I can remember times when my hopes were… dashed against a stone. Something I really wanted to happen, didn’t. Something I was really counting on, fell through. Or worse, times when something did happen that changed all my hopes and dreams. This kind of disappointment comes to us in a wide variety of ways:
A high school senior has applied to her favorite college, but she doesn’t get accepted.
You’re in line for that promotion, but it doesn’t come your way.
After years of working, you reach retirement, only to receive a diagnosis that’s not good.
They fell in love, married, had two children…then something in the marriage died.
Hopes dashed against a stone. It’s an awful feeling of grief and loss, sometimes even anger and depression. Not a good place to be.
Luke tells us a couple of Jesus followers may be in that place. Their hopes had been dashed against a stone. What they thought was going to happen, didn’t happen. Jesus was crucified, dead and buried. That’s the end of it. They’ve thrown in the towel and headed home.
The road to Emmaus is a road on which any of us could find ourselves at any given time in our lives. It’s that place you go when it all didn’t work out the way you planned it. Emmaus is seven miles out from where you thought you were going to be. It’s not Jerusalem, the place where things are happening. It’s the place of confusion, bewilderment, disappointment and sadness. It’s the place where you talk to yourself and say things like “What went wrong?” “How did that happen?” “Where is God in all of this?” “What do I do know?”
The road to Emmaus is where you regroup, sort things out, grieve the loss of your dream. It’s the place where you come up with Plan B. The place where you have to dream again.
These two Jesus followers were going home after the crucifixion. They had yet to experience the risen Christ. How many people do you think are on that road today? They’re somewhere between disappointment and revelation, confusion and clarity, an ugly past and an exciting future.
This is where Jesus shows up! The resurrected Christ shows up on the road to Emmaus to be with just two disciples. It’s curious; Why not go back to Pilate or the Chief Priests? Why not give such valuable time to some large crowd? Why would Jesus intentionally show up here, on an isolated seven-mile stretch of road outside Jerusalem for just two people. Once he’s there, he doesn’t immediately reveal himself. What’s going on?
“What are you discussing with each other while you walk along.” (24:17a)
And Luke tells us:
“They stood still, looking sad.” (24:17b)
The best they can do is recount the history of what happened and Jesus lets them do it. One of the two, whose name was Cleopas, tells him the story.
“Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days? …Things about Jesus of Nazareth,… a prophet mighty in deed…how our chief priest and the leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” (24:18-21)
And Jesus doesn’t interrupt them. He doesn’t stop them and say,
“I know, I know. I’m him! I’m Jesus who was crucified and now I’m risen from the dead.”
Jesus doesn’t do that. He lets them go on, and they rush through the tale like word vomit. Out it comes in all its dashed hopes harshness.
Finally Jesus joins the conversation:
“O, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” (24: 25-26)
And beginning with Moses, he interpreted the scriptures to them. The resurrected Christ is a teacher in the places of our most profound sadness and disappointment. Christ brings hope where hope has died.
Emmaus is the place you go to lick your wounds, count your losses, don your rally caps and gather the troops and try to make sense out of all of it. There’s lots of people on the road to Emmaus. We all go there from time to time. The good news is that apparently Jesus goes there too!
So here’s the moment of revelation. As they came near the village Jesus walked of them, as if he were going on his way, but they basically begged him to stay with them as it was now evening on the day of resurrection. It had been a long day. So he goes to their home and at dinner, he takes bread, blessed it and breaks it. (This looks awfully familiar.) Then he gives it to them and…
“..their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.” (24:31)
The church has never forgotten this part of the story. We hang on verse 31 as if it were a gold brick. We want to know not only that this happened once to somebody -- but that it happens over and over again. There are moments of great sadness and despair on the road to Emmaus. It happens to all of us in different ways at different times, but what we want to know is that somehow Jesus comes to the table and our eyes are opened and our hearts begin to burn with his presence in our lives. That’s what we want to know, That’s what we all need to experience.
They said to each other;
“Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” (24:32)
And then they got up and traveled back over those seven miles into Jerusalem that evening, found the eleven disciples and the others who were gathered and told them what had happened on the road, “and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” (24:35)
Being a Christian doesn’t mean we aren’t going to face difficult times. Being a follower of Jesus doesn’t mean we aren’t going to have to do battle with all manner of tough things that weigh us down – health problems, financial problems, relational problems, disappointment as things turnout completely differently than we thought they were going to. Such times bring on emotional struggles, confusion, hurt and guilt.
Being a Christian doesn’t inoculate us from these things. We will all have our Emmaus road experience. But being a follower of Jesus means that as we walk down that road, we have a God who has promised to walk with us. God has promised that, and God never, never goes back on a promise.
We may be clueless about how God accomplishes God’s promise, we may not even recognize God when God walks right beside us. But the essence of the gospel is this: because of Jesus, God’s self walks beside us on on every Emmaus road we travel.
God is walking with you today.
© 2017 Gordon B. Mapes III, all rights reserved