“[T]heir eyes were prevented from recognizing him.” — Luke 24:16
This weekend is the Third Sunday of Easter. The readings can be found here. The Gospel contains the wonderful story of the Road to Emmaus in the Gospel of Luke. Two disciples were walking with the risen Christ but did not recognize him. This story has deep symbolism and meaning in my own life. For most of my early adulthood, I was walking in the Divine Milieu but elected to ignore the presence of God around me in other people, in nature, in the calling of my innermost desires. I was too busy focusing on career and individual “success” that I was blind to God walking next to me.
Today’s reflection comes courtesy of the St. Mary’s Woodford Anglican Parish in London. (the author of the reflection is not stated). You can find the full reflection here, but set forth below is an extended summary:
“When Charles Darwin was confidently working out the details of his theory of evolution, he recorded in a moment of wonder, that of all the organic phenomena in the natural world, the development of eyesight in mammals and humans was the one thing that troubled him most. He was at a loss to adequately explain the origins of the sense of sight from a scientific point of view. The idea of an organism being able to perceive the world visually did not fit neatly into any schema of biological development. It seemed to him, almost miraculous and reading Darwin’s own writings on the subject, one realizes that this was one dilemma that became a real challenge to his own atheism. Even now, some scientists find the phenomena of eyesight the most incredible achievement of our biological development.
But long before Darwin, thinkers and philosophers have been questioning, not just the wonder of eyesight, but the deeper significance of the act of seeing. The Greek philosopher Anaxagoras declared that we were “born for seeing”. And just over 2000 years later, that great priest, theologian and scientist, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said that all life is comprehended within seeing and that the whole evolution of the cosmos aims above all at “the elaboration of ever more perfect eyes”. It is eyesight – the act of seeing – that is one of the biological faculties that makes us fundamentally human, but we have come to understand that seeing is much more than a mere biological function of a sentient body. It seems that in order to truly know ourselves, our existence and our deepest yearnings, we humans are always craving some form of understanding through seeing. In our world we have so much but we see so little. Certainly, we spend at lot of time looking at a great many things, but do we really see? In other words, we often have the experience but do we really get the meaning?
The Emmaus story is very much a story about not seeing and seeing. We are told that while two of the disciples are walking and discussing recent events, Jesus was suddenly walking and talking with them, but they didn’t see that it was Jesus. Luke tells us: “There eyes were kept from recognising him”. And later, when they sat to eat with him, “Their eyes were opened” and then they recognised him, but suddenly he vanishes from their sight! Luke is the only evangelist who gives us this account and we may wonder why. Taken literally, this is all strange and for some it is difficult to swallow. Why did it take the disciples so long to recognize Jesus?
It seems that Luke is trying to say something important about resurrection; how the disciples are to understand Jesus Christ’s presence in the world, and the joy that comes with that understanding. If they are to see Christ, they are to see him differently. It is not a bodily Christ they must seek or expect to find anymore. Christ must now be discovered dispersed into the world. This gospel passage should lead us to some profound insights about seeing and understanding. We too are like those first disciples. We seek to discover Christ – we seek the presence of the divine, but much of the time we do make that connection. But we can empathise with the disciples on the Emmaus Road, for the weight of human grief and personal tragedy can often blind us to what is going on around us. Darkness and despair becomes a barrier to seeing. All they had at that point were shattered hopes and dreams.
We have daily opportunities of having some access to the sacred around us and within us. Our acts of worship, our rituals, our calendar of festivals and celebrations seek to give access to the holy, but we have to see through the symbols and the ritual actions to discover and touch that presence. If we are distracted or preoccupied; if we are not inwardly prepared, we do not make the connections and then even the most powerful of rituals can be empty of meaning. During our everyday lives, we spend a lot of time looking in our, working activity, commuting, socializing, and so on. But spiritually, is there any real seeing going on or is that something just reserved for Sundays?”