By Linda Rex
April 26, 2020, 3rd Sunday of Easter—It would be safe to say, I feel, that life for most of us is not what it used to be a year ago. As the specter of COVID-19 and its consequences approaches us more closely, touching family, friends, and acquaintances, I cannot help but wonder what life will be like in another six months or even a year. Who will still be with us? What will life be like for those who are survivors of this disease? Will anything go back to the way it was before?
Truly, change is not always a welcome event in our lives, especially when it is perceived as a negative one. We would prefer that life be filled with positive changes, making life better, fulfilling our expectations of success, prosperity, and comfort. Unfortunately, life doesn’t normally work that way. Very often, before success, prosperity and comfort can occur, we may go through struggle, suffering, and difficulty.
Two people who were traversing the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus over two thousand years ago were deep in conversation when they were joined by another traveler. When this man, who they thought was a pilgrim returning home from the festival, joined them, he asked them what they had been talking about. They were amazed that he was not aware of what had been the biggest story to come out of Jerusalem in a long time—Jesus of Nazareth, the man who was going to rescue the Jews from Roman oppression, had been crucified but they had found his tomb empty that morning.
The reality these travelers faced was that the oppressive Roman government they had hoped to finally be free of was still going to be their reality. The person they thought was Messiah wasn’t. The news of the empty tomb, brought by the women who weren’t (in their view) reliable witnesses, brought concern—did someone steal the body? What really happened?
The only thing they knew was that the life they had had with Jesus, of walking and talking with him, of seeing him do miracles and heal people, was gone. This person, who they thought was Messiah, would no longer be a part of their everyday life and they could not longer sit at his feet to be taught, to learn the truth about their heavenly Father and his love for them. They would miss the intimate fellowship they had experienced in his presence while he had been with them.
Jesus, when encountering them on the road, had an opportunity to see how these disciples were responding to the events which had occurred. He did not reveal his identity to them at that moment, but met them where they were so he could bring them where they needed to be in their understanding of what had happened. His admonition, that they were slow of heart to believe and understand the scriptures, must have caught them by surprise.
Slowing himself down to their pace, he began to explain to them that the events which had just occurred had been written about centuries before in the Hebrew scriptures. He took the time to help them to see that they had misunderstood the mission of the Messiah—he was to be a suffering servant not a conquering hero.
As they neared their destination, the day grew dark. These men offered this fellow traveler the culturally appropriate hospitality, inviting him to stay with them for the night. Joining them at their evening meal, Jesus took on the role of host and began to break the bread and bless it. How often had he done this with his disciples as they sat by the road in their travels or ate in someone’s home? There was such a familiarity at first, but then, in an instant—they knew. This was Jesus, present right there with them. And then he vanished.
Here they thought that everything they had hoped for was gone, never to be hoped for again. Rather than being at the mercy of an oppressive human government, they were part of an otherworldy dimension which involved a resurrected Messiah who could come and go as he willed! Was this what the others had experienced? Astonished and excited by their discovery, the two immediately grabbed their belongings, and in spite of the danger of traveling at night, headed straight for Jerusalem to see the other followers of Jesus. There they heard the testimonies of those who had seen and talked with the risen Lord.
The difference between how these two persons handled the events of the crucifixion and the empty tomb was determined by one simple thing—the presence of the living Lord Jesus Christ. It was in the fellowship of the breaking of bread that they were given the ability to see and recognize him for who he was—their risen Savior. Before, they were forlorn, believing that they were abandoned and forsaken; afterwards, they were excited and courageous, willing to take risks they might not otherwise have taken, because they knew he was still present and with them though they could not see him.
We can look at the events happening right now and believe that we are being abandoned to our fate. Not seeing beyond the physical events which are occurring, we can be caught in the belief that we have to solve this ourselves or that utter catastrophe is at our doors. Having lost a job, or lost a loved one, or even lost our retirement funds we had counted on, we find ourselves staring at a future without hope—what has happened to our Savior? Why is this happening? Who is at fault? Our minds are filled with questions or concerns, and our hearts overflow with fear, anxiety, anger, and a myriad of other toxic emotions.
What we need in the midst of all this is a real encounter with our living Lord. How are we slow to believe and understand all that was written about him? Have we resisted believing the testimonies of those who saw him live, die, and then rise again from the grave? Why is this? Perhaps what is missing is the joyful companionship with Jesus, in the breaking of bread—gathering around the table with him to eat the bread and drink the wine of communion. We need to hear the stories of those who have experienced the living Lord—whose lives were and are being transformed by his real presence in and with them by the Spirit.
