This morning I will be the guest preacher at First Presbyterian Church in Neenah, Wisconsin. I couldn’t ask for a better Gospel to offer a reflection on: the appearance of Jesus to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus recorded in the Gospel of Luke.
I plan to make the case that the most important line in that beautiful text (one of my favorite of the post-resurrection appearances) is the five word line that follows the disciples’ recognition that it is Jesus they have been walking with. After Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, the disciples’ eyes were opened and they recognized him. And at the moment their eyes were opened and they recognized him, “he vanished from their sight.”
He vanished from their sight. Just at the point where they recognized him. Just at the moment when his words erupt into an explosion of understanding. Just at the moment they discover he is risen – risen and present and sitting close enough at table for them to reach out and touch him. At that very moment, he vanishes.
It is interesting to me that the disciples don’t seem to be dismayed by the sudden disappearance. From a human perspective, you’d expect a “hey, where’d he go?” “What happened.” (Maybe a peak under the table to see if Jesus is hiding there, playing a joke on them.) But there is none of that. Simply the acknowledgement of their realization – “Then they said to each other ‘were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road.’”
Jesus vanishes from their sight and the two disciples take it in stride.
What is Luke trying to convey to us here?
I think a simple, but very profound message: The community of faith that grows out of the experience of those who encountered the historical Jesus – the Jesus who people followed before his death and the resurrected Christ they encountered before the Ascension – that community of faith (the community we are part of) will not have the physical presence of Christ. But that doesn’t mean they (we) will not have him as a companion on the journey.
That is the message I will unpack in my remarks this morning.
Update: You can listen to this morning’s service, including my sermon, here.