COMMUNION REFLECTIONS “The Obvious is Hidden”
I was listening to music yesterday on the XM Radio. On XM you can pick one music group and listen to all of their songs all day long, the popular songs, as well as the songs that are mostly unknown. One of those off-the-beaten- track songs caught my attention, with a phrase repeated several times, “The obvious is hidden”.
At first I was thinking it’s just a nonsense verse, like the words from the old song “O, Susanna”: “I come from Alabama with my banjo on my knee, I’m going to Louisiana, my true love for to see.” And here’s the key part, the nonsense part of the song: “It rained all night the day I left, the weather it was dry; the sun so hot I froze to death, Susanna, don’t you cry.” Pure nonsense, but tens of thousands of school children and boy and girls scouts have laughed at the nonsense verses as they sing the song.
So I’m listening to this song, repeating “the obvious is hidden”, it sounds like nonsense, but I finally realize that there’s a message in it for me. “The obvious is hidden”. Of course! That’s the story about the Road to Emmaus. Jesus is right there, obviously right in front of them, and they don’t see him.
So there are these two disciples, disciples, followers of Jesus, and they’re walking with him all day long, and they don’t see him, they don’t see him at all, they’re not even wondering about this stranger, they’re not even thinking “hmmm, he looks familiar”, or “I know I’ve seen him somewhere before”, or “I know I’ve heard that voice before!”
Jesus has been at the center of their attention for the last several days. He’s been in Jerusalem overturning the tables outside of the temple, he’s been betrayed by Judas, arrested by the high priest, and sentenced to death on the Cross by the Roman Governor. So it’s not like these disciples were only casually acquainted with Jesus. He’s been at the center of their thoughts. But the obvious is hidden.
How can you not see what’s right in front of you? It happens in our house all of the time. One spouse – who will remain anonymous to protect the innocent – will say, “There’s no more orange juice”. And the other spouse- also unnamed – will helpfully point out that it’s in plain sight at the center of the top shelf of the refrigerator. “Hiding in plain sight” is what I call this phenomenon.
How can you not see what’s right in front of you? It happens all of the time: sun glare, bad eyesight, lost glasses, heavy fog or darkness. It’s right there but you can’t see it. The obvious is hidden.
A man greets me by name, seems to know things about me, but I’m looking right at him and I don’t have a clue. It was Jesse, one of the kids in a church youth group I ran in Rochester in the 1980’s. He started talking to me like an old friend, but he finally noticed the blank look on my face, “you don’t remember me, do you?” Well, of course not, the last time I saw him was when he was 16 and now he’s forty! So many years have passed I didn’t recognize him.
How can you not see what’s right in front of you? This is a question that you could ask about every one of the Easter resurrection stories. The women at the tomb garden don’t recognize Jesus. Mary thinks he’s the gardener. The two disciples walking to Emmaus don’t recognize Jesus, even though their conversation with the man is all about what happened to Jesus in Jerusalem.
Maybe the point of Jesus being unrecognizable to his closest friends and companions is meant to teach us that resurrection is not supposed to be easy to grasp. Resurrection is more than luck or magic that we stumble into. There’s a deeper plan involved and it takes more than a single glance to appreciate the fullness of it.
Those first followers of Jesus shouldn’t have had any trouble recognizing him. They had spent time with him only a few days before, they had looked into his eyes, and they had heard his voice, they knew what kinds of clothes he wore. Why didn’t they see him?
Modern Bible readers have tried to apply psychology to explain this. For example, Jesus’ friends were so convinced that he was dead and gone that looking right at him they just could not see him. It was impossible that he was alive, so their brains could not process the information. But for such a theory to hold water, they all would have had this same problem at the exact same moment, mass blindness of some kind.
Yet, here we are our, lives hinging on the impact of this story. We keep coming back to this place to hear more, see more and experience more of what Jesus offers in a very troubled world. The word went out on that Easter morning long ago, he’s alive! And the word continues to spread. Because he’s alive, we can be alive, too. Alive to hope, alive to peace, alive to healing, alive to forgiveness, alive to justice, alive to life itself.
It takes time to finally dawn on us what happened on that road. I may not notice the fullness of this story, but it sinks in over time. I first learned the Easter story as a child, but the full import of it is still sinking in. We see that in the comment of one of the two men on the road –our hearts were burning as he spoke to us, but only now do we understand what we were seeing and hearing!
Finally, the story of the Road to Emmaus is one of movement, they are all on the move. They are no longer hiding in Jerusalem, they are moving out into the world. The story is not about going back, or retreating, it’s all about going forward. Forward, me with you, you with me, all of us together, on this journey of life and faith.