Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Recognizing Jesus (Easter, Day 4)

I find it striking that people in the NT often don't immediately recognize the risen Jesus. Does he look different or something? Is it because of unbelief (i.e., you can only recognize what you think is possible)? Is it something else? Is it just a peculiar feature of the narratives and we should leave it at that?

This recurring pattern seems to suggest that Jesus hides his identity until he wills to manifest himself. The language in Luke 24:16 implies this: "their eyes were kept from recognizing him." It is as though Jesus, who quite clearly wills to be known, does not always will to be known immediately.

As the risen Lord he has every right to do this. I am just wondering why he does it. Maybe there is no rhyme or reason to it. But if there is, it is certainly worth inquiring. If not, we will not have wasted our time as reflecting on his actions can bring us closer to him.

One way to get at the reason for this delayed recognition is to note the ways in which people do not recognize him. Consider the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus.

First, he speaks. He asks them a question.

But they do not recognize him by his voice.

Second, he speaks again. After listening to them share the rumor of his missing body, he rebukes them and begins to teach them, walking through the whole bible and its witness concerning the Messiah.

But they do not recognize him by his teaching.

Third, he speaks a third time. He offers a blessing for their bread, breaks it, and offers it to them. In other words, he prays for dinner and passes the serving plate.

But now they recognize him. They recognize him by his meal.

Now we can overplay this. But it seems to me that Luke is inviting us to see a recapitulation of the Lord's Supper, which was itself the fulfillment of Jesus' table fellowship with sinners, tax collectors, disciples, etc. In his ever-renewed fellowship with us around his table, the risen Jesus is recognized.

We recognize the risen Jesus by his meal.

This is good news! Why? Because the forty days came to a close. Upon his ascension, we for a time do not directly hear his voice and teachings. We continue to hear his voice through the mediation of his Spirit. We can hear and read his teachings through the Spirit-inspired mediation of the apostolic witnesses. And we can recognize his presence in his meal. But these are all indirect forms of communication. They are not direct and immediate, but indirect and mediated.

Perhaps this has troubled you. Perhaps you wished you could walk and talk with Jesus during his forty days. If only we had an immediate encounter with the risen Jesus, then we could believe, be bold, be transformed, etc.

But the good news is that we do not need a direct encounter to recognize Jesus. He can be really and truly known in his chosen intermediary forms. The road to Emmaus story shows that even a direct encounter with the risen Jesus is no guarantee that we will recognize him and so enter into genuine fellowship with him. Even they had to really on a indirect mode of communication: his breaking of bread and sharing it, and thereby reestablishing his table-fellowship with them.

The original forty days were unquestionably an amazing time. It is an utterly unique stretch of time: definitive, unrepeatable, glorious. But we should not think of the time we are now in as a time of absence. For during those forty days, Jesus shows his people that they do not need his direct and immediate presence to recognize him, know him, fellowship with him and declare him to the ends of the earth. His indirect fellowship with us through the Spirit, the church, and the sacraments is sufficient. We do not settle for this as a lesser form of presence, for even the disciples who walked and talked with him did not recognize him without his act of self-mediation at the table. The presence we have today is just as genuine, real, and powerful as what they experiences there and then. It is different in form. But it is the same Jesus.

May you recognize Jesus today in and through his appointed means.

1 comment:

π² said...

I like the idea that we also can recognize Jesus in service of the Table. I also think we can find application in how others recognized him: Mary by his call (John 20:16), Thomas by sight, touch, or intimate knowledge (John 20:27-29), the disciple Jesus loved by a miracle (John 21:6-7), Peter through the voice of the disciple Jesus loved (John 21:7).