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Christ the Stranger

The four Gospels contain several accounts of Christ’s coming to the disciples after His resurrection. One that is unique is found in Luke chapter 24, the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.

The two disciples, Cleopas and another (according to tradition it is Luke himself), are on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus when they encounter a “stranger” (v 18) who is seemingly ignorant of the events of the last week - the betrayal, suffering, death, and - rumored - resurrection of Christ. Bewildered at the stranger’s ignorance, the disciples relate the story to him, finishing by telling him the rumors of Christ’s resurrection: “And certain of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but Him they did not see” (v 24).

There is a terrific irony here. The two disciples relate to the stranger the rumors of resurrection, bemoaning the fact that the women and Peter did not see the Lord, when the stranger on the road with them is, of course, the risen Christ himself. They see him but do not see him, all the while bemoaning the fact that no one has seen him! It is only after Christ interprets the scriptures for them and, ultimately, “took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them” (v 30) that their eyes were opened and they knew him.

The irony doesn’t end there, of course. For we, too, are part of this resurrection story, we who journey so often in the company of the Stranger in our midst who is unrecognized by us and unknown to us. We speak of him in the third person, talking about him but so seldom to him. And sadly, like the disciples with their rumors of resurrection, the scriptures and in fact the whole world remain closed to us, opaque and darkened, locked up in our doubt and disbelief and spiritual insensitivity. Only in Christ is everything opened, unlocked, and made transparent. But not Christ as a concept, Christ as an idea, or worse still, Christ as a symbol to contain all of our own ideals - political, moral, or otherwise. No, the Christ who opens every door for us and who makes the scriptures and the entire cosmos into a burning bush is always and only Christ the Risen One, the Living One, and the Coming One. This is the Christ who is in our midst and who we recognize always in the interpretation of the scriptures and the breaking of bread in the Divine Liturgy.

In the words of St Nicholas Cabasilas:

May we, in our Paschal journey, and throughout all the days of our life, recognize the Stranger in our midst, Christ the Risen One.

With love in Christ, Fr John

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