Monday, 9 May 2011

Emmaus Road Luke 24:13-35

Life has often been described as being like a journey, the language we use conjures up images of travelling.  We say things like, “Let's cross that bridge when we come to it, shall we?” or “My life has no direction at the moment,” or “I don’t’ know which way to turn!”, or “I’m at a crosswords in my life.”

Whenever you go on a journey, what makes the journey special are the people who accompany you on it, and the same is true about life.  What makes life special are the people that we meet along the way, the friends we make, the people who touch our lives. 

The story from our reading tonight, is a story of an encounter made on a journey, which was to change forever the lives of those involved. 


This reading takes place on the evening of Easter Sunday – the day of Jesus’ resurrection.  Two of Jesus’ disciples, of whom only one is mentioned by name – Cleopas, are travelling from Jerusalem to Emmaus, a journey of seven miles.


As I read this story, the first question it raises for me is why were these two disciples travelling to Emmaus? Think about it, it’s Easter Sunday, some of the disciples have come back with news that Jesus’ tomb is empty, and that Jesus has been seen alive.  You would think that given the circumstances, Jerusalem would be the place to be, with the other disciples, so why were they instead heading to Emmaus? 

It therefore seems to me that the road they were travelling on, is taking them in the wrong direction, away from the place where they should have been. 

The question that this leaves me with is what road am I travelling down at the moment.  What direction is my life taking, and am I heading in the direction God would want me to take?

As I look back over my life, and particularly as I’ve journey through life with God, I realise that at certain points I’ve taken wrong turnings in life, and have travelled along roads which have spiritually taken me away from where God wanted me to be. 

The reality is it is all too easy to do this.  I can think of Christian’s who’ve made really poor decisions, which has taken them away from where God wanted them to be.  Where they have given in to temptation, or been distracted by the world and as a result have turned away from God. 

There may be some here tonight for whom this is the case.  If so, I want to encourage and reassure you.  Because what we see from this reading, is that although these disciples were heading in the wrong direction, going away from the place they should have been, Jesus was walking alongside them. 

The point is even though we may turn our backs on God, or even abandon God altogether, he will never give up on us.  We might not always follow the right path, but God is with us none the less. 

And this is one of the promises that Jesus gave to us, that he will be with us, to the very end of time. 


As these two disciples travel along the road to Emmaus, they discuss all that had happened over the last few days, trying to make sense of everything they had seen and heard.  They have seen their friend Jesus killed in a most horrific fashion, and now three days later strange reports were circulating that Jesus’ tomb was empty, and that Jesus was alive.  

You would think that with the news circulating that Jesus has risen from the dead, they would have been full of excitement and wonderment, but in fact it is the total opposite.  They are full of confusion, doubt, questions, worry and anxiety. 

All of a sudden, Jesus appears alongside them on the road. 

It is a feature of the resurrection accounts that people don’t at first appear to recognise Jesus.  For example, Mary at the tomb mistakes Jesus for the gardener, before he calls her by name.  And these two disciples, also don’t recognise Jesus.  Why not?

To be honest, we can’t easily answer that question.  Maybe there was something different about Jesus’ appearance following his resurrection.  We know that he had a physical body, which people could touch and which bore the wounds of his crucifixion.  But he was also different, because it was a resurrected body, and Jesus could appear at will in locked rooms.  So may be his appearance had changed.

Or maybe the reason they couldn’t recognise Jesus was because they simply weren’t expecting to see him, and therefore weren’t looking for him. 

Maybe the reason we fail to recognise God’s presence with us, is that we not looking for him, or we’re not expecting to find him.  That doesn’t mean he isn’t there, but that we close our eyes to his presence, close our ears to his voice, or close our hearts to his love.

In 1 Kings 19 – after the prophet Elijah has had his run in with the prophets of Baal, he runs away and ends up in a cave.  As Elijah waits for God, we’re told that a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks, but God wasn’t in the wind.  After the wind there was an earthquake, but God was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake came a fire, but God was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.

Maybe that gentle whisper had been there all along, but Elijah had to learn to be still, to listen to that still small voice.  It was only when he stilled himself, and when he looked for God, that he actually recognised God’s presence with him, and heard God’s voice. 

The same is true for ourselves, if we want to recognise God’s presence with us, we actually need to still ourselves, and search for him.

Another reason why the two disciples may have failed to recognise Jesus was because they were so caught up in their own problems and fears.  Sometimes our worries and fears prevent us from seeing God at work in our lives, because our focus is on our worries rather than on God.  But even though there may be times in our lives when we don’t feel the presence of God, it doesn’t mean that he is not there.  Just as on a cloudy day, when we cannot see the sun, it doesn’t mean that the sun is not there, it is just hidden from our view.  So God is always with us, walking along side us, even if we are unaware of his presence.  God doesn’t abandon us, even when the path we are following becomes difficult, he is right with us until the end. 


As Jesus walks with the two disciples to Emmaus, he asks them a question.  “What are you discussing as you walk along?

I love the fact that Jesus takes time to find out what the disciples are talking about, and listens to them, which shows his love and compassion at work.  Jesus is concerned about what these two people have to say, and wants to find out from them what is on their hearts.

