Our Emmaus Road

By Bill Lang

Jenny and Bill Lang led worship today. Our service also welcomes the Tathra Singers with their “Songs of the Journey.” The theme of the service calls us to awareness and Jesus’ presence on our journey of life, and of our Emmaus experiences.

Seeing is believing?

There is a story – a true story as it happens – and one I have possibly told before, but one that illustrates the point that sometimes, seeing is not necessarily believing.

I was visiting my brother at Wangi Wangi and we took Jock the border collie for a walk by the lakeside. We met a chap coming the other way, who stopped to admire Jock and patted his (Jock’s) head. “Watch this,” I said, and threw a stick into the lake. Jock ran across the water, grabbed the stick and dropped it at my feet.

“That’s amazing,” said my new friend, “can you do that again?” So I threw the stick into the water, and Jock ran across the water, picked up the stick and brought it back. The man then said: “That is truly astonishing, your dog does not seem to know how to swim!”

Just seeing something does not mean you are fully informed and know what’s going on!

This was the experience of the disciples on the way to Emmaus. To see and be with Jesus was not enough for them to get the full picture.

Two disciples are taking the road to Emmaus, deep in conversation about the events of the past few days.  They seemed so intent on their memories they could see nothing but their own pain and disappointment of the expectations that seemed to die with Jesus on the Cross.  It was only a couple of days since the death of Jesus, and these disciples’ heads were spinning with wild rumours about the tomb and the disappearance of Jesus’ body.

These two are most likely heading out of town because they need a break from the tension of grief and the drama of the past couple of weeks; so they take a walk to the place called Emmaus, which means “warm springs,” maybe to sit in some hot water and rejuvenate their bodies and their spirits before going home. Maybe there have been times when you have felt just like that.

While they were walking and discussing together, Luke tells us that Jesus drew near and began to walk with them, but their own agendas made them oblivious to anything else.  Luke says that “their eyes were kept from recognising him.” The three had an intense conversation on the walk to Emmaus; the disciples reported to the stranger all that had happened in Jerusalem these last days, and they seemed astonished that he seemed oblivious to the drama acted out in Jerusalem. And they relate the events of the weekend – Jesus’ trial and execution and now the rumours about an empty tomb.

 the stranger responded intensely to the news. “O foolish ones and slow of heart to believe” . . . then he proceeded to interpret the scriptures to them -yet – they still didn’t recognise him! 

It takes sitting down to a meal together before their eyes are opened. Their eyes and hearts were opened to the much bigger story of the wonder and grace of God.  

A commentator on this passage asserts that Emmaus was not so much a place as a state of mind. I’m not too sure about that, but maybe looking at it that way might be helpful for us today. We might think about this state of mind is escape – escape from pain, loneliness, longing, sorrow, bewilderment, grief.  It is the place where we may spend much of our lives, the place in our lives where we are likely to say, “Why do these things have to happen to me?  Or, even, why does God let this happen to me?”  Is the Emmaus that we return to a place of escape?

The road to Emmaus is that place where we go to escape whatever it is we need to escape – It could be our work, or dealing with difficult people, or the demands of family, or fear or uncertainty over our health or the health of family or friends, or grief over life and love lost. 

It is into these moments of life that Jesus is likely to enter – when life is most real and inescapable. God’s grace does not usually come in a blaze of heavenly light with an angelic choir hovering around – God’s grace comes to us in the midst of the supper table or walking down the road, trying to make sense of life.  

This awakening – this awareness of God’s grace –  may fall in on us in the midst of the everyday and ordinary moments, in the quiet times when we struggle to understand, in the middle of conversations or on long walks.

The sacred moments of our lives are the everyday moments in which we can learn to open our spiritual eyes and see the redeeming grace of God moving along the road with us.  The road; the conversation; the meal; the friends; even the stranger –are all ordinary but made into a transformative moment.

And, when we think about it, life is filled with these moments when our hearts might burn within us. Grace abounds along the road of living; God comes to us and breaks through to us in the most common ways amid the most mundane  –  or  sometimes in breathtaking moments. But of course we need to be alert to these interventions.

The brief encounter between Jesus and his friends on the road to Emmaus is a reminder to us that in any moment, amid any experience, the resurrection may be experienced.  

For us to believe in the resurrection is not simply to put the literal idea into our minds and drag it out on Easter if we need it. It is not to have a piece of intellectual information or spiritual belief in our heads.  To believe in the resurrection is to believe that Jesus’ life continues, and he invites us to share his risen life with us.  

We can think of this story as a parable that exists within our own. There was a time about thirty years ago when life became very difficult for us as a family. It seemed that I was on a path so focused that I failed to see that I was oblivious to the needs of my family. It became painful, confusing, isolating and challenging for us as a family and for our friends who continued to love and support us. But we had an Emmaus experience. 

You may be aware of the Emmaus community that holds retreats – or walks – where there is opportunity to “have our eyes opened” – for renewal and transformation. You may have been one such a retreat.

Through this walk, and through prayer, and the embrace of people who loved me, my eyes were opened to see how I had closed myself off to those whom I loved, and closed myself off spiritually to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.   You could say, it was my experience of Metanoia.

For the two at Emmaus, the transformative act was the breaking of bread and in the prayer of thanks given over the bread. It was in this moment that these followers became aware that this was Jesus,

And having recognised Christ, they were filled with joy and excitement and they run back to Jerusalem to share their good news with the others.  

This passage in Luke’s gospel reminds us that we too come to recognise Christ, that we commune with him, especially whenever we offer prayer, over the breaking bread together, and sharing the cup.  

But also – as Jesus himself said – simply when two or three gather in his name he would be there – present – not just as we gather for worship, but in meetings, at home and work – in our working bees, council meetings, working at Red Dove, offering friendship at the Thursday group and whenever we share hospitality, sharing with the clients at Karralika, providing a bag of groceries to a person in need, in playing and practicing our music… in every instance that we gather in His name!  

But the story doesn’t end there – it is only the beginning – we are challenged through what we say and do – through how we live and through who we are – to witness to this presence of the risen Christ with us on our journey through life, so that others may also experience eyes opened to his presence and hearts inflamed by the Holy Spirit.  Let us pray then, that we will meet and respond to that challenge with the same excitement and joy as these two disciples as they rushed back to Jerusalem.

Loving God, may we have eyes and hearts open as we walk this journey called life. May we recognise you each day as our companion and guide. And may our lives be a parable of your love. In Jesus name we pray, AMEN.

Let’s sing “Lord Let me See”

Photo of Bill Lang

Written by Bill Lang

Bill Lang is the convenor of the communications group and also assists as the Assistant Secretary. He has been a regular preacher at TUC since he and Jenny joined the congregation in 1975. He is a presbytery representative, and a member of the Karralika outreach team and the Child Care Advisory Group.

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