May 4, 2014

On the Emmaus Road

Passage: Acts 2:14a, 36-41, Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19, 1 Peter 1:17-25, Luke 25:13-35
Service Type:

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem … That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together.

My wife once observed—perhaps borne of experience with her husband—that, generally speaking, men drive very differently when they are on their way to a Toronto Maple Leaf hockey game than, say, when they are on their way to see a performance at the ballet.

When you see people driving down the street do you ever wonder where they are going; what they are thinking about; what’s the point of their urgency or, alternately, pointless lack of direction? It is an interesting exercise to take a few moments someday to sit at a coffee shop and watch people as they walk by. For some you can see a purpose in their stride—it is evident that they need to get somewhere, they have somewhere to be. Others may seem to be wandering aimlessly—they look almost unsure of where to go, their gait belies what seems a despondent or confused mind or heart. Most of us have known both of these drives or walks. We have known times when we are excited to get to our destination, we have places to be, things to do. We have also known those other trips; not sure of where we are headed; not all that excited about going; where we are headed seems unfulfilling; little clue about where we are going or what we ought to do.

In our gospel lesson we observed the same two people walk the same road on the same day but the difference between the two trips couldn’t have been greater. The trip from Jerusalem to Emmaus is the pace of person who have little clue about where they are going or what they ought to do. The trip from Emmaus back to Jerusalem goes by in a flash; they know where they are going and are eager to share some startling, life-changing news. Is the road you are currently walking like their trip to Emmaus—trying to make sense of life? Is it like the trip back to Jerusalem—some good news has penetrated your life flooding existence itself with a sense of purposefulness? Maybe some combination of the two? I invite you to think with me about these two trips—what is it, or who is it that renders them so different.

1. Let us first walk with the two disciples on their way from Jerusalem to Emmaus. The events of the last week have been traumatic for Cleopas and his companion. Like traumas in our own lives, in the beginning they make us stagger. Not sure where we to go, so we go home; one of them lives in Emmaus. The unbelievable turn of events is all they can talk about. When Jesus comes alongside them and asks what they are talking about they are incredulous that there could be anyone leaving Jerusalem that didn’t know what had taken place. They had come to Jerusalem with such high hopes that Jesus was “the one.” They walk away, hopes dashed to pieces; “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” (Luke 24:21) Had hoped. Past tense. You can tell by their gait that they have lost hope; their stride lacks purpose unable to discern what could be next, stunned that they could have been so misled—that had been so certain that Jesus was the real deal. Nothing makes any sense. Confusion reigns.

“Some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” (Luke 24:22-24)

Over and over they rehearse the events as they walk along. Akin to when the investment scheme is exposed as a scam people pour over the details of their involvement to understand how they could have been that stupid. The news isn’t adding up yet; unfolding details conflict. The mood of disappointment that fills the air seems palpable.

“While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them”. (Luke 24:15) Please take careful note that it is in this moment of despair that Jesus shows up. He comes alongside to retrieve his own. He does not want his people destroyed by disappointment. Not only does the Saviour come near at the moment of giving up hope the story also says, “he went with them.” Our Lord never abandons us at such times. We simply need to recognize that he is near.

1. “… but their eyes were kept from recognizing him,” Luke tells us. We are not told what it was that prevented recognition that the one who came near was, in fact, Jesus. We could easily imagine that they had no anticipation that it might be Jesus. Dead people stay dead. The report of the missing body was just that; a missing body. When we are in moments of disappointment what prevents us from knowing that Jesus had drawn near; why don’t we recognize who it is?

There is a website called Coffitivity. When you log on you hear the sounds of a busy coffee shop. This coffee-shop soundtrack is purported to help “boost your workday creativity!” Coffitivity’s founders point to research that suggests when it comes to creative tasks, people concentrate and problem-solve better with about 70 decibels of ambient noise, rather than deafening silence. The research shows it's pretty hard to be creative in a quiet space. And a loud workplace can be frustrating and distracting. But, the mix of calm and commotion in an environment like a coffee shop is proven to be just what you need to get those creative juices flowing. The free soundtrack features whirring espresso machines, clanking plates and cutlery, flapping newspapers and the undiscernible dialogue of café patrons. (My problem is I can pick out the sound of the whirring espresso machine; my taste buds kick into action and a craving for caffeine becomes very discernable.)

I wonder about the ambient noise of life; if the ambient noise of my life prevents me from recognizing that Jesus walks beside me. Does the noise of my disappointments prevent me from recognizing who it is? And then there is all the noise I add to my life so I won’t get bored; to distract myself from the pains. Television, tunes, and toys. We seem surprised these two disciples on the Emmaus road didn’t see that it was the Jesus—the very one they were discussing—who was right in front of them! Are we willing to acknowledge that perhaps we are subject to the similar recognition challenge?

I was thinking about the theory with regard to human creativity behind this Coffitivity website. It implies that human productivity and concentration increases with a certain level of ambient noise; that we don’t do so well with silence. If I have it correct, it appears that we purposely add this noise in our environment to help us shut outside voices out; so that I might stay focussed on me and my task. These two disciples appear preoccupied with how the events of Jesus’ death impacted them—it crushed their hope. I wonder if the techniques I use for productivity in my work feeds into my self-preoccupation. Have I become so preoccupied with me that I can’t look long enough to see that it is Jesus with me or even pay attention to the fact that he has drawn alongside of me.

