Unmasked by Deborah Suess

Luke 24:13-35

My wonderful Aunt,  Bunny Gillin, lives at Friends Homes, a retirement community here in Greensboro.  When the plea went out a few weeks ago for homemade masks…. she got busy making masks for anyone in need.

As her niece, it has been my job to be a guinea pig for her various experiments as she figures out the best pattern to use.  So I have been wearing a lot of masks these days… which may be why the theme of masking and unmasking keeps showing up for me in today’s scripture passage.

The scene opens with two of Jesus’ friends: one named Cleopus and the other is unnamed.  Many scholars today believe that the two were probably a married couple – who had simply come to their end of their rope and were heading home to Emmaus.

According to Biblical scholars, we don’t know where to look for a literal Emmaus on the map, it’s never been found. But really – don’t we all know what it’s like to journey on the Emmaus road.?  It’s the road we walk on when our heart are breaking because of deep grief. Or when our hope feels so so far away …. Thomas Keintert writes that  “Emmaus is where we go to walk away from what we cannot forget.”

Thankfully these two had each other for that dreary walk home. For companionship often helps when you’re in deep grief— to have someone who gets it because they are going through the same thing.  And so while the couple walked, they kept rehearsing the story over and over again.  They had been so sure that this Jesus was the real thing … until he wasn’t.

As they were processing all of this, a stranger walked up  and asked : “What are you discussing so intently? ” Their response? verse 17 :  They stood still, looking sad.  So poignant.

Through their tears, they did not recognize him — Jesus was (in a sense) masked to them.  Luke writes they were “kept from recognizing him.”  What do you think kept them from seeing Jesus?  Was it their hurt? Their disillusionment? Their certainty that he was just plain gone?

But they invite this clueless stranger to walk with them. After all,  it gives them a chance to go over the whole story once again. And they really need to talk. So they tell this stranger all about Jesus’ life: this amazing rabbi who healed and preached.  They told him all about Jesus’s ministry and miracles and then his triumphal entry into Jerusalem and then  … his arrest, his crucifixion, his death and burial.  And then they offer what Nadia Bolz Weber calls the 3 saddest words in scripture: They say to this stranger:  “We Had Hoped.”   We had hoped …. ….

While Jesus might have been hidden from them, those two disciples were fully unmasked. They poured out their broken hearts to this Stranger. (Sometimes it’s easier, isn’t it, to tell your most vital feelings to a stranger whom you will never see again?) Notice: They didn’t try to make the story nice or make excuses for anyone. They didn’t conclude with … but of course … it could have been worse.  Or … maybe it was just meant to be. 

 They told the story with a sense of raw honesty and destroyed hope.

And I so appreciate that raw-ness. Especially now. In these difficult days of the pandemic.

It is my hope that all of you have someone with whom you can be as raw as needed. Someone with whom you need not make nice. And the good news is – here at Spokane Friends there is your pastor and elders and just so many who are wonderful listeners.

On that road to Emmaus, I imagine Jesus listened intently to that grief-filled story.  And then, when it was his turn to speak,  he went for it! He began to unmask the scriptures for them.  I wonder if, as listeners, it was both exciting and jarring to hear these familiar texts interpreted in brand new ways?

But even then, the two didn’t recognize Jesus.

As the couple neared their destination, Jesus began to say his goodbyes.

But Cleopas and his wife would have none of that, saying: “Stay and have supper with us. It’s nearly evening; the day is done.”

And when they gathered at the kitchen table, Jesus took the bread, blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And at that moment, in the breaking of the bread, they recognized him.

I find that scene so moving. I love that it was at an ordinary kitchen table, in the ordinary act of sharing a meal, that the mask fell away and they recognized Jesus.  And I imagine that in that moment, a seed of hope was reborn.

But before they could rush in for a bear hug, Jesus disappears.  And without a second thought, Cleopas and his wife head back to Jerusalem to share their experience of the Resurrected Christ.

There is a lot in this passage.  And I would love to know what speaks to you this story? So here are some queries for you to consider:

What speaks to you or challenges you in this story? What gives you hope?

When have you experienced an “unmasking” … of Scripture? of God? of yourself?

How has the Living Christ walked with you on your Emmaus Road?

This poignant story reminds me that the Easter message of Resurrection runs parallel to our Good Fridays and Holy Saturdays.  It invites us to be present to one another,in both our fears as well as our hopes.  And it is a reminder that hope that can indeed be born and die and then reborn and again and again — in our lives individually and in our lives together.

The Easter story is also about  a faith that recognizes that God is still at work in us and among us.   A reminder that the Light of God shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot, cannot, cannot overcome it!

For Christ is Risen… Christ is Risen Indeed!

Resources:  Nadia Bolz Weber, Molly Baskette, Thomas Keintert

This message was given to Spokane Friends Meeting on April 19, 2020, by Deborah Suess (via a Zoom worship service during the COVID-19 restrictions.)

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