
First Jesus drew near. Then Jesus chided them for their lack of understanding after all this time. Then, he patiently taught the great secret. Jesus taught them to go beyond the letter of the Law to its essence, to the Why of the Law, not just the What; first, to recognize our own humanity and weakness and sin - and repent of it, truly regret it. Then commit to turn our face in another direction as we accept God's forgiveness extended to us in love. And, as important, be equally ready to forgive others for their weakness and humanity and sin as God has forgiven us for ours. This is the great secret hidden for ages and finally revealed to humanity through Jesus.
After opening their hearts to this great secret, Jesus made as if to depart. But inspired by his teaching, inspired by their inner ears' new hearing of the ancient scriptures, they asked Jesus to stay with them a while. Jesus accepted their invitation, as he is eager to accept our invitation to stay with us a while. When we ask him to stay, to not go on, he does so. When we really hear his teaching, his opening of the Bible with our inner ears, then we are ready to join with him in prayer. And when our inner soul joins with Jesus in giving inner and utter Thanks to G-d, recognizing G-d the Father for who He is, his love for us and what he has done for us, then our inner eyes open and we can see Jesus.
Experiencing God's forgiveness, our hearts lighten as the burden of sin is lifted and the human veil is removed. Repentance and forgiveness bring new sight, new hearing and new life. When we finally hear Jesus with our inner ears and see Jesus with our inner eyes, with our souls wide open, we no longer need to see Jesus physical appearance beside us. He is within us.
And this is the great secret of life, what's really going on, what's behind the curtain as children we hoped adults would teach us.
Knowing this secret, we are ready now to draw near to others, friends and strangers who are discouraged and downcast because of what is happening in Jerusalem, or the country, or the world. We can help open their inner ears and eyes. We can strengthen faith. We can be Jesus for them, as others have been Jesus for us.
Are we ready to ask Jesus to stay with us a while?