It is important to note that Jesus did not force his way into their home; he asks if he can join their conversation. Our Lord does not run roughshod over his people. He has the highest regard for our personhood. He doesn’t shake us to make us listen. Events may shake us. But he comes alongside. Perhaps we need to simply look up from ourselves and engage with him.

2. Do you know what your “Klout” score is? If you are like me you probably haven’t enough “Klout” to even register. The website Klout calculates your online influence according to your use of Facebook or Twitter or any of the other social media. In order to have “Klout” you need to be engaged in social media. In a New York Times essay What Would Plato Tweet? Rebecca Newberger Goldstein wonders if our social media obsession is just a search for personal meaning. “Our need to feel as if our lives matter is, as always, unabating”, writes Goldstein. “But the variations on the theistic approach no longer satisfy on the scale they once did, … Our new technologies have stepped in just when we most need them. (Klout) is only a tweet away.” Goldstein is certain that “mattering is our birthright” as humans.

I think Goldstein reads out culture accurately when she talks of our modern desire to matter. Mattering is how people describe what they feel has gone off the rails for us as humans. It is a dominate way we currently describe our sense that things could be better than they are; we speak of a felt need for significance, for mattering. Is it possible that this need to matter is a symptom of something deeper? Should we not ask whether this feeling that our lives ought to count—but somehow don’t—might be an outcome of a greater issue?

Think of how we pursue good things hoping they will make us feel significant, yet often leave us wanting. We think that if I have an education it will set us on a sure footing only to wonder before the ink in dry on the diploma if it was worthwhile; or we keep going back for more study certain that we simply didn’t pick the right programme yet. Perhaps it is to find a spouse and get married that will satisfy this need to matter. We discover that relationships are hard work and our spouse can’t be everything for us. Well maybe having children will bring what we seek and we find out the there is no guarantee with them either. We end up driving them nuts expecting their achievements will make us matter; and you know how that works out. Maybe it will be career, accomplishment, contribution. We go from one important thing to the next hoping they will deliver or deliver in some combination. If they did, why is society still so in angst about mattering?

These two disciples thought that ending oppression would be the thing that would fulfill their hope. The Messiah would send Rome packing. Indeed, the end of the bitterness and pain and brutality of oppression and occupation by an occupying army is a worthy pursuit. But when Jesus didn’t do it they were left empty and disappointed with him—and with God as well.

I wonder if we Christians expect that Jesus will deliver meaning; make all these worthwhile pursuits count. Education, career; marriage; raising children; health; if I just add Jesus to them then everything I hope them to be will emerge. And then reversal or tragedy or disappointment comes and we feel he let us down. We start down that road to Emmaus, so to speak.

At this moment when these disciples speak of their failed dream for a redeemed Israel; the pouring out from their hearts that hope they had for Jesus now crushed in the waked of his crucifixion; at this moment Jesus now has something to say. You can tell him of disappointments, yes even disappointment with him. Jesus wants to speak with us about what really pains us. He does not back away or sugar coat; no positive spin on events to say how Rome was in some way stripped of power—you just have to look at things in a particular way.

“Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.”

Apparently there is an enemy that is a greater threat to them—indeed to all of humanity—than the Roman occupation of their land. There is a need far deeper than their lack of freedom and national self-determination—as worthy as those things are. Our human need is far deeper than achieving a sense of significance; much more profound than living a life we perceive to matter. Jesus connects the prophetic dots in scripture and shows how it is that the Messiah must die; he dies for our sin. The human feels life to be meaningless because we are cut off from God by our sin.

What the believer finds in Jesus Christ is that One who integrates all of life. Jesus does not agree with our culture that we need is meaning; Jesus tells us we need him, we need his forgiveness sin; we need encounter with God. It isn’t that I have found that Jesus gives my life meaning as if he were some add-on to an otherwise capable self-existence. He tells me I am a sinner and he has borne the penalty for and cancelled the power of sin for me, through faith in him. I find great freedom in him—he is who I need.

Our world wants to talk about what we think will fix the issue. He wants us to come to the foot of the cross. To come to him is to know life and that eternally.

3. When they recognize Jesus—risen form the dead—everything changes. The trip back up the same road to Jerusalem seems to go at lightning speed; “That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:33) There is purpose in their step; the good news they are bursting to share now carries them on wings, as it were. This walk is filled with hope and possibility and direction.
Please note that Jesus meets with them there in that room as the disciples are reunited excitedly sharing that they has seen Jesus alive. He then comes among them. This is a picture of Christian worship ever since; as we gather in his name, gather to speak of him and rejoice in him, there he is in the midst.

Christian recording artist Carolyn Arends shared a unique Easter insight, passed along to her from her pastor. She writes: A couple years ago, during a jubilant Easter service, our pastor said something that stopped me in my mental tracks: "The world offers promises full of emptiness. But Easter offers emptiness full of promise." Empty cross, empty tomb, empty grave-clothes … all full of promise.

The resurrection of Jesus is God’s promise to us that what Jesus set out to do in giving his life for us has been achieved. He set out to redeem—not to give us meaning but because we already mean so much to him

This Emmaus-Jerusalem road—which way does it feel like you are headed? In either direction Jesus comes to assure us of his unrelenting love for us.