Walking A Lonely Road
Have you ever been to Emmaus?
I do not mean literally, of course. I do not mean the specific village, which we are told in Scripture, was seven miles from the city of Jerusalem. In fact, you cannot go to the literal Emmaus. It has long since disappeared from existence. No, I’m talking today about the figurative Emmaus. You see, Emmaus is the place where we go when there is nowhere else to go, the place where we go to forget about the hurts and the disappointments that come our way in life. Frederick Buechner describes it this way, “Emmaus is wherever we go or whatever we do when life in this world becomes unbearable.” So have you ever been to Emmaus? I have. I would even go so far as to say that if you have lived for any length of time at all then at some time or another you have walked the lonely road to Emmaus. For Emmaus is the place to escape—the place to get away from it all—the place to go when hope is gone and dreams lie shattered in the dust.
That’s the way it was for the two disciples of Jesus who, after the death of the Master, headed off toward Emmaus. The previous week had seemed like a terrible nightmare. Event had followed event with frightening swiftness. There had been Christ’s entry in triumph into the Holy City. To all of them, it had seemed at last, their Messiah had come. Then, so swiftly, there had been woven around the Nazarene a net of intrigue, which would be drawn tighter and tighter with each passing day. There had been the night when Judas had turned on his heel and left the upper room to keep his treacherous rendezvous. There had been the stomach turning time in the Garden of Gethsemane when a quiet hour of prayer was interrupted by a squad of heavily armed soldiers who seized Jesus and took Him away. The rest was an agony of painful memories—the brutal scourging of Jesus, the blood-thirsty cries of the mob, the march to Golgotha, the sound of the hammer hitting the nail, the ravings and curses of the dying thief, the strange and eerie darkness, the shattering earthquake, and finally the death of the One they called Master. All of that happened on Friday. Now it was the first day of a new week, and they felt that they had to get away from it all. So these two disciples, Cleopas and his friend, set out for Emmaus. As they walked they talked, trying to bury an old hope and heal up from a new hurt. Jesus was dead—and with His death something within them had died as well. In fact, they were so focused upon their own grief and so engrossed in their own troubles that they did not really notice the stranger who suddenly joined them on the road. Did you catch that in the reading of the story? He was there. They spoke to Him, but they did not know who He was. Consequently, they almost missed Him. In fact, it wasn’t until they reached Emmaus and shared a meal with this stranger that they finally recognized Him. Maybe there was something in the way He gave thanks or something in the way He broke the bread or something that He said. We do not know precisely what it was, but suddenly these two disciples knew who the stranger was. It was Jesus Christ risen from the dead. When they recognized Him and felt the fiery power of His presence, suddenly hope came flooding back into their minds, their hearts, and their lives. They could say again, “It’s great to be alive.” I want to take that simple story and draw out its message for us today.
If I could say anything to anyone who feels that hope has died in his or her life, it would be that God is present in your life and mine.
We are not abandoned. I mentioned Frederick Buechner earlier. He is a well-known preacher, teacher, and writer. He has had, in many ways, a hard and difficult life, which began when he and his brother were only eight years old and heard the shot with which their beloved father took his own life. Buechner then describes his life as “nightmare after nightmare.” He says that his Christian experience has been full of what he calls, “Unanswerables.” Then having acknowledged this, he says, “When I confront the unanswerables, I remember that God doesn’t give us answers, He gives us Himself.” Frederick Buechner is right. No matter what happens in life, we are not abandoned. The Lord is with us. These are not just empty words or pious platitudes from me. I know of what I speak. Ten years ago when Trisha and I lost our 22-year old son, John David, in an automobile accident, we encountered the ultimate unanswerable in our life. We plumbed the depths of pain and heartache. We felt hope dying within us. But there we discovered the truth that sustains us still. God didn’t give us answers but He gave us Himself. Hear me then. No matter how bitter the disappointment, no matter how overwhelming the defeat, no matter how painful the setback, Jesus Himself draws near and walks with us just as He did with those disciples on the road to Emmaus. When we sense His presence with us, then hope is reborn within us and we can say again, “It’s great to be alive!”
If I could say anything today to anyone who feels that hope has died in his or her life, it would be that life does not end with death.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ declares that we are not only children of time but pilgrims toward eternity; not only creatures of a lifetime but sons and daughters of the everlasting God, created not to wither into dust and nothingness, but to be transformed from glory unto glory until, wonder of wonders, we become like Jesus and live with Him forever. The story is told about John Dewey known both for his brilliant educational theories and for his religious unbelief, but the story reveals the hunger of even the best and brightest of us for the hope that comes from Christ alone. You see, when John Dewey’s wife died, he went to a prominent minister in New York City to arrange for her funeral. The minister was understandably surprised. The minister said, “Dr. Dewey, your reservations about the Christian belief are well known. If I were to take part in your wife’s service, I would certainly have to speak of the love of God and the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” John Dewey replied, “Sir, that is why I have come to you.” You see, the prospect of his own death did not change Dewey’s heart, but the death of his beloved wife had drawn him at last to the burning hope which is in all of our hearts—the hope of life after death. It is that hope which, above all else, enables us to walk away from here today facing trials, temptations, ill health, sour bosses, failure, disappointment, tragedy, pain, disillusionment, everything else even including death, and, yet, still be able to say, “It’s great to be alive.”
Soren Kierkegaard once said, “Whenever you read the Bible, remember to say to yourself incessantly, ‘It’s talking to me. I am the one it’s speaking about.’” Today, dear friends, the Bible is talking to you and to me. What happened to the disciples as they walked the lonely road to Emmaus can happen to us now. In the breaking of bread at the table, they met the risen Christ and hope was reborn within them. Here at this table in the breaking of this bread so might we, and so might it be. Amen.