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Bible readings:

3 Easter Year A (May 4, 2014)                                                                      St James', Peace River

Over the last month, since my wife Victoria received a corneal transplant, I’ve been thinking off and on about the “miracle of sight”. Victoria says it’s amazing how much clearer everything already is, as the sight in that one eye has improved so considerably. Now while I haven’t shared that experience as dramatically, I’m also grateful every morning when I wake up, open my eyes… grope around for my glasses and put them on. The world is so much bigger when you can see more than a few feet away! While it’s something I generally take for granted, if I do stop and think about it I have to realize how different my life would be without these simple lenses to see the world through. I can hardly imagine – though I think maybe I can just about imagine – what it was like for the people who came to Jesus, as we hear about in the different gospels, hoping that he could give them their sight back. What a miracle!

If you’re in that 50% or so of the population who doesn’t have 20-20 vision, you’ve probably had some kind of experience that would help you identify with this. Even if your eyesight only needs a little correction, maybe you can remember that moment when you tried glasses on and the fuzziness went away, or everything came into unexpected clarity. It always surprises me when I sit in the optometrist’s chair and we’re flipping through lenses to see which ones are the best. I’ll be looking at the chart with letters on it, thinking it’s pretty clear. And then – click – a new lens makes the letters pop right out at me, with a degree of clarity I wasn’t expecting or imagining.

The miracle of seeing doesn’t stop there though. Think of Galileo, centuries ago, who turned his lens to the skies instead, and saw the moons going round Jupiter – changing, eventually, the whole human race’s understanding of how our universe worked. Or van Leeuwenhoek, who took magnification a step further than anyone else had in the 17th century, and discovered all those micro-organisms which live all around us – again changing our perceptions of how life really works, and making possible new ways of healing wounds and curing diseases. What an extraordinary moment it must have been for either of those scientists, to look through their telescope or their microscope and see something moving.

The gospel we heard today, like so many of the stories of what happened after the first Easter, is in a way a kind of reflection on that type of miracle. Looking at something, and really seeing it in a way you’ve never seen before; looking, and seeing something you couldn’t have imagined if you hadn’t seen it with your own eyes. The stories that tell us about Jesus appearing to his disciples after his resurrection all share some element of this – often they don’t recognize him at first, or don’t believe it’s him, but then something changes in the way they’re looking at him, it clicks into place, and they know. But today’s story is the one that really pays attention to that shift of sight – Luke tells us first that “their eyes were kept from recognizing him,” until Jesus comes home with these disciples and shares a meal with then, and only then in that moment (click!), “their eyes were opened.”

Now, I’m pretty sure we’re not talking about myopia or astigmatism here – it’s not as literal as going into the eye doctor’s to get your contacts. But “seeing” is a very powerful metaphor for the way we live. “Picture this”, we say, when we want to use our imaginations. “Do you see”, is how we ask someone if they understand. “I’ll look into it”, means I’ll give it my attention. For someone who can’t, literally, see, so much of that imagery buried in our language must be very difficult. But for most of us it’s simply the way we describe who we are and how we interact with the world. And the Bible often picks up on that way of speaking to describe the profound things that happen when God comes into our lives – as people see in ways they could not see before.

What happened to those disciples at their home in Emmaus? Why couldn’t they see it was Jesus, to begin with? Maybe they were simply too shattered by the experience of Good Friday – their world so greyed out by grief and despair that they couldn’t see what (or who) was right in front of them. And just as their hearts weren’t ready to see, so it seems their minds weren’t either – they are still putting together the facts: the missing body, their own hopes, the promises of scripture. But they’re not there yet. And it does seem, from this story as from others, that Jesus’ physical presence after his resurrection is mysterious and elusive, different somehow and yet still the same person, for those with eyes to see.

Isn’t it interesting how they get to the moment when the penny drops. All along the road, Jesus coaches them to come to grips with the truth of what has happened – to understand God’s purpose through the scriptures, which turn out to have been about him all along. But it’s not his voice or his teaching that breaks through to them. It’s his presence at the supper table, breaking bread with them like he had so many times before, and most especially on the night before he died. (“This is my body, given for you.”) With the bread still in his hands, the light flashes on for them, and they know him, and see him. Well – now they see him; and now they don’t! But even as he “vanishes from their sight”, everything else starts to look different. With their new vision they begin to understand – why he had to die, what it meant that he was alive, how their story of discipleship was really just beginning. Back to Jerusalem they run, back to their friends, who all look different too. And the story starts.

What happens next is the story of the book of Acts, which we pay special attention to through the Easter season. It is, most of all, about people coming to see Jesus – not in the way they did when they came to take a look at him during his earthly ministry; but coming to see him, to realize that when they really see him as the one who conquered death, everything else looks different too. The process begins with Peter’s sermon that we heard part of in the first reading today. Everyone who responded to the apostles’ message must have felt something like this: looking back on what happened to Jesus, and being “cut to the heart” that they (and people just like them, just like us) could have been part of letting him go to the cross. But when our hearts are moved like that, we see things differently. We see our own responsibility for all the hurtful and neglectful things that we do; but we also see God’s love, and the possibility of transformation.

It’s possible this might feel like it leaves us stuck wherever it is that we are. The disciples on the Emmaus road didn’t know what they were missing; the people Peter talked to didn’t wake up that morning thinking they needed to see their world differently. It’s not until God is revealed to us in Jesus, risen from the dead, that we realize what it is that we couldn’t see.

But here’s the thing. God is revealed to us, in Jesus risen from the dead. This isn’t something that might happen to us. It’s happened. It’s happening now. That’s what is going on here, in Exodus’s baptism which makes him part of Jesus’ new life. Exodus gets to live with the risen Jesus right from the very beginning of his life. We’ll pray that he will always know that. There will be times when he forgets, or doesn’t see it. But that’s not because he can’t see. Like all of us, he may lose sight of Jesus being alive right beside him and inside him. But with our prayers and our help, he’ll always be able to come back to the vision he’s beginning his new life with today – the vision of light and life, of Jesus beginning new life and bringing him along on the journey.

But there’s another way today that we will all recognize God’s presence and see our lives in the light of the risen Jesus. And it’s the same way it happened for the disciples at Emmaus. As we, the body of Christ, take bread and break it, take wine and share it, we will recognize and remember and see. We’ll know that the Jesus who gave his body and blood for us, isn’t stuck somewhere in the past, but is here as he promised. As we’ll sing in our offertory hymn, “Here is bread; here is wine. Christ is with us.”

So, by God’s grace and Christ’s call, we are people who can see the world through Easter eyes, even if we don’t always do that – because it’s hard to focus, or hard to see through the tears, or the fog of other things distracting us. But we are here because we know we want to see, and keep seeing, what God is showing us. If that’s what you want, keep coming back to the Bible which tells you who you are and who God is – just like it did for Peter’s audience. Keep coming back to the sign of bread and wine which tells you who Jesus is and that he is right here, with you and for you – just like it did for the first disciples. And then keep going back to the world outside our doors, which is what the risen Lord wants us to look at with new eyes. See it the way he sees it, love it the way he loves it. And say and do the things that need to be said and done, so that other people too can keep having that “aha!” moment when they realize who Jesus can be for them, and really begin to see.