We have a lot to learn from the example of Jesus, especially when it comes to sharing our faith with others. 

There is Peanuts cartoon where Linus is holding up a banner that reads ‘Christ is the answer’, but underneath it Snoopy holds up a sign which says ‘What was the question?’ 

One of the things I hate the most is when someone asks me a question, but as I answer, I become aware that they are not listening to me, because they are not actually bothered in what I have to say, or because they are looking for an opportunity to cut into the conversation, to get over their point of view, rather hear me out. 

Sadly I’ve met some Christians who are like this when it comes to sharing their faith.  They are not really interested in listening to what the other person has to say, instead they are only interested in what they want to say.

But think what it is like, when someone takes the time to really listen to you.  You feel affirmed, respected, loved, and it helps build peoples sense of self esteem.  I’m involved with both Street Ministry & Street Pastors in Walsall, and see how positively people respond when you make the effort to really listening to them.  And when you take the time to listen to people, I find they are much more prepared to listen to you in return.


So Jesus, before he does anything else, listens to what they disciples have to say.  And Cleopas responds “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?

As the disciples tell this stranger walking with them everything that has happened.  They share with Jesus everything that is on their hearts, their pain, their confusion, their anger, their doubts and disappointments as well as their fear, and as they talk, Jesus listens. 

Just as Jesus asked these disciples, what is it you’re discussing, so he also invites us to share with him all that is going on in our lives, the good things as well as the more difficult things. 

The great thing is that God really is interested in what we have to say, and we don’t have to pretend with God, we can be totally open and honest with him.  God is interested in everything that is going on in our lives, even those things that we may consider mundane, or seemingly unimportant or trivial.  Jesus is intimately concerned about every aspect of our lives.


It is only after the disciples have finished speaking, that Jesus responds.  And because he’s taken the time to listen, he’s able to respond directly to the things they have shared with him. 

And how does Jesus reassure and help them?  He points them to what God says in the Bible. Luke tells us, "Jesus explained to them what was said about himself in all the Scriptures, beginning with the books of Moses and the writings of all the prophets".  Now that is one Bible study, I would have loved to have been part of!

These disciples, with their natural understanding of things, could only see the suffering of Christ as a defeat. They couldn’t have been further from the truth…for God had triumphed through the sufferings of Christ! 

Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, maybe we sometimes fail to understand how and why God acts the way he does, but like the disciples we need to be open to allow God to speak into our lives.  As the two disciples listened to Jesus, something began to change within them.  They could feel the despondency and sorrow they felt in their hearts change into understanding and hope as the "stranger" explained that Jesus' death was a part of God's great plan of salvation. 

The challenge for us is to learn to listen to what God may be saying to us, and this requires us to keep open the channels of communication with God, praying, reading our Bibles, listening to the advice and guidance of Christian friends, and listening to the nudges & prompts that God gives us.  If we do this, we can discover renewed hope and purpose, and direction for our journey.  


As the two disciples reach their destination, Jesus acts as if he is going further, but the two disciples invite him to stay and eat with them.  That decision to invite Jesus to stay with them was to lead to a life changing encounter, what would have happened if they hadn’t invited Jesus to stay?  The implication from the passage is that Jesus would have kept on going.  Consider what the consequences are for us if we miss out on encounters with the living Christ because we quench the “nudge” that inspires us to invite the living Christ into our lives and our circumstances. 

Jesus said, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.”  We have to make that invitation to Jesus, Jesus won’t force himself on us, we need to open the door to him. 


In the home of these two disciples, Jesus took the bread, blessed it and then proceeded to break it and share it. Suddenly the disciples’ eyes are opened and they recognize that this stranger, is in fact the risen Jesus. 

Why is Jesus recognized at this particular time?  Perhaps they see the nail marks in his hands as he grasps the bread to break it…or maybe it’s in the way that he intimately talks to his Father as he blessed the meal…or maybe it’s simply a matter of God’s timing.

The amazing thing to note here is that Jesus was recognized in the commonplace routine of everyday life. The breaking of bread was an everyday occurrence, yet it is in this ordinary mundane moment that the fullness of Jesus’ presence is most realized and recognized. 

The disciples were transformed by their encounter with the risen Jesus.  At the beginning of the talk I suggested that by going to Emmaus they were heading in the wrong direction.  But as soon as they recognised Jesus they were so overjoyed that they ran all the way back to Jerusalem to share this wonderful news with the other disciples.  If we are open to God I believe that we too can experience that same change, discovering renewed purpose, hope and joy in our lives, knowing that Jesus who has conquered death, shares our journey, bringing us new hope and faith. 

The early Christians were called the people of ‘The Way’, because they followed Jesus who is The Way, The Truth and The Life.  It’s a reminder that as we journey through life, we are called to walk with Jesus.  The road to Emmaus is a symbol of the Christian life. It enables us to see that the risen Lord gives hope and joy, and that we are not alone, unseen "stranger", the risen Jesus is walking with us.  As we walk with Jesus, our road will become a great highway of companionship, conversation, belief and hope.

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