A Sunday School teacher had just finished telling her third graders about how Jesus was crucified and placed in a tomb with a great stone sealing the opening. Then, wanting to share the excitement of the resurrection, and the surprise of Easter morning, she asked: “And what do you think were Jesus’ first words when He came bursting out of that tomb alive?” A hand shot up into the air from the rear of the classroom. Attached to it was the arm of a little girl. Leaping out of her chair she shouted out excitedly “I know, I know!” “Good” said the teacher, “Tell us.” Extending her arms high into the air she sang out: “TA-DA!”
That may not be literally accurate but it does catch the element of surprise that is so much a part of the Resurrection stories. It certainly was a surprise for the two people walking to Emmaus to find out that the “stranger” that joined them turned out to be Jesus. Their walk in the beginning was probably slow and I would imagine that their mood was sorrowful as they talked about the events that had happened in Jerusalem. There was probably an air of hopelessness that hung over them. They even seemed to be a little angry that the “stranger” that walked and talked with them did not seem to understand their plight. Then, around the breaking of bread, “TA-DA” they recognized that this “stranger” was Jesus. Recognizing Jesus was not the only surprise. It was also surprising how quickly their mood and attitude toward life changed. Their trip back to Jerusalem was no doubt quick, joyful, and full of hope as they went to share with other disciples their experience.
God is certainly a God of surprises and yet many of us never really become aware of them. We make the first half of the trip to Emmaus but never the next leg of the journey where we begin to recognize that the world is full of the wonders and activity of God. . We sometime becomes so preoccupied with our own limited concerns that we go through life half blind. If we could only remove the film that covers our eyes we would be able to experience the blessings that are there for us to encounter.
What impresses me about all of the resurrection appearances that are recorded in scripture is that they all take place in the midst of ordinary events of life like walking down a road, at supper, going to visit a grave side, in an upper room of a house, coming to shore after a night of fishing. The Christ never appears from on high, in a blaze of unearthly light but in the midst of people, in the midst of life, in the midst of the questions and doubts that we struggle with. As Frederick Buechner has put it in The Magnificent Defeat:
The sacred moments, the moments of miracle, are often everyday moments, the moments which, if we do not look with more than our eyes or listen with more than our ears, reveal only….the gardener, the stranger coming down the road behind us, a meal like any other meal. But if we look with our hearts , if we listen with all of our being and our imagination – if we live our lives not from vacation to vacation, from escape to escape, but from one miracle of one instant of our precious lives to the miracle of the next — what we may see is Jesus himself.
Those miracles, seems to me, have to do with the power of love. The Resurrection for me means that the Love of God is alive among us. We see it in people’s lives. We experience it in forgiveness and acceptance. We see it in the gift of life itself. We see it in the healing process. We see it in the giving and dedication of people whether it is in the scientist of social activist. Even in the midst of war, terror and tragedy, we might see the act of love overcoming the adversity that surrounds us. We become aware of it and in fact can look for it because the love of God found in Jesus on the cross overcame all the cruelty and blindness of those that conspired to destroy it. When ever we find those extraordinary instances of love it is like finding Jesus in the midst of us. They come to us like a surprise: TA-DA!
Sometimes a very simple act can make us aware of God in the midst of us, and can actually change the whole mood of a situation. The Reverend Tim Zingale illustrates how this can happen in a story that he relates on his web site at http://www.dodgenet.com/~tzingale/ . He says:
Greg Anderson, in Living Life on Purpose tells a story about a man whose wife had left him. He was completely depressed. He had lost faith in himself, in other people, in God–he found no joy in living. One rainy morning this man went to a small neighborhood restaurant for breakfast. Although several people were at the diner, no one was speaking to anyone else. Our miserable friend hunched over the counter, stirring his coffee with a spoon.
In one of the small booths along the window was a young mother with a little girl. They had just been served their food when the little girl broke the sad silence by almost shouting, “Momma, why don’t we say our prayers here?” The waitress who had just served their breakfast turned around and said, “Sure, honey, we pray here. Will you say the prayer for us?” And she turned and looked at the rest of the people in the restaurant and said, “Bow your heads.” Surprisingly, one by one, the heads went down. The little girl then bowed her head, folded her hands, and said, “God is great, God is good, and we thank him for our food. Amen.”
That prayer changed the entire atmosphere. People began to talk with one another. The waitress said, “We should do that every morning.”
“All of a sudden,” said our friend, “my whole frame of mind started to improve.
Sometimes we meet God face to face in the way we go about serving others.
In an inner-city church with a with a huge social ministry that included a soup kitchen it was the habit of the kitchen crew to gather in a huddle to pray before they opened the door and let in the hungry street people. Among the prayers lifted up was one by an elderly African-American woman who simply said, “Lord, we know You’ll be comm’n through the line today, so help us to treat You well!”
These are the ways that Christ comes to us in the midst of our lives. It is often when we least expect it. It comes to us simply as a surprise. All we can do is stand in awe of such a wondrous experiences. Then we move on from them like those people in the scriptures today returning from Emmaus quickly, joyfully and full of hope, going through life not from vacation to vacation, from escape to escape but from miracle to miracle.