The gospel reading for the third Sunday of Easter is the story of Jesus encounter with two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus.
In the text the two disciples are walking down the Emmaus road after the crucifixion. As far as the disciples were concerned Jesus was dead and had left them alone in the world to fend for themselves. They were utterly dismayed. They were certainly not prepared to see him alive. Yet as they were on their journey, and discussing all the things that had happened, Jesus himself came near and went with them. But the one they encountered was not the flesh and blood Jesus, a resuscitated version of the man they knew, but the Christ of God, one knowable only by the mystery of divine self revelation.
This Christ, unrecognizable to them at first, discussed with them the things that were burning in their hearts. He listened to their hopes and dreams for a messiah, their longing for the redemption of Israel, their disillusionment over the crucifixion and their confusion over whether the story told by the women at the tomb has merit, whether his entombed and embalmed body had really been spirited away.
After listening to them, Christ told them how slow they were to believe what the prophets had declared and he interpreted for them the things concerning him in the scriptures. As the day was almost over and evening was approaching the disciples bid him to stay and he obliged. And while at table, he took bread and broke it and gave it to them, and when he did so their eyes were opened and they recognized him. Soon afterward he vanished from their sight. They then went off to Jerusalem to tell the others what had happened, that "the Lord has risen and had appeared to Simon" and they interpreted for the others what happened on the road and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
The story of the disciples encounter with Christ along the Emmaus road is a story of hiddenness and revelation, of knowing and unknowing, of fleeting possession and eternal presence. When the risen Christ was walking beside them they were unaware of his presence. They only came to recognize his presence in the breaking of the bread. And once their eyes were opened and they thought they could hold on to his presence, in an instant he vanished from their sight.
In 2000 years not much has changed. We like the two disciples of old are left to ponder and reflect upon the same curious going on; unknowing encounters with God along the road, God made present as blessed and broken bread and our desire to keep hold of a God who vanishes.
God has not changed in 2000 years. God is still an Emmaus God. A God who encounters us along the road. Each person walks along the road to Emmaus. Emmaus being the path through life we are following, the road to wherever is our existence is taking us. Along this road God walks with us whether we are aware of God's presence or not. Whether we are believers or unbelievers, faithful or unfaithful, God is ever present, as the rain falls upon good and evil alike. Because we are living, because we are human, we are never bereft of the presence of God. God is always with us, but we are not always with God. The gift of Christian faith, the blessing of discipleship is not "having God present" for God is always present. Instead, the gift of faith is recognizing God's presence and having that re-cog-nition shape and guide our lives.
This God who is ever present is made known through mediation. We cannot come to re-cog-nize God apart from the means God has given us to do so. God is made known to us in the interpretation of scriptures and the breaking of bread. Through these "means of grace" God comes to us on God's terms. Through these means, God comes to us a revelation made known and gift received.
The ever present God, who is made known to us in the breaking of bread is also the God who vanishes. Whenever we try to "lock on" to God's presence or "keep" God in our possession, God will vanish from our midst. We must continually come to Christian assembly to have the scriptures opened to us and to receive the broken bread of God's self-disclosure. For God who is revealed to us is not in our possession. We do not and can not possess God, but can only be continually possessed by God's eternal and life giving presence.
After 2000 years we can rest in the blessed assurance that the God of Emmaus is still among us and stays with us when our days are almost over and our evenings fast approach. The God of Emmaus who is risen and appeared to Simon continues to appears to us. The God of Emmaus appears along roads of our existence, calling us to re-cog-nize his presence among us and order our days and our deeds around it. The God of Emmaus, who can vanish from our sight, can be found in the scriptures, in the breaking of bread and the prayers, offering us heart burning knowledge of his being and setting before us the gift of life.