Thursday, May 8, 2014

Aha Moments on the Road to Emmaus

In this week’s lectionary passage, Luke 24: 13-15, we read the familiar story of two disciples encountering the risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus. This event takes place on the same day that Jesus’ tomb was found to be empty – Easter Sunday.

We only know the name of one of these disciples – Cleopas - he is identified in v. 18. We don’t know much about Cleopas, as this is the only time he is mentioned in the Gospels. Perhaps he lived in Emmaus and was walking the seven miles back to his village from Jerusalem with another follower of Jesus, and most likely, a crowd of other Jewish pilgrims heading back home after celebrating the Passover. During their walk, Jesus comes alongside them and joins them, acting as if He hadn’t heard about his own crucifixion and resurrection.

Since they didn’t recognize Jesus (v. 16) Cleopas and the other disciple tell him their version of the events of the weekend, even admitting that the news of the empty tomb was simply unbelievable to them. They also mentioned “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel;” hinting at their disappointment that Jesus was crucified instead of overthrowing the Romans, as many people expected.

Even though these two guys were sincere and complete in their narrative, Jesus says, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” (v.25) He is essentially saying, “After all this time, and after everything you’ve seen, you guys still don’t get it!?” and then goes on to point out every verse in the Hebrew scriptures that pointed to him, beginning with Genesis, and working his way through the Prophets, and undoubtedly, the Wisdom literature. That would have been a fascinating lecture to listen in on!

When you go back through the entire Old Testament and look for prophesies that point to Jesus, you’ll find that there are quite a lot of them that don’t point to a triumphant conquering Messiah. Nowhere does it say that the Messiah will kick the Romans out of Judea. Yes, some do mention a kingdom. But then there are all of those Servant passages in Isaiah. Or that cry of anguish in Psalm 22 that reads, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” Not to mention all those one-liners about riding a donkey and being betrayed (Zephaniah); being rejected by his people and betrayed by friends (Psalms); it would be a lot to take in.

And yet, these two still didn’t fully grasp the magnitude of what they were hearing, or who was explaining it to them, until Jesus “took bread, gave thanks, broke it and gave it to them.”  That was the moment that they recognized Jesus; that was their “Aha!” moment. I wonder – was it the nail holes in his hands, or the way he broke the bread that clued them in? Or did Jesus have a particular way of giving thanks that tipped them off?

Their recognition that Jesus was alive must have seemed too good to be true, and Cleopas and his friend needed to reassure one another that they really did just see Jesus. One of them commented that “their hearts were burning” while Jesus explained the scriptures. Now that could have been caused by too much lamb and matzoh washed down with a bit too much wine, but these guys were convinced that it was a spiritual sign.

Their Aha! moment was so powerful for Cleopas and his companion that they left their meal uneaten and ran right back to Jerusalem to tell everyone that Jesus had risen and appeared to them. They ran seven miles, back up the hill, excitedly shouting, “It’s true! The Lord has risen!”

There has been a whole lot written about the veracity of Jesus’ resurrection and appearances in the intervening 2000 or so years since this happened. We’ve heard numerous theories that discount the disciples’ claims; theories that range from they made it all up, to someone poisoned the Passover wine resulting in mass hallucinations. And yet...

Mary Magdalene was convinced that she’d seen Jesus. Peter was convinced. Cleopas and his friend were convinced. Eventually all of the disciples we know by name, and several hundred that we don’t, were ALL convinced that they saw Jesus walking around, after he’d been crucified, died and was buried. And most of them would eventually be killed in nasty ways, still claiming that they had seen Jesus and knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that He had risen from the grave.

The reality is that strange things do happen in this world.

Just recently a Malaysian Air jet with 239 people on board disappeared shortly after taking off from Kuala Lumpur, Indonesia. In the 21st century, jets don’t just vanish into thin air. And yet, almost two full months after that jet disappeared from radar, not one single piece of debris or any other trace of that jet has been found. Not one. It just...vanished.

I hate to break it to you, but we mere humans don’t know how everything works. We like to think that we do. We like to think of ourselves as very clever creatures who have all the answers. But when the answers don’t jive with our preconceived notion of how the world should work, we just don’t know what to do with that.

Just look at quantum physics. All of the laws of physics as we have known them for hundreds of years do not apply when we’re dealing with things at the quantum level. At the quantum level, a particle can be in two places at one time. That shouldn’t be the case. And yet, it is.

Can you imagine what the scientist who first observed this phenomenon must have thought at that moment? After years of the study, and experiments that yielded bizarre results, someone came up with the wild idea that maybe the laws are different at the quantum level. That person became the laughing stock of the lab I’m sure, but they persevered, and re-ran all of those experiments. To finally prove that the theory was right after all....

Have you ever had an Aha! moment? One of those moments when suddenly everything made perfect sense? A moment in which the answer became crystal clear; despite the fact that you weren’t even sure what the question was? A moment in which time slowed down, light appeared brighter and the edges of reality seemed crisper? Tell me about it!

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