[Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19; I Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-35]
O Lord, take my lips and speak through them;
Take our minds and think through them;
Take our hearts and set them on fire with love for Thee. Amen.
Have you ever played peek-a-boo with a baby?
Did you notice how they freak out a little bit when their eyes are covered, and then when they open them, they’re so excited to see you again?
Child psychologists have an idea as to why this is. My dear friend Katie, who is working on her Master’s degree in Psychology, was kind enough to explain this to me:
Since babies’ brains are still brand-new and they haven’t developed much yet, their understanding of certain ideas is still a little shaky. For example, if if a baby can’t see something, they don’t realize the object is still there. If their eyes are covered or closed, they don’t understand that everything in the room still exists while they can’t see it.
This applies to people as well as objects. When someone leaves the room or is out of sight, an infant has no way of being sure that that person hasn’t disappeared into a void forever.
The ability to recognize that objects– and people– still exist even when you can’t see them is an important developmental milestone called object permanence, and it usually starts sometime between four and seven months old.
Of course, sometimes even adults struggle with this concept. Perhaps our reading from St. Luke’s Gospel is an example. Let’s take a look:
So, we have two followers of Jesus– one is named Cleopas, and we don’t know the other guy’s name– and they’re on their way to the next town. It’s a seven-mile journey, which is quite a hike, so it makes sense that they’re passing the time by talking to each other.
As they’re walking and having this conversation, a third person joins them.
Now, we as the readers have some insider information here– St. Luke tells us that the third person is actually Jesus– but Cleopas and his friend don’t know that yet.
Verse sixteen is kind of intriguing, I think– in English it’s translated as, “their eyes were kept from recognizing Him.” In Greek, ὀφθαλμοὶ (op-tha-MOLL-oy) means “eyes” — do you hear the root of “optical” and “ophthalmologist” in there? But then you have this form of κρατέω (kra-TAY-oh), translated here as “I prevent” or “I keep from”. 
But, interestingly enough, κρατέω is also often translated as, “I hold,” or even “I cling to.” It evokes the idea of physically putting your hands on something– perhaps the way a baby might put their hands over their eyes during a game of peek-a-boo.
In a more metaphorical sense, something was holding its hands over these two men’s eyes, too, and preventing them from knowing that Jesus was in their midst.
What was that thing? The text doesn’t really say– the form of the word κρατέω that’s used here is in the passive voice, so it doesn’t specify who or what is doing the preventing, or seizing, or holding that these two men’s eyes are experiencing.
Maybe we can take a guess, though. What are some things that take hold of your eyes sometimes, and make it hard for you to see Jesus in your life? Grief? Sorrow? Uncertainty? Fear, perhaps?
These two men were probably feeling all of those things as they walked along the road to Emmaus– not only had they just lost their friend and teacher in a horrible, violent way, but they also had reason to fear for their own well-being– followers of Christ were being persecuted, and for Cleopas and his friend to be identified as His disciples could mean big trouble for them.
So, in the midst of their fear and sorrow, their grief and uncertainty, and whatever else they might be feeling, they fail to realize that this man walking with them is, in fact, Jesus. They just think He’s some guy.
Jesus starts asking them questions, and they have a whole conversation. Cleopas and his friend tell this mysterious stranger about all everything that has happened– how their friend Jesus was this amazing prophet and teacher, but then He was arrested and crucified, and He died and was buried.
“We had hoped He would be the One to redeem Israel,” Cleopas says. “But today is the third day since all of this happened.” According to Jewish custom at that time, a person was considered legally dead beyond any shadow of a doubt on the third day– which is why it’s significant that, when Jesus raised Lazarus of Bethany, he had been dead four days, which was well past the point at which there was no longer any hope.
But Cleopas confides to his new traveling companion that there are stories– from people they know and trust, even– that Jesus might have risen from the dead! There may be some hope yet!
Now, Jesus is probably getting a little frustrated at this point. These are His friends, and He’s standing right there, walking beside them, and they’re telling Him all of these things, not realizing that He’s Jesus! Surely, as His followers, they’ve walked and talked with Him on the road somewhere more times than they can count, and yet, they still have no idea who He is.
(Two miles an hour is a pretty fast walking pace, so we’re talking about at least fourteen hours that they’ve spent with Him on the road to Emmaus, and they’re still clueless.)
When they got to where they were going, they asked their new friend– begged Him, actually– to share a meal with them, and He agrees.
What He does next should sound very familiar, especially if you were in church on Maundy Thursday a few weeks ago and paid attention to the readings: He takes bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to those with whom He is eating.
Finally– finally!— they get it! Their eyes are opened and they realize who it is that they’ve been walking and talking with all this time.
(As my dad likes to say when he finds something he’s been looking for all day, only to realize it was “hiding” in plain sight: “It was right under my nose; if it was a snake, it woulda bit me!)
Something about this familiar action– the breaking, blessing, and giving of the bread– jogs their memory. They realize that Jesus has been in their midst all along.
Sometimes our eyes are covered– by shame, by anxiety, by heartache, by tragedy, whatever the case may be– and we wonder, “Is God really with me? Where is He in this situation? Where is He in this difficult season of my life?”
That’s a very real part of the Christian experience. It happened to Cleopas and his friend, it happens to me, and I bet it has happened to you, too.
In fact, there’s probably someone reading this who’s going through that right now.
Sometimes things get so dark that all we have have to cling to is that hope — that “object permanence” thing that my friend Katie was talking about– the knowledge that God is there even when we cannot see Him.
When we find ourselves blinded by our circumstances, by our past, by our fears, by our pain, and unable to see God, what we have is the faith that, one of these days, the blindfold is going to fall off and our eyes are going to be opened, and we will see that Jesus was with us all along– He never left our side, even when we couldn’t see Him. On that day, we’ll rejoice in the knowledge that we were never truly alone.
In the meantime, when we cannot see the road ahead or the One who walks beside us, may we walk by faith.
 κρατέω can actually mean a couple of different things, depending on how it’s used. In this context, it could mean “I prevent”. It also means “I arrest” or “I seize”– St. Luke used this same word in his Passion narrative when Jesus was arrested in the garden. It can also mean “I conquer”, or “I prevail over”, or “I gain the upper hand”, like in a military context.