Art work by He Qi (www.heqigallery.com)
I was moved by the eerie silence I experienced as I stood alone in a field that was a part of the battlefield at Gettysburg. In my mind’s eye I could begin to imagine young men in blue and grey crouched down absorbing the seemingly endless barrages of cannon fire; sweating nervously as they awaited their next set of orders that would push them in a life and death struggle against one another. I could almost hear the old iron slugs slicing through the air and the cries of pain as a bullet or cannon shard found their target. As I stood in the midst of this ordinary looking field that had become the home to death, I could not help but think of the Stephen Crane’s description of a young man in his American classic The Red Badge of Courage. His central character is one who is barely more than a boy – who in the heat and confusion of battle slips away in fear and grief.
When I come to this story in Luke and we stumble upon two disciples heading out of Jerusalem on the way to Emmaus, I wonder if they might have been feeling the same kind of fear and grief that a battle broken solder might feel. They had experienced the incredible intensity of Jesus' last week in Jerusalem and had witnessed His brutal crucifixion. While the story of resurrection had begun to ripple among the disciples, these two had enough. They had endured all that they could endure. Now we find them slipping away – heading out of town – heading out of the hurt and confusion. Broken and broken hearted they head to Emmaus. The two began the day’s journey in the hours after the resurrection. Scholars and archeologist debate on exactly where Emmaus was. Since the 4th Century some have place it just on the edge of the hill country of Judah. The crusaders identified a second credible option that would have moved the two a different direction. But, candidly, I am not sure it would have mattered much which direction out of town they were heading, the key for the two – and for us – is they were heading out. They wanted out of Jerusalem and had walked away from the disciples huddling together in the Upper Room,
We find the two engaged in conversation in the heat of the day on the dusty road. You can almost see them walking and talking together. Their conversation was intently and intensely focused on what they had experienced together over the past few days. Luke tells us: They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. I would have loved to have heard what they had to say to each other. I wonder if they were talking about the Triumphant Entry; or maybe the cleansing of the Temple; or maybe what it was to watch the crowd turn on Jesus so quickly. Surely they were talking about the trials or the dramatic scene on Calvary. Perhaps they were talking about the resurrection stories reported from the women and affirmed by their friend. We cannot be sure what they were talking about at when the stranger appeared, but were still so caught up in their own experiences, their own grief, that they could not comprehend that Jesus was walking with them. Eugene Peterson’s interpretive translation, The Message, we hear the story this way; In the middle of their talk and questions, Jesus came up and walked along with them. But they were not able to recognize who he was. He asked, What's this you're discussing so intently as you walk along?" They just stood there, long-faced, like they had lost their best friend.
Then one of them, his name was Cleopas, said, "Are you the only one in Jerusalem who hasn't heard what's happened during the last few days?" Can you imagine what Jesus must have been thinking when they asked him this question? Did he have any idea what had been going on in Jerusalem? Of course he did. But Jesus was in the redemption business and these two were heading the wrong direction. He (said) ask them, "What has happened?"
The two proceeded to tell Jesus the whole story. They said, "The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene. He was a man of God, a prophet, dynamic in work and word, blessed by both God and all the people. Then our high priests and leaders betrayed him, got him sentenced to death, and crucified him. And we had our hopes up that he was the One, the One about to deliver Israel. And it is now the third day since it happened. But now some of our women have completely confused us. Early this morning they were at the tomb and couldn't find his body. They came back with the story that they had seen a vision of angels who said he was alive. Some of our friends went off to the tomb to check and found it empty just as the women said, but they didn't see Jesus." It is clear that in their grief and doubt they lost their way and walked away. Their hope had been shattered and their faith deeply wounded. They knew the story but missed its power.
Have you ever wondered why Jesus would appear to these two? We really have no idea who Cleopas was. We have to assume that the readers of Luke would have had some idea, but his identity has been lost to history. The second disciple is unnamed and unknown. But it seems that Jesus wants to reclaim and redeem all who called him Lord. He did not want anyone broken, broken hearted and lost on the way. Jesus speaks and redefines the experience of the two pulling together all the Scriptures that explained his death and resurrection. Their encounter on the road with a stranger is transformed into a time with the Savior. They came to the edge of the village where they were headed. He acted as if he were going on but they pressed him: "Stay and have supper with us. It's nearly evening; the day is done." So he went in with them. And here is what happened: He sat down at the table with them. Taking the bread, he blessed and broke and gave it to them. At that moment, open-eyed, wide-eyed, they recognized him. And then he disappeared. Back and forth they talked. "Didn't we feel on fire as he conversed with us on the road, as he opened up the Scriptures for us?"
In a moment reminiscent of the Last Supper they eyes were opened and their hearts burned. They had been restored. These two were the first two to encounter Jesus along the road between where they were and Emmaus. But, they are not the last. We too find our place on the road between where we are and Emmaus every time we walk way – when doubt overcomes faith – when frustration overcomes hope – when the baggage and fears from our past overcomes the future that God beckons us toward. We too find ourselves on the road between where we are and Emmaus –the question is whether we will be so consumed by our grief and doubt – our fears and agenda – that we miss Jesus walking in our midst?
Musical Element by Sanctuary Choir and Soloist Emmaus
Who is Jesus Christ? The question echoes down Emmaus Road. Dead or raised to life?
The same doubts spoken first so long ago when a stranger came to two men on their journey,
And it was not long before their broken hearts were burning
Somewhere between where you are and Emmaus a stranger wants to come and walk with you
Somewhere along the way your heart will be burning, drawn into the holy flame of truth.
Right now He may be a stranger to you. What will he be when your journey's through?
Somewhere between where you are and Emmaus the Savior wants to walk with you.
Some ask Him in to stay as night falls on their own Emmaus Road.
Some push Him away and never see the mystery unfold
But those who take to heart the word that has been spoken, as He breaks the bread of life their eyes will open.
The story of the two ends in dramatic fashion. The two disciples sprint back to the other disciples to spread the good news that it was true, that Jesus had risen just as He said, and that they knew this because of their own encounter on the road. They had followed Jesus – had walked away in grief and despair – and were reclaimed by Jesus and returned to their journey of faith and faithfulness.
Their story is our story. We are redeemed to follow; but there are moments when we are so clouded by our own experiences and emotions, so shaped by our own agendas and fears, that we lose focus. But, if we listen well and open our eyes we can have a fresh encounter with Jesus. Followship is a continuing journey of faith, faltering, and renewal; of an encounter on the road where Jesus meets us and helps us turn around and find our way back home to faith and following Him.
What will you do when you have your encounter on the road between where you are and Emmaus? Will you look up from your despair and doubt, your personal agendas and your expectations long enough to see the face of Jesus and to hear his voice? Will you set aside all of the distractions to claim a time at the table with him and hear him offer you the Bread of Life? What will you do when you find that you have faltered or failed? Will you let him turn you around and put you on the right path again? Somewhere between where you are and Emmaus the Savior wants to walk with you. Let us pray.