Recognize. rec·og·nize verb
1. identify (someone or something) from having encountered them before; know again.
Camels. “Did you see those camels?”, I asked as the bus with our high school youth group sped along the highway on a trip up the Southern California coast. For years, my friends would to tease me about “imaginary camel sightings”. Even friends who hadn’t been on that particular trip would, at times, ask me if I had seen any camels lately. I know what camels looked like. I could recognize a camel and tell the difference between a camel and a cow. I knew that camels weren’t native to California and wouldn’t likely be roaming in a field along a highway. And I recognized what I saw as camels.
What would camels be doing on the side of the road in sunny Southern California? Years later my friend Dave, would acknowledge that all along he knew those camels were there because they were part of a circus. He had also seen them. The camels were kept in that pasture alongside a highway in the months in which the circus was not traveling. It was a fun inside joke among friends. They could tease me that as a city slicker I couldn’t distinguish between a camel and a cow. We laughed about it together. And yet on that day, I had really wanted my friends to have seen what I saw and acknowledge that what I had seen was indeed a camel even if it didn’t seem logical.
Over the years, I've always delighted in catching a glimpse of an animal, some type of wildlife, or a majestic bird in the air. I have learned certain people are much better at recognizing these things along the road. What a delight to travel with those with well trained eyes and an ability to point out what they see. It is sort of like playing “I, spy. And it takes intention. Often, I am not quick enough or focused to catch the glimpse of the fox or deer, moose or roadrunner, especially if it isn’t something I was expecting to see. Perhaps, like a camel in a field along a highway one can’t recognize something that seems out of place or not part of the plan.
Three days after the Crucifixion two disciples are walking along a road. They are leaving Jerusalem they are grieving. We don’t really know what they were looking for on that road, why they were traveling or on what their eyes might have been fixed.
In our gospel for this weekend Luke 24:13-35 we hear that Jesus is walking with them toward Emmaus and they do not recognize him. It wasn’t just a brief moment he was with them. They weren’t speeding by him. When Jesus first speaks to them they stop and stand still in their sadness. Wasn’t his voice familiar? Didn't Jesus have mannerisms that they would recognize? How could they not see it to be him? We read in the text that their eyes were kept from recognizing him.
Jesus travels with them. They walk together. The disciples share their experience of all that took place in Jerusalem. How they had hoped that this was the one (Jesus) would redeem Israel. Sharing their sorrow, disappoint and grief they travel with Jesus.
They recount to Jesus how the women were at the tomb, but did not find the body there. They tell him how those women came back and told them they'd seen a vision of angels. They repeat to Jesus how some others found the tomb just as the women had said. The disciples that had gone to the tomb did not see him.
After listening to all of this, Jesus tells them how foolish they are, and slow of heart to trust all the prophets declared. Jesus goes on to then to interpret to them all of the Scriptures. At their urgent pleading when they arrive at the place they planned to stay Jesus agrees to stay with them . And then, it's when he stays with them, taking a place at the table with them, and he takes bread, and he blesses it ,and he breaks it and he gives it to them- their eyes are opened. Then and only then do they recognize him. Then. It’s in that very moment that their eyes are opened. They recognize him.
When they recognize him he vanishes from their sight. It was only in 20/20 hindsight that they say to each other, “were not our hearts burning within us when he was talking to us on the road?” So they leave. They get back on the road, returning from the direction they came. Recognizing that this One who was on the road with them, stayed with them, at a table with them and breaking bread with them is Jesus —they quickly leave. The risen Christ has vanished and this time they are not left in tears, crying, mourning, and weeping. They are not left wondering, perplexed, confused. They know. They have recognized him.
They recognize him and so this time they go and they share what they have seen. One gets the sense that there is a spring in their step that wasn’t there before. They find the other followers. They tell about their hearts burning. They confess that their eyes were opened to recognize. They changed their plans to stay the night and instead got back on the road.
They journey to tell the 11 disciples and their companions gathered together - “the Lord is risen, indeed”. Those disciples told what happened on the road. They shared how Jesus had been made known to them in the breaking of bread. To recognize is to know again. The Jesus they knew when they first started following Jesus- they recognized and knew again in this one who met them on the road, interpreted all of scripture to them, who stayed with them and then shared a meal with them.
They had good news they wanted to share. hey saw the risen Christ. Jesus had walked with them and sat at a table with them. Nothing would ever be the same again for them. They now knew something deep inside of them- again. It was both a recognizing and a remembering. This time in their knowing they see and recognize Jesus in a deeper way.
In this time of CoVid19 when so much has changed and we are being asked to adjust and change so many aspects of our lives I have reflected upon what has remained. What have we known that we are being called upon to know at a deeper level now? What do we still recognize even as many things have changed? Perhaps the fear, uncertainty, newness, grief, change kept us at first from seeing it or recognizing it. God has been and is present with us. God will be with us in each and every day to come. We sometimes proclaim a great mystery of faith, Christ has died, Christ has risen and Christ will come again.
Even when we have been slow of heart and not trusting and unable to see it the power and presence of the Risen Christ is here. Perhaps it has seemed like a time of both incredibly long days and weeks of Social Isolation and yet a fast moving vehicle of change- and our eyes couldn’t see, our hearts couldn’t grasp, our ears couldn’t hear God with us. We are here together to keep sharing it and to keep pointing to it and “I spy-ing” Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia.
p.s. The video at the top of this post is “Open Our Eyes Lord”. As a high schooler in the 1970’s we would sing this in youth group. Used as a transition song from the active and loud songs to open us up to a time to hear a message, to quiet down, to slow down and listen. This was back in those days when my friends would tease me about seeing camels on the road. Those same friends were the same ones who encouraged me in my faith, shared in my joys and sorrows, we broke bread together, we shared meals, we laughed and we cried and we kept finding ways to open our eyes, our ears, our hearts and our minds to recognize the living Christ. May you catch some glimpses this week of the Jesus who loves you more deeply than you would ever ask to be loved and whose compassion, forgiveness and grace are beyond what you would ever dream possible. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.