There are several stories told in the New Testament about the Resurrection and how it was made real to people. There's the story of Mary and the women at the tomb, and how Jesus appears to them and they first mistake him for a gardener. But then Jesus speaks Mary's name, and she knows. There's the story of the disciples upstairs in a locked room, in fear of their lives, when Jesus appears, as if from nowhere, and again, when Thomas is present, and he will not believe unless he can see and touch the nail-prints for himself. Then there is the story of he disciples gone back to their fishing, and Jesus appears on the shore. Peter is so excited he leaps naked out of the boat and splashes ashore to meet him. He others bring in the huge catch of fish and share a meal with Jesus. Later, Jesus forgives Peter for his denials, and commissions him, "Feed my sheep."
But, this being my seventh Easter Day at St. George's, you must have realised that the Easter encounter that inspires me most is the story of that walk along the Emmaus Road in Luke's gospel.
Two of Jesus' followers are walking along the road from Jerusalem to a village called Emmaus. Only one of them is named - Cleopas. Some think his companion was his wife, some think it might have been Luke himself - we don't know. We know nothing about either of them except that they were followers of Jesus and that they were obviously well-known to the disciples.
And there they are walking along this road, utterly dejected, their lives turned upside-down, their hopes for the future dead and buried with this man Jesus. And a stranger appears beside them.
This theme of recognition is repeated through the Resurrection stories. Do you remember - Mary doesn't recognise Jesus when he appears to her in the garden; when he shouts out to the disciples in the boat from the lakeside - they don't recognise him. Even to those who knew him best, the Risen Lord appears as one unknown - as a stranger.
What about you? Would you recognise the face of the risen Lord if he drew alongside you this morning? What if he came and sat next to you in your pew? What if he was sat in a doorway as you walked past? What if he knocked on your door this evening asking for some change for a cup of tea? Would you recognise him? What if he appeared in some news footage - made a refugee from Kosovo - would you be able to pick him out?
If the story of Jesus rising from death had been made up by his followers, do you think they would have written about themselves failing to recognise their Risen Lord so many times? If they had made it up, wouldn't they have had a much more human superhero of a Risen Lord? A bright shiny halo ... dazzling lights ... spangly clothes ... They would have invented a Risen Lord we could recognise, an obvious one.
But no, the real Risen Lord often comes as one unknown, even to those who know him best.
A stranger drew alongside them. Isn't it odd how we can so often find ourselves unburdening ourselves to a complete stranger? How many times on a bus or a train or at a party have you blurted it all out to someone you've never met before and are never likely to meet again? Perhaps that's part of the attraction - we will never meet them again and so our honesty about ourselves and our lives and those around us will have no come-back, no repercussions, and we will never be held accountable for what we have said.
But just for the length of that journey, or as long as the party lasts, that person, that confidante is a valuable companion walking alongside us.
How true that is, also, of our relationship with God. So often he is a stranger and we unburden ourselves to him at the needy times of our lives, confident that for the rest of the year God will not interfere, and that the matter will go no further. How often do we use God simply as a Good Samaritan at the end of the prayer-line? Throughout that particular time of crisis, we are conscious that God is walking alongside us, and that he is our companion on the road, but we always go our separate ways when the crisis passes.
As they walk, their companion begins to explain the scriptures for them, pointing out the footprints of God through the history of their people, and especially the footsteps of God that would lead to the coming of Jesus into the world. Then he went over them again and explained what the coming of God into the world must be like - not a coming in power and might and majesty - but a coming into the world that embraced the whole of human life - fear and loneliness, suffering and pain, even death.
The travellers are fascinated by his teaching, but he remains to them an interesting companion, no more than that.
Jesus is interesting, he is fascinating. He told great stories, he did some pretty awesome things. And the world is full of people who are interested in Jesus, people who are fascinated by Jesus. Yet, there is so much more to be had than a passing acquaintance with an interesting guy. But such knowledge is beyond mere teaching as Cleopas and his friend will discover.
Darkness is falling and Cleopas with his friend and their stranger-companion arrive at the house in the village. The stranger pressed on, as if he were travelling further that night. But Cleopas and his friend stopped him, inviting him to stay and eat with them.
God will not press himself upon us, he will not force his way into your life. God acts as our companion on the road and waits to be invited in so that he might draw us closer to himself.
As they sit down to eat, Jesus, acting as host, breaks the bread as the meal begins. And it is now that Cleopas and his friend recognise the risen Lord. Who knows why this moment was special. Cleopas and his friend were not at the last supper, so the breaking of the bread doesn't hold those memories for them. Perhaps, as the Risen lord breaks the bread, his hands are revealed and they see the nail-prints for the first time... Perhaps it is simply God's time - an unexplained moment of revelation.
They have walked with the Risen Lord as a stranger, the have talked with the Risen Lord as a companion, they have invited the Risen Lord into their home as a friend, and now the Risen Lord becomes real to them and turns their lives upside down. This moment of revelation speaks so much deeper than all the fancy bible-study and religious teaching in the world - it speaks to their hearts and their lives are changed.
They are sent running back the way they have came, even though it is now dark and dangerous to travel. They seek out the disciples and blurt out their news - they have seen him! He is Alive! They are no longer lonely travellers, they are ambassadors for Christ, Good-News-tellers.
Let us pray...