by Jackson Snyder February 22, 1993

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Ironic Christians Companion  Patrick Henry - an American classic


Intro: I do not even need to ask what holds your attention as I address you! (The hat.) Just remember that if you get lost while I preach this sermon -- follow the hat and you will know exactly where I am.


Setup: The scripture text is Luke 24:13-35, the story of the disciples and Jesus on the road to Emmaus. Previously in the scripture, three days have gone by since the death of Jesus, and the inner circle of his disciples are half­heartedly hoping that he will rise from the dead. Some of the women of Jesus' crowd found an empty tomb where Jesus had been laid and saw a vision of angels who told them that, “He is not here, but he has risen" (24:10). When this was reported to the inner circle of disciples, they did not believe it.


Nevertheless, Peter examines the empty tomb and is amazed. Then the scene shifts to the outskirts of the City of Peace.


Scripture: Luke 24:13-35 (NRSV)


Prayer: Come, Holy Spirit, I need thee; Come, sweet Spirit, I pray; Come in your strength and your power; Come in your own sovereign way.


Context: "Two of them," one named Cleopas and the other unnamed, were on their way out of the city to Emmaus on this the third day after Jesus' crucifixion. They are not apostles nor in the inner circle; rather, they are but marginal disciples. By comparing verse 30 with 9:16 we guess that these marginal disciples were faces in the crowd when Jesus fed the multitude and not privy to the inside scoop on Jesus' eschatological hopes (see John 16:25ff). Jesus joins them, and a discussion ensues about the events of the last few days. In the discussion, the identity of the "two" far-off followers is further evidenced by their self-identification with "their" chief priests, whom they blame for handing him over to the executioners. Furthermore, they report that some women of their group have seen Jesus alive, but they suspect this to be idle gossip.


Jesus, ever the rabbi, rebukes them for their careless treatment of the scripture, and without identifying himself, explains from scripture the mission, message, and fate of the Messiah. They reach Emmaus, and Jesus begins to continue on, when the marginal disciples compel him to remain the night. He agrees, and they go into the local inn for a bite. When Jesus breaks the bread they recognize him because they had seen him do this before. Immediately, Jesus becomes invisible and the two return right away to Jerusalem to spread the word.


Sermon: When I was in the opening stages of preparing this sermon, I found myself singing the old R. H. Cornelius hymn, “O I Want To See Him.” And what disciple of Christ then or now wouldn't want to see the face of their Lord. If these marginal disciples could see him (though be it only for a moment), why can't a fellow like me, who’s given years to my Lord, be among the privileged? Perhaps we might take a few minutes and go on a whirlwind quest for the face of our Lord!  What would he look like?


Let the psalmist be the first contributor in our quest. "O that we might see some good! Let the light of your face shine on us, O Yahweh" (4:6)! The face of our Lord is good, but our marginal disciples might be more apt to sing, "God has forgotten, he has hidden his face" (10:11).


Let's look next upon the face of the Suffering Servant of the Old Testament prophet (Isa 53:2b-3) - one hardly even recognizable as a man.

He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him...and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account.


Surely we prefer the countenance of our Lord as the righteous judge, described by the New Testament prophet, to that of the old:


I saw one like the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest. His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters (Rev l:13bff).


All right! That's more like it!


Now let us consider the strange description of Jesus in the pseudepigrapha titled Acts of John. John and James Zebedee are out in their boat and John sees the Master beckoning them to come to shore. He describes Jesus to his brother as, "a man standing there who is handsome, fair, cheerful-looking." “Strange,” replies the elder brother, “I don't see such a man as that; I see ‘a little child beckoning.’" When they reach the shore, the Master pulls their boat aground. James now modifies his earlier description. The Master is "a young man whose beard was just beginning." Now John is really confused, for he sees "a rather bald-headed man but with a thick flowing beard."


There has been considerable interest in the image of a man superimposed on the Shroud of Turin, reported to be the burial cloth of Jesus. Recent investigation by scientists has uncovered some startling facts about the Shroud that have actually lead to the conversion of some of the scientists on the investigation team. The image is of a man about 5' 10 1/2" tail, weighing 175 pounds. The facial features are startling! Could this piece of ancient cloth really hold the secret of our quest for the likeness of our Lord?


Finally, an artistic parishioner reminded me of the thousands of portraits of Christ that all have a very similar likeness (and, I might add, a likeness to the face on the Shroud). He informed me that this phenomenon was due to the sensitivity of artists to the divine.  Anyway, my vote is for this picture of Christ! (Hold up picture.) What do you think? (Thus ends our detour into speculation.)


