Encountering Jesus On the Way

Luke 24:13-35

She leaned in close and took my pendant in her hand.”Whose fingerprint is this?” She asked. “It’s not,” I replied.  “It”s a labyrinth.” “Oh,” she said. “I had a friend whose sister died. She wore her fingerprint on a pendant around her neck.”

So no, it’s not a fingerprint that I’ve worn for a while now. It’s not really a means of remembering someone who has died, although, as we know that is a crucial part of the story which its circular movement centers on. Rather, this is something that sometimes I will trace with my finger, remembering that God is often encountered ‘on the way’ in life as much as at any given destination. And yes, if today’s encounter on the road to Emmaus is to be taken to heart, we understand that God is often encountered on paths we thought we knew by heart. Except too often we find ourselves looking in the wrong direction. Or at least I know that I do.

It is a random sort of memory that crossed my mind today as I found myself taken back to my childhood and trips to our Grandpa’s home in the country. Often our folks would shoo us outside to play and my sisters and I would walk the railroad track, with one ear pealed for the infrequent trains which still used it. What I remember most and best was this: pausing on our walk to gaze at the blank wall of a culvert down the highway a piece, wondering if we could still see there traces of our Aunt Geneva’s chalk drawings of Mickey Mouse with which we were told she entertained our mother on their walks home from school.  We never saw these chalk drawings which were the stuff of memory by then, but it never kept us from looking, wondering if we would discover traces of that devoted sisterly love which would have been left there more than thirty years before. We should have known better, of course — that wind and snow and rain and sunshine probably erased those drawings within a matter of days if not weeks. But we kept looking anyway.

Now I imagine that Cleopas and the other disciple were doing something of the same thing on their long walk to Emmaus that Sunday afternoon. They were poring over the evidence, looking in fact, in the wrong place altogether, for some kind of inkling as to the meaning of all that had taken place in those last days. And even when Jesus himself caught up with them and did all he could to help them make sense of what they had just experienced, they still couldn’t grasp it. It is as though they were staring at a blank wall, expecting something of meaning to emerge, when the only Meaning that mattered was walking right alongside them all along.

And I wonder, too, if we miss it still, just like they did. I wonder if too often our hearts only burn with understanding later because we are looking in the wrong places and not into the eyes and hearts and experiences of those who walk alongside us on the journey. Oh, I wonder if we fail to recognize Jesus all the time, don’t you?

Because it seems to me that we can do our very best to try to make sense of it all. We can try to peer backwards into history and forward into the future only to realize that what mattered was, in fact, right beside us all along. And I don’t know for sure how we deepen that awareness of the presence of Christ. Except maybe to take the first step expecting Jesus will be there and then being always at the ready for that expectation to be fulfilled.

Cleopas and the other disciple could have been excused for not recognizing Jesus — in spite of all the evidence that Jesus offered on the way that late afternoon. And yet, maybe not. For they had received the same witness of the women that you and I have received in the certain truth that the tomb is empty and Jesus is alive. Maybe their excuse is no better than yours or mine, except we have had more time to hear more stories like the one they first heard before they decided to head for home…

So back to me and my sisters those many years ago on that quest to find some chalk drawings which had long since faded. We were confident they had been there once for we had been told so by our mother as she recounted the stories of her childhood walking along the same road with her sisters so many years before. And we had seen evidence of the love between her and those same sisters after they were grown. We never questioned it because the story came from one we trusted and we also knew it to be confirmed by what still was between them then, those children of Mabel and Avery. Even though we never saw those chalk drawings for ourselves.

And isn’t this the way of faith as well? The truth is passed along. And for those with eyes to see, the evidence is all around us wherever love is lived. And you and I? We not only have the witness of the women. We have that of Cleopas and the other disciple as well as all those stories of the Risen Christ which were also recorded and passed along. And all those stories passed along by generations of countless witnesses since. And we have what we see along the way — love lived out in the name of Jesus himself. And that is where we encounter Jesus along the way, wouldn’t you say? Perhaps not unlike my sisters and me and our failed search for some long since faded chalk drawings, who finally did not need that evidence to know that love was alive and had been all along…

  • It is a question as old as the story itself, but why is that you think Jesus is not recognized on the road? And why is it that Jesus is finally recognized in the meal?
  • Have you ever seen yourself in the experience of Cleopas and the other disciple? What is your story?
  • I’m not certain yet, but I’m considering using the following windows into this story this coming Sunday. You may want to check them out as well. Just click on the links below:

Comparing and contrasting Rembrandt’s rendition of The Supper at Emmaus with Caravaggio’s:

The Road to Emmaus by Christopher Mann accompanied by artwork by He Qi