Walking the Road to Emmaus

What would it be like to invest every minute of every day for three years in something, only to watch it all collapse before your very eyes? Have you ever given yourself to a higher cause, a noble venture, or a key initiative, only to see someone or some group come along and eliminate everything you have done? Have you ever had that empty, helpless feeling that something you care very deeply about is falling apart and you are absolutely helpless to prevent it from happening?

I think that is how the first Easter Sunday might have begun for the two disciples who were walking on the road to Emmaus. They had walked away from family, friends, and jobs to follow Jesus of Nazareth. They had spent every waking minute of every day for the last three years following Jesus wherever He went. But now, He was gone. He had been crucified, killed, and buried. Their opponents put together a plan to remove Jesus and they had succeeded. He was forcefully taken from them and they had been powerless to stop it. Everything they had worked on for the last three years had been washed away like a sandcastle that falls apart when the wave comes onto the shore. They had nothing to show for their lives. Nothing from the last three years was left standing, except for that empty, sinking feeling inside that asked, “What went wrong? What happened? What the heck do we do now?”

As we walk through Holy Week this week, we are reminded of how hard the Christian life can be. We are reminded how fragile life is and how quickly the tide can turn. We live in a world of discontinuous change, where things can change dramatically and overwhelmingly with only a moment’s notice. We don’t always see it coming. Much of life is beyond our control. And we are pushed into a reactive position, trying to catch up to life-altering events that we didn’t anticipate. We wonder if there is any security in our world anymore? In the last 50 years, some North Americans have been able to achieve job security, financial security, and retirement security. So much of that seems to be disappearing today, like water slipping through our fingers. Where can we find security these days? How can we live in hope?

As the two disciples walked down the road to Emmaus, Jesus joined them, although they weren’t able to recognize Him at first. He asked them why they were so downcast. They asked him if he was the only one in the area who hadn’t heard of the events of the recent days, sounding like people who had just had the wind knocked out of them. They told him that they had hoped that this Jesus of Nazareth would be the one to set them free. But, then they watched all of their hopes evaporate on the cross. “Had hoped” is past tense. They used to have hope. Their hope had passed. It was behind them. Hope was not a part of their present tense and they couldn’t see how hope could ever be a part of their future tense. But, they were mistaken.

As Jesus began to walk them through the scriptures and open their eyes once again to the teachings of the law and the prophets, a miracle began to happen. Hope began to return. Their cold hearts were warmed. They began to walk with a spring in their step. The words of the scriptures began to lift them out of their depression in a way that they did not think was possible. When finally their eyes were opened and they recognized Jesus, their whole attitude changed.

They had failed to understand what God was up to in their world. They didn’t understand how God could allow the tide of public opinion to turn against Jesus in just one week. They didn’t understand what God was doing as Jesus hung on the cross and died. They didn’t realize what God was doing on Saturday, as they mourned and grieved the loss of a loved one Who had meant the world to them. But, now their eyes were opened to a new reality that God was birthing right in front of them. It was not something they could have even begun to imagine just two days before. They had no frame of reference, no paradigm, or no previous experience to compare it to. They could not have anticipated what God was going to do next. All they could do was watch and marvel as it began to unfold.

Easter is the key, pivotal day in all of Christian history. It is the day that changed everything that has happened since. Easter is a day that fills us with hope and joy. But, it is born out of great pain and discouragement. It is a hope that replaces our hopelessness. Our sorrow is turned to joy. Our discouragement is replaced with a new imagination. And we realize that God can redeem every single person who responds to His Son Jesus Christ. It’s not about what we can accomplish. It’s because of what we are unable to accomplish. Sometimes all we can do is keep our eyes open, keep our ears open, and discover what God is up to. God can redeem every broken situation, every broken relationship, and every broken heart, if we will walk the road with Jesus and listen as He explains life to us in new ways.

The joy of Easter does not come to us out of a vacuum. It is not an unrealistic, pollyanna, “let’s just hope things will get better” holiday. The good news of Easter is rooted in the real, ordinary, everyday world that we all live in. It emerges in the places we do not expect. It redeems situations that we believe are unredeemable. It is a deep, profound change that can impact us for the rest of our lives. Every one of us can experience Easter. It is the good news that we did not think was possible. Hallelujah.

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