That Sunday afternoon, two of Jesus' disciples were walking away from Jerusalem. They had been sure Jesus was the prophet who would restore Israel to greatness, but now that he had died, they were totally discouraged. Numb with the shock of having their hopes taken away so violently, they could only walk home slowly, still in anguish. Suddenly a stranger appeared, perhaps coming up from behind, and overhearing their conversation. "What's
this you're discussing in such worried tones?" asked the stranger. They started telling him what they were thinking about Jesus, and how they didn't understand how a couple of women could say his tomb was empty. "You're kidding me!" responded the stranger. "Don't you understand what the scriptures say about the Messiah?" And he led those two befuddled Jesus-followers through all the Hebrew scriptures, showing the many ways the Anointed One had been described.
When they reached Emmaus, the two insisted the stranger stay with them, and as they began their evening meal, the way he blessed and broke the bread opened their eyes: It was Jesus! Just as they recognized him, he vanished. Their sorrow suddenly turned into joy (see Jeremiah 31:12-14). Jumping up, they ran full-tilt back to Jerusalem, arriving before the city gates closed for the night, and found the other disciples to tell them their good news. Just then Jesus appeared among them all, and demonstrated that he truly was alive. What a joyful reunion it was!
This story leads me to several principles:
--One of Jesus' delights, even now, must be to walk with us and reveal more of himself and his love to us. So it's important for us to seek out regular times we can walk with him, intentionally creating space to grow closer to Jesus.
--The resurrected Christ is found in community, not as an abstract principle of a resurrection, or individually. The early church found him together, witnessed his new life together, and worshiped him together. So must we.
--Walking in community with other believers is an important way we grow spiritually. Not only in times of crisis, but to study and pray together, to seek and search out more ways in which we still need to grow spiritually. Our time with each other and our mutual encouragement can be an important way for the Lord to open each of us up to more growth and healing.
--Some have discerned in the Emmaus story a pattern for worship: Gathering for worship, we experience the presence of Jesus, tell the Good News to one another, then share the bread and cup of the Lord before going back out, in the power of the Gospel we have rehearsed, to tell others the same good news. Worship rehearses and reinforces our true hope in Christ, and it's initiated by God, with our response being led by the Spirit's guidance.
Like those two disciples, we exist in the light of the risen Lord, even if we don't always recognize him there with us. Let's see if we can train our eyes to be more open to his presence!