A close up of footprints in sand

Jesus is a Stranger

ESPERANZA LUTHERAN CHURCH https://myesperanza.org

Easter 3A2023
Luke 24:13-35

For decades, whenever I have read this “Walk to Emmaus” gospel story, all I can think is: Jesus is a stranger.

Cleopas and his unnamed friend, followers of Jesus, are walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus on Easter Sunday evening. They are confused and sad and also astonished. They know Jesus had been crucified and died and buried that past Friday. And they had heard the women’s testimony, that Jesus is risen. But normally, the dead stay dead, and they hadn’t yet encountered the risen Christ. When Jesus meets them on the road and falls in step beside them, they don’t recognize him. Because the dead stay dead. Because a miraculously risen, glorious Christ will clearly identify himself, right? As Jesus accompanies them to Emmaus, Cleopas and his friend tell Jesus about his own death and resurrection, and then Jesus teaches them about himself in all the scriptures. Even then, Jesus remains a stranger. It’s not until they gather at the table and Jesus takes bread and blesses it and breaks it and gives it to them that their eyes are opened. Especially in the gospel of Luke, Jesus takes bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to his followers so many times that his actions are now unmistakable, even for those sad and disoriented.

But all I can think is: Jesus is a stranger.

This past week, two people were shot outside the homes of neighbors whose houses they mistakenly believed were their destination. They just got the wrong house.

I’ve done that before. A few years ago, I stopped by to see a friend from seminary and her wife who live near the 17 and Bethany Home here in Phoenix. They had recently moved to a new house in the same neighborhood, and I had visited them several times before at the old address, only once at the new address. I pulled up to the house, and because they are good friends, when I got to the door, I just knocked, then immediately opened the door, and entered the house. To my surprise, an unknown, angry man on the other side of the door yelled at me: What are you doing? He quickly walked toward me which meant I stumbled backward, and he slammed the door shut. The whole incident took just a few seconds, but I suddenly realized I had pulled up to my friends’ old house, not their new one. I shouted from the front yard: I’m sorry! My mistake! And I got in my car to drive the few blocks to their new address.

I’m sure that was very disorienting for the angry man I encountered. A stranger had just walked into his house. But it was a mistake, not intentional, not malicious, not hostile. Unlike me, Kaylin Gillis who was shot and killed in upstate New York and 16 year old Ralph Yarl who was shot and is now recovering in Kansas City did not enter the homes of the people who shot them. They were simply strangers on the other side of locked doors, young people at the wrong address.

All I can think is: Jesus is a stranger.

On Easter Sunday, in the presence of those who followed him, Jesus is a stranger, and they talk with him. They walk with him from Jerusalem to Emmaus. They invite him in for dinner and to stay the night. What gracious welcome Cleopas and his friend extend to Jesus unawares! Instead of rejecting a stranger in the midst of their grief, instead of putting their heads down and ignoring him when he asks what they’re talking about, Cleopas and his friend open their hearts to Jesus. “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel,” they say to a stranger. In turn, the stranger interprets scripture. The stranger blesses bread and breaks it and gives it to them. When Cleopas and his friend realize who Jesus is, he vanishes from their sight, and they say to each other: “Were our hearts not burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”

At the end of this Easter season, we will remember Jesus’ ascension, his bodily ascent to a dimension beyond our understanding. And we will celebrate the day of Pentecost, the day the Holy Spirit is poured out on the disciples in Jerusalem and upon all flesh before we enter into what we call “ordinary time.” But in reality, we live in the season of Easter, the season where Christ is risen! By the witness of Cleopas and his friend, the risen Christ sometimes shows up as a stranger. And honestly, I would hate to miss him. I would hate to walk away from an encounter with a cashier at Target or a clerk at the UPS store or the person I don’t know sitting in the back row at church and realize only later that Jesus had shown up…but that I hadn’t paid attention or I had been afraid or I had been hostile. Because they just looked like a stranger to me. Honestly, I would hate miss him. Christ is risen and lives among us in ways that go beyond our complete understanding. Christ shows up in bread and wine, in the waters of baptism, and sometimes in strangers.

It feels, at times, like we live in a scary world. The reality of this uncertain, uncontrollable world in which we live is that feeling fear is not the same thing as being in danger. Feeling fear is not the same thing as being in danger. Strangers are not dangerous on spec. No matter who they are: the person who unexpectedly rings our doorbell, the refugee family shopping at the same store, the person sitting in our accustomed seat at church, the person asking for handouts near the on-ramp of the 10. Strangers are not dangerous on spec, only when they take action that hurts us. Of course, we don’t really know who any stranger is, what their story is, whether their impact on our life will be positive or negative. We don’t know when we meet someone for the first time what we will learn from them or how they will hurt us. But that is true whether they remain a stranger whom we never see again or if they become our dearest friend. In the meantime, if we allow fear to close us off from strangers, we may miss the risen Christ.

Today, Cleopas and his friend inspire us. They teach us that we may welcome Jesus unawares for, truly, Christ is risen among us! Thanks be to God! Amen.