Our marginal disciples were able to see the real face of the risen Jesus there at Emmaus when he took bread, blessed it, and divided it. "Their eyes were opened and they recognized him" (v. 3la). Then "he vanished from their sight."  The NRSV translation of 3lb is identical to its literary predecessors; the

NRSV translators thus preserve a three hundred eighty-one year tradition on this fragment. Too bad.  In this case (and many others), traditional renderings hide essential theological truth. The Greek has afantoς eqeneto apautwn, which is, literally, "he became invisible from them." "Vanished" implies that he departed. "Invisible" implies that he remained there. So why did the risen Christ become the invisible man at Emmaus anyway? Listen (or read) very closely, we'll do some theology ....


If we perceive that it would take less faith to believe in a Lord that we can SEE WITH OUR PHYSICAL EYES than one whom we cannot, then what will we do with a Messiah who, before our disappointed eyes, hangs helplessly and powerlessly on a cross; or a Lord with a bad cough or a Christ with a pimple on the end of his nose? What measure of faith must we expend to mask even the slightest imperfection?


Soren Kierkegaard (1813-55), one of the great Christian writers of his day or any other day, put it this way (I'm sure the author would graciously pardon my redaction):


If God could have permitted a direct relationship, [the marginal disciple] would doubtless have taken notice. If God, for example, had taken on the figure of a very rare and tremendously large green bird, with a red beak, sitting in a tree on the mound, and perhaps even whistling in an unheard of manner -- then the [marginal disciple] would have been able to get his eyes open, and for the first time in his life be first.


But if Jesus appears to humankind as a giant green bird, or a 200 foot giant, or as John's righteous judge, how long will it be before all faith would run out with even the most rigorous disciple growing familiar with Jesus to the point of contempt? How quickly and frequently do our "stars" rise from earth then fall!


Kierkegaard exhorts that:

All paganism consists in this, that God is revealed to man directly  -- as the extraordinary [sight of a giant greenbird] is to [our marginal] observer. But the spiritual relationship to God in the truth [is] divine elusiveness; that God has absolutely nothing obvious about him (sic), and that God is so far from being obvious, that he is invisible.

Yeah and Amen. Christ's invisibility makes for his omnipresence. So he is our afantoς anqropoς, our INVISIBLE MAN.

But there is another invisible man - Claude Raines. You may remember the scene from the 40's movie that I am about to describe (or maybe the 90’s movie with Kevin Bacon). Raines plays a mad scientist who discovers a potion that makes him invisible. He maintains visibility by wrapping himself as a mummy then putting his clothing on over the wrappings. He soon gets in trouble. When the police come to arrest him, he throws his clothing off, unwraps himself, and runs out the door into the winter. You cannot see the invisible man retreat. BUT YOU CAN SEE HIS HAT, WHICH REMAINS ON HIS INVISIBLE HEAD. AND YOU KNOW THAT, NO MATTERWHETHER YOU CAN SEE HIM OR NOT, YOU KNOW EXACTLY WHERE HE IS GOING WHEN YOU FOLLOW THAT HAT.


With this in mind, lets return to Cleopas and "Cleona." Jesus divided the loaf and gave it to them. Their eyes were opened, they saw him for an instant, then Jesus became invisible. Instead of staying at Emmaus, they braved darkness and returned immediately to the disciples in Jerusalem. But verse 35 reports that they did not tell the disciples that they had seen the face of Jesus, BUT THAT HE HAD BEEN MADE KNOWN TO THEM IN THE BREAKING OF THE BREAD.


AHHH! At last behold the hat on the head of the Invisible Man!


Likewise, when we see that hat moving, we know our Invisible Man is beneath it. For we see Jesus IN things. IN the breaking of bread He revealed. IN the blessing of the cup He is present. IN the circumstances our lives He is known. IN the faces of innocent children we see His. IN heartache and loss He is manifested as Comfort. Through love, even romantic love, Christ is the invisible lover. And though He is invisible, we see his many, many hats moving through our lives when we decide that we can no longer hold our eyes shut to Him!


Although we see His hat daily, admittedly, we will never stop longing for his face. As we each continue on our quest for the face of Jesus, let's remember the words of another seeker who has seen it: "For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face" (1 Cot 13:12). But until that special day when that special prophecy is fulfilled, FOLLOW! THAT! HAT! (Throw the hat.)




All scripture except personal translations is from the New Revised Standard Version.

The Cornelius hymn, “O I Want To See Him” may be found in Church Hynmal, Cleveland, TN: Tennessee Music and Printing Company, 1951. It is still in print.

The Acts of John excerpt is quoted from The Other Bible edited by Willis Barnstone, San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1984 p. 417.

A description of the Shroud of Turin and the response of the scientists that evaluated it can be found in Stevenson and Habermas The Shroud and the Controversy, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1990.

Lonnie Bell (d. 2001) of Salem U. M. Church gave me a lecture on the sensitivity of artists; he considers himself one.

The unedited quote from Kierkegaard is from Bretall's edition of A Kierkegaard Anthology, Princeton, NJ: The Princeton University Press, 1946


"The hat" is discussed in depth by Anglican Robert Capon, The Third Peacock, San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1986 p. 67 and following.