Sunday, May 11, 2014

Fourth Sunday of Easter: On the Road to Emmaus

Reading for this Sunday:  Psalm 116, Luke 24:13-35

It felt like walking uphill.

The two on the road may have been walking downhill from Jerusalem to Emmaus below.  But in their hearts it felt like an uphill climb.   They were tired.  The events of the last three days had exhausted them. Despair and confusion sapped their strength.  Hopelessness filled their hearts.

They had hoped. 

But their hope was gone, died on the cross, was buried in the grave.  And that grave was empty – whatever that meant.

There’s nothing left for them but this long uphill walk back home.

 Can’t you just imagine being on that road?

Trudging along, quiet at first, each one deep in their thoughts. Then slowly they start to talk, trying to make sense of it all.

“But… I really thought… I was so certain… Wasn’t he the Messiah?”

“I thought so too. But how could God’s Messiah.die before he did what he came to do? We’re still under Roman rule.”\

“Could we have been mistaken?”

They had hoped.

Their how was especially poignant, their despair exceptionally crushing.  You see these two were from Emmaus. And people from Emmaus had more cause than most to hope for Messias. Emmaus had a glorious history as a center for Maccabean revolt, and strategic location for generals defying the Roman Empire. Which meant that by 4 BC, shortly after Herod the Great’s death, the Roman army had enough of Emmaus and burned it to the ground.

Perhaps they were old enough to remember that day. Certainly they would’ve heard stories about that day of destruction, and the work to rebuild. 

Imagine being a resident of Emmaus. They had hoped Jesus would be the one to redeem Israel - would be the one to free them from Roman rule. It was a bright white hot hope their hearts.

Imagine now the deep despair of crushed hopes as Jesus hangs on the cross and is laid in the tomb.

They had hoped.

Now hope was gone.

All that is left is the long walk home.

Enter the stranger on the road. He asked to join them, to walk with them for a while.  And they have absolutely no idea who he is.  In this uphill journey they are blinded by the mountain of despair in front of them

“What were you talking about when I came up to you?” he asks.

They can’t believe it. How could he not know? The enormity of their grief, their despair is so overwhelmed them that it consumes them.  Surely the whole world is talking about the events of the last three days! How could he not know these things?

“What things?”  With two simple words Jesus invites them to share their grief and despair.  And it all pours out – their dashed hopes, their pain, their confusion.

Jesus gently leads them through the Scripture, reminding them of things they know, showing them that they don’t need to despair just because the future they imagined was not the same as the future God has for them.  

Plans to give them a future and a hope. That’s what Jeremiah said to the children of Israel in exile:  Jeremiah 29:11 For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.

As they listen to Jesus, their hearts begin to burn within them. That’s hope being born again, rising from the grave.

It’s late when they reach Emmaus - starting to get dark. It’s much too dangerous for a lone man to be walking the roads. They invite him in.

Jesus comes in and they sit at the table. When he breaks the bread, their eyes are opened.  They know him and hope springs alive.

Just as they recognize him, Jesus disappears. But the hope remains.

Despite the lateness of the hour, the darkness and danger outside, they can’t wait.  They run back to the disciples –  seven miles – uphill -  in the dark.  It’s news too good to wait.  Too good to keep to themselves

They have hope.

The hope of the resurrection.  The promise of the empty tomb. God's yes to life.

I’ll admit – it’s exactly this part of the story that I’ve wrestled with the most this week. I understand the road to Emmaus. I’ve been there. I’ve walked that road where despair and confusion sap my strength. Where hope lays cold in the grave, three days dead. 

Have you been there?

Sure you have.

I don’t know about you, but it’s in those moments, that I want something more than the promise of resurrection.

Because those are the moments when promises ring hollow, and despair swallows all hope.

So I’ve pondered this week – what does resurrection look like today?  How do we see Jesus revealed in the breaking of the bread?  What would he say to us on the road?

And I think the something more I’ve been missing is that Jesus meets us on the road in the first place.

Jesus meets us on our road to nowhere – our own Emmaus of no hope. God cares too much about us to let us walk that road alone.

Jesus walks with us on the road to Emmaus, that road through the valley of the shadow of death - as long as it takes.

Sometimes it seems like it’s a long, uphill climb.  Jesus walks with us and comforts us with the word.  Sometimes he has to talk a long time before we begin to hear what he says. Sometimes it takes a long time before the despair and confusion begin to lift, and our hearts begin to feel alive again and hope burns gently within us.

Sometimes it takes us a long time to let go of the future we thought we had, that future that will never be, so we can see that future and hope God has planned for us.

However long it takes, Jesus is there, slowing revealing himself in the Word, and the bread and the wine, in the invitation to share our grief and despair. 

You see those two on the road to Emmaus didn’t experience the resurrection – they didn’t recognize Jesus – until the end of their journey, until they were gathered around the bread and wine, until they had shared their burdens with another, until they had experienced companionship on the road.  Until they went back to Jerusalem to the gathered community, and Jesus appeared among them.

Just like the two on the road to Emmaus didn’t experience resurrection until the other side of despair and that deep valley, often we don’t experience resurrection until we too can look back on the valley behind us.

In the meantime, we know Jesus walks with us.

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