I’ve always been drawn to the Emmaus Road account (Luke 24:13-53) because it speaks of one of the most crippling of human experiences – disillusionment. The two disciples had betted their lives on Jesus. They had come to a point in their lives where they had truly believed He was the promised Messiah. And now Jesus was dead. So their faith in him was in the past tense. They “had” believed (v.21 ).
However they did recover their faith. And their joy (v.52). They did discover that Jesus had defeated death. Our last view of the two disciples is of them rejoicing with the disciples, a community that would soon be empowered by the Spirit and ministering recklessly. But their journey from tears to joy and purpose was not an automatic one. I believe their journey of faith is recorded for us so that we too may learn how to move from disillusionment to faith.
We shouldn’t be surprised that the initiative lay with God. Jesus took the initiative to approach them in their pain. He didn’t wait for them to get their act together before He ministered to them. Christianity is a record of God’s grace from beginning to end. That is why there is hope for all of us.
I believe that God is with us in the midst of our deepest pain. However I have also discovered, as the two disciples did, that our pain and our tears and our despair blind us to His healing presence. The disciples’ eyes were finally opened and they realized that not only was the Messiah alive, He was in their lives! But how were their eyes opened to Him?
Firstly they were in community. They had each other. We discover again and again, and often painfully, that it is not good for us to be alone. Yet real community continues to be elusive. Most of us are involved with many groups. But do you have anyone with whom you can share the deepest pains of your heart? Do you have people with whom you feel free enough to cry and rage if need be? (Ladies, check the ‘rage’ part, guys the ‘cry’ part.) If we are to have any hope of recognizing the presence of Christ in our lives we need real intimate community.
Next, the disciples met Christ in the Scriptures. We need to note that their encounter was not some cold, intellectual exercise. We are told their “hearts burned” as they read the Word. When was the last time your heart caught fire as you opened the Bible? I am sure they were not reading texts that they had not read before. The difference was that now the Living Word made the Written Word come alive for them.
Those of us in the evangelical tradition are very concerned that we interpret the Word correctly and rightly so. But I believe that that is not enough. Based on an accurate encounter of the Word, we need to have a personal encounter with the God who speaks through the Word. We will know that has happened when our “hearts burn”.
Finally, we are told that the disciples’ eyes were opened when they saw Jesus breaking bread. I have always been in awe that the Almighty God wants us to remember His earthly historical visitation through something as simple and as needed as the breaking of bread. However the Lord’s Supper/Holy Communion is celebrated in so many different ways in our various traditions. In some churches it is seen as some ceremony we tag on after the sermon, a poor cousin to the preaching of the Word. In others the receiving of the Communion is a mystical experience that happens at the altar.
Yet all the incidence of the Lord’s Supper in the early church took place in the context of a fellowship meal. I believe the Lord’s Supper is meant to be taken in a context that fleshes out our relationship with God and with each other. And that just doesn’t happen when it is part of a formal worship service. Yes, a key way that the presence of the hidden Christ is made know to us is through the Holy Communion. But I think we have a lot of rethinking to do of how to do Lord’s Supper if it is to regain that revelatory power.
Community, Scripture Reading, and Communion. Here are the three primary spiritual disciplines that help us to recognize the presence of the gracious, living God in our lives. They constitute the basic tool kit for pilgrims.
The Christmas season can be a very sad season. It can be a season of disillusionment. On one hand we are bombarded with constant reminders of the goodness of God. Yet the details of our lives may have very little evidence of that goodness. We are disillusioned with our jobs, our friends, our church, our government, our world, our lives, our God?. We had hoped for so many things.
Like the disciples on the Emmaus road, we may not realize that Jesus is walking with us in our weariness and pain, waiting to tell us that sin, death and hatred do not have the final word. We may not recognize the Jesus who is waiting to show us the real picture, that love, and life, and truth, and God will win the day.
I pray that you, and I, will find that community, that Scripture, that communion, that will open our eyes to the real picture, that God is truly Immanuel, God with us, and in that rediscovery, find fresh joy and purpose for the Advent season and the year ahead.
Your fellow pilgrim, SooInn