Recognizing the Christ
Acts 2:14a, 36-41    Luke 24:13-35
May 8, 2011 Third Sunday of Easter

    This morning’s Gospel story illustrates how easy it can be to let an opportunity slip past us, if our eyes are not tuned in to what might be, looking for what is possible.  I find it very interesting that the people walking on the road to Emmaus do not recognize Jesus until they break bread with him.  They walk the better part of seven miles, talking and sharing thoughts, listening to him teach about the scriptures from way back to Moses on up to the present time, and yet in all of this they do not recognize him.  What this says, among other things, is that maybe we don’t really get to know one another until we break bread together?  Maybe we don’t really “see” each other when we are just talking - even if we are sharing on a deep, intellectual level..  The other day I attended a student presentation at the college.  Since it was a storytelling event, I invited a young friend of mine to join me..  I didn’t say much during the discussion that followed the presentation, preferring to just listen, and then my young friend and I slipped out as the discussion continued on.  A couple of days later, someone else who was there said that he had not recognized me at the presentation.  He said that he had looked at me, and thought to himself, “hmm, that person looks a lot like Shirley, but it isn’t her.” He told me this as we ate lunch, so maybe it’s significant that we were breaking bread together.  I laughingly said that I must have been wearing my “Shirley at home, buried under too many papers to grade” face, rather than my more public college chaplain/professor face; but it was unnerving to me to think that I had not been recognized by someone who is a close friend.  I wondered what that said about me and how I was presenting myself to the outside world.
    When Jesus walked that long road to Emmaus with the others, did he intend for his companions not to recognize him?  Was he hiding in plain sight, checking around to see what people thought about what had happened in the past few days, or maybe putting his spin on the story without anyone knowing that is what he was doing?  Or were they simply blind to the possibility that he could actually be alive and in their presence?  There are stories about indigenous people literally not seeing the ships of white Europeans when they came to shore on their remote islands.  Ships with tall masts were not in their realm of possibility, and so when asked what they saw, the people said they saw trees moving across the water.  They had no context for those ships in their sphere of experience, and so they just did not see them.  They saw trees, because trees made sense to them. It turned out that for these native people, it was to their detriment that they did not see trouble coming.  By the time the ships occupants landed, it was too late for them to hide away or to defend themselves.
    This all makes me wonder what we don’t see on a regular basis.  What do we miss in our daily lives?  Are there things or people that we simply choose not to see because it is too painful or uncomfortable, or because if we saw them we might have to take some kind of action?  What do we miss in our lives of faith?  Are there times and places when God intervenes, but we are ignorant of that intervention?  What does it take to open our eyes?  Does God have to do this for us, or is it possible to open our eyes by our own intention and determination to not be blind to what is all around us? 

Several years ago now, I was a part of a group of women who kept “gratitude journals.”  Every day, no matter if it was what we might call a “good” day or a “bad” one, we agreed to find something to be grateful for and write it down.  If we found more than one thing to be grateful for, all the better.  We wrote them down.  What we discovered was that after we had been keeping these journals for a while, we became accustomed to looking for something to be grateful for no matter what else was going on around us.  Through the process of paying attention, we grew more and more adept at finding something positive and life-giving hidden in each and every day, even the difficult ones that brought challenges our way.  In essence, we were finding God’s presence hidden in the everyday aspects of our lives.  We were training our eyes and maybe even more, our hearts, to recognize the Christ who was and is all around us in every little thing.  What I found to be most powerful in that gratitude journal exercise, was beginning to recognize the Christ in unexpected places, in places you would not expect to find anything holy, anything special.  I think many of us come to church because we count on God being present here.  We know that we feel something move us and warm our hearts when we walk through those doors, when we see the candles on the altar, when we hear the hymns, when we gather with these people and pray.  It feels good to connect with God.  It feels good to experience being surrounded by the love of Christ as we sit here and worship together; but what of all those other places out there in the world, where God is also present, where Christ is waiting to be revealed to us?
    People like Mother Teresa understand that Christ can be anywhere and is absolutely everywhere, in every person.  She saw Christ in the faces of people who lived on the street, in gutters, abandoned by everyone, and she loved Christ by loving and caring for them.  This is powerful stuff..  Most of us do not feel called to go to Calcutta, India to care for lepers; but there is so much caring to be done right in our own communities, in our own families.  Can we see Christ in our neighbor?  Can we see Christ in our partner?  Can we see Christ in an angry teenager or in an elder with dementia?  Can we see Christ in the politicians, even those with whom we disagree?  Can we see Christ in the grocery store checkout girl’s face?  Can we see Christ everywhere?  Are our eyes open to see what is there right in front of us?  Is our heart open enough to accept it?
    It changes the way we go about life, if we see Christ everywhere and in everyone.  If we see Christ everywhere, it forces us to examine our actions, and ensure that they reflect our respect.  It slows us down, because we don’t want to miss anything, so no one is rushed past or ignored.  At the very least, we need to meet one another’s eyes and acknowledge one another’s existence.  Seeing Christ in the world around us helps us to see the world itself with a new and clearer perspective.  I believe that we all become more whole, and more human in the process.

God of all life, help us to be aware of every small thing that is placed in our path.  May we see the beauty in each moment.  May we see the beauty of each person.  May we see the beauty of each tree, flower, bird, animal, river and mountain.  May we see the way that you see. May we see Christ.  Amen.