“Hi Chris – good to see you – haven’t seen you in ages!”
There’s that moment again, when I stumble across someone who definitely know me but I can’t for the life of me remember who they are. No doubt you have experienced it as well. If not, well you are blessed with a great memory. This time I was in a Business Lounge close to Manchester Airport where people just pass through “nomadically” to do a few hours work, so I didn’t even have a place or context to help me remember. He carried on:
Him: I didn’t know you worked from these offices as well”
Me (struggling to place him): Uh – hi? Oh yes — that’s right.
Him: I’ve taken a permanent office upstairs. It’s a great deal. Works really well.
Me (desperately to myself: who is this person? … I know I will trick him into telling me something that helps me remember) ….”Um how’s the family?”
Him (surprised) What do you mean? …
Oops. I’ll finish this later. Suffice to say this inability to recognize someone or remember their name happens to me quite regularly. Maybe you too. If so, we can be encouraged to find that in the Easter accounts in the Bible there are several occasions where people don’t recognize …. Jesus! I mean that’s pretty bad right. So those of us who have terrible memories for names and faces can feel MUCH better (… I mean we’re talking about JESUS here!).
- First there’s that moving passage where Mary, heart-broken and looking for the dead body of Jesus comes across “a gardener” and asks him to tell her where the body is. Our gardener (Jesus) becomes known to Mary in a moment of beauty where he simply voices her name … “Mary” — in the way she has always known.
- Then there’s the incident on the lake towards the end of John. The disciples go fishing. After all, Jesus is dead — what else is there to do? But Jesus appears on the shore, and again, they don’t realise it’s him.
- And, possibly my favourite story in the Bible, there is the strange incident in the afternoon of that first Easter Day. Two friends are walking on the Emmaus Road — sad because Jesus is dead. But surprise surprise! – Jesus turns up to chat and walk along with them. And, in pantomime manner, we sit there shouting “IT’S JESUS!” but they don’t realise. They are, in the words of The Message Luke 24: “So thick-headed! So slow-hearted!”. Yes there’s mystery, intrigue, surprise, and lots of humour in this wonderful account!
We could also take a step back from Easter Sunday into Good Friday. There is that appalling moment where even God the Father refuses to “recognize” Jesus. The Father who has loved the Son since the beginning, and for eternity, withdraws recognition of his beloved Son. And the Son can only cry out, in a sense, “My Father, why can’t you even look at me?”. This moment is, thankfully, unique and does not last. But I wonder if the disfiguring of Jesus on the cross, physical,y and under the weight of all that is bad in this world, has something to do with people’s inability to recognize him later? I don’t know.
What about us?
But I do think we also can mistakenly not recognize God.
We can forget what Jesus looks like.
In all three New Testament cases above, people had a fixed view (Jesus isn’t here). They didn’t expect to see Jesus, so they didn’t. We too get used to only meeting Jesus at church or in our quiet times. In all the other places, we don’t expect to see Jesus … so we don’t. . Here are some ways he reveals himself to us – do you see him?
- In Creation: Paul tells us in Romans 1 that God has made himself known in his creation. We only need to open our eyes and see. From the early snowdrop in Spring to the burning reds of Autumn, God has added his signature to creation. Do your see Jesus in creation? Most often we pass by, our eyes glued to the pavement or, increasingly, our smartphone.
- In other believers: Jesus said that the Kingdom of God has already begin, here amongst us. … And Paul talks in Colossians 1 of “this secret which has been kept hidden for ages and generations, which is Christ in you the hope of glory”. Do you see Jesus in other believers? I think most often in church, we see some friends we stick to, and a whole lot of other people we would like to avoid.
- In strangers in need: The third way we can see Jesus is in the challenge of Matthew 25. “Lord when did we see you?” say his followers. Jesus replies” when you gave a drink, when you gave clothes, when you visited those who were most needy – you did it for me. That was me — didn’t you see me?”. Do we see Jesus in people who need our help?
You did it for me – that was me! … Didn’t you see me?
To be sure it’s hard to step aside from our day to day and remember to look for Jesus. To occasionally turn our face to God during the day and ask him to show us himself. To be prayerful at any time, not just praying at quiet time. But the above three ways can both challenge us and give us the opportunity to recognise God in the everyday. To allow him to walk with us, to show us something new.
And lastly, back to the (real) incident of the guy in the office:
… Him: (confused look) What do you mean?
Me (hasty retreat but no way now to back-peddle) … NO! I mean at home. How are things going?
Him (eyeing me suspiciously): Same old same old – we’re OK. Anyway how are things going for you – it’s Lymm Baptist Church isn’t it?
Me; (At last! This is someone from a previous church!): Oh great, really settling in, loads going on, … Yeah loads. Amazing! How about you – what’s going on at church? ….
It then becomes a systematic process of eliminating possibilities without stepping on any more grenades, till my dreadful memory was kick-started into remembering who this good man was. And I think I only appeared slightly ridiculous.
I only hope when I do get to Heaven I don’t look up dozily and mumble “… do I know you from somewhere ….”
This article was first published by Premier Christianity.
If you enjoyed this post try my re-telling of the Emmaus Road: There and Back Again.