Who do you have in your life who knows Jesus intimately and can walk the road with you, explaining and sharing the testimony of the written word of God and the living Word, Jesus Christ? Is there someone in your life who is struggling to understand where God is in all that is going on? Maybe you can slow down and join them on their road and walk them through the testimony of scripture. Whatever the case, the miracle which occurs in the breaking of bread, in the intimate fellowship of communion, is a gift of the Spirit straight from the hands of Jesus—and we want to share in this miracle by walking the road with Jesus and one another, both now and forever.
Abba, thank you for loving us so much that you sent your Son to bring us to yourself. Thank you, Jesus, for joining us on this road of life—that you never abandon us, but are always with us on the journey. Grant us the grace by your Spirit to ever invite you to join with us, to commune with us in our everyday life. Thank you for continuing to make all of our lives a conversation, a constant communion with you, Father, through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.
“And He said to them, ‘O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and 1with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures. … They began to relate their experiences on the road and how He was recognized by them in the breaking of the bread.” Luke 24:25–27, 35 NASB
See also Acts 2:14a, 36–41 and 1 Peter 1:17–23.
By Linda Rex
Thinking over a spiritual exercise I participated in recently with some fellow ministry leaders, I was reminded of an experience I had shortly before I graduated from college. I was asked out on a date by someone who attended my church.
Dating at college back then was something considered almost obligatory for guys who attended there, and usually involved inviting a girl to attend bible study or to attend worship services followed by lunch at the dining hall.
This particular date involved attending church services at the auditorium and as my date took my arm, I found myself in the position of leading him around for most of the morning. This wasn’t because he didn’t know what he was doing or where he wanted to go. It was because he couldn’t see. He was blind.
It was a beautiful day as I recall, so I made some effort to describe the beauty of the campus as we walked along. I led him, not by pushing him from behind nor by walking out in front of him, but by walking with him, alongside him, telling him moment by moment what he needed to know to safely transverse the walkway and the stairs, and to avoid falling in the reflection pool.
This is a good picture of what it means to walk with Jesus and to be led by the Holy Spirit.
In the story Luke tells of the two travelers walking along the road toward Emmaeus, we see that Jesus joined the group and was walking with them long before they were aware of his presence. When they did realize he was there, they didn’t recognize who he was. In fact, he chided them for their slowness of heart and lack of belief in who he was as their Messiah and Lord. Though their hearts knew who Jesus was, they did not recognize him in their external experience.
Later they invited him to abide with them, to stay with them where they were staying. He agreed, and joined with them in a meal. Interestingly, he took on the role of host and led the breaking of bread. It was in this act that the travelers’ eyes were opened and they saw Jesus for whom he really was.
In many ways this is what our walk with Jesus is like—Jesus walks with us as we go through life, whether we are aware of it or not. As we go down the road of life, there comes a time when we realize that we are not alone, but have a companion with us on the road.
As we hear and begin to understand the Word of life, the truth about who Jesus is as the God-man, both Lord and Savior, we begin to believe and to be immersed in him. We are baptized with his Spirit, experiencing in a real way a new vision, a new existence in him. We invite him to be our constant companion, to abide with us and in us, and he shares the communion of his real divine presence with us. He is revealed to us and we find continual renewal in the breaking of bread in an ongoing way—in the sharing of his divine life through the Eucharist.
Walking along the road of our daily existence, we can experience and know the real presence of Jesus in us and with us by the Holy Spirit. As we walk with Jesus, not ahead of him or behind him but alongside him, we hear the Spirit of Christ directing us, telling us our next steps, warning us of dangers, and describing to us the beauty of the spiritual realities we currently cannot physically see or experience in their fullness.
This divine companionship is a gift from the One who loves us with an everlasting love and does not want to be God without us. He has declared that we are his and he has determined live with us and in us forever. We do not travel this road of life alone. God as Father, Son and Spirit is in us, with us, for us. He is our Holy Companion and he offers us safe travel, warm fellowship and divine community forever.
Truly it is in you God that we find our only real companionship, friendship, and community. You are the One who is always present, whether we realize it or not, and who never ceases to love us and accept us. We need never fear or feel alone, for you are with us, in us and for us—committed to us forever. Thank you for this precious gift in Jesus. Amen.
“While they were talking and discussing, Jesus Himself approached and began traveling with them. But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him.” Luke 24:15-16
“For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” Romans 8:14