Week of March 31: What happens when we are pulled into the story?
By Dr. Hal Brady
For week of March 31
Scripture: Luke 24:13-21, 28-35
Maybe you are an amateur actor. A great play comes to your town and you don’t want to miss it. You purchase the best ticket possible. You fight traffic, pay a parking fee and struggle through the crowd to your seat. You settle back to be entertained. You are absolutely absorbed in the opening lines when the play unexpectedly takes a startling turn. Suddenly the spotlight focuses on you, and the leading actor motions you to come forward and take your place in the dramatic action.
Needless to say, you are shocked and afraid, but it could be an opportunity. Surely, the leading actor knows what he’s doing. Both hesitant and confident, you move forward and get into the action.
So it is when the Gospel of Jesus Christ takes hold of us—when we experience Christ alive and understand the true meaning of Easter. The Living Christ always beckons us to step forward and take our place in the divine dramatic action. The question before us today, and always, is how can we experience Christ and share in God’s existing new act. Perhaps we can gain insight from Luke’s Emmaus road story.
Two disciples were walking home to Emmaus on that first Easter Sunday afternoon. To be sure, their hopes and dreams had vanished. The one on whom they had penned their Messianic expectations had been horribly crucified. Their true feelings came out when later they were talking to the stranger and said, “We had hoped He was the one who would redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). “We had hoped He was the one…,” they said.
In addition, that very morning they had heard some astonishing news. Some women had journeyed to the tomb and had come back stating it was empty. Those same women had spoken of two angels who said that Jesus was alive. But nobody had seen Jesus, so in their disbelief these two disciples had headed home to Emmaus, a distance of some seven miles from Jerusalem.
Now, as these two disciples walked along the road and discussed the happenings of the previous days, we are told that Jesus drew near and began to walk with them. But unfortunately, as the writer of Luke reminds us, they didn’t recognize him. They saw him only as a stranger.
I simply cannot imagine a greater tragedy. The Living Lord of this universe is our company and we fail to recognize him. God in Christ in history, in the people and events of our lives, in our heart-hungers and we do not recognize him.
Of course, we do not always know when Jesus comes. His appearance in our lives is not caused by us, but our recognition of him when he comes can cause our restless lives to take on new meaning and purpose.
Here are a few possibilities as to how we might recognize Jesus when He comes.
Dismiss your pre-conceived notions
In speaking of these two disciples on the Emmaus road, Luke says that “they were prevented from recognizing him” (Luke 24:16). But could the reason for their blindness to Jesus have been their pre-conceived notions?
To me, the failure of these two disciples to recognize Jesus when he drew near is one of the strangest parts of the story. More than likely, they had been with Jesus for the better part of three years. They had watched him, listened to him, talked with him, studied with him, dined with him, learned from him and sought to follow him. Yet they didn’t recognize him. Why? Pre-conceived notions! It just might have been their pre-conceived notions of how God would or would not act.
Give priority to scripture
After listening to these two disciples’ jumbled report of their hope and despair, Jesus chides them, “You foolish people! Your dull minds keep you from believing all that the prophets talked about” (Luke 24:25).
So Jesus spoke to these travelers from the scripture. He went back through all the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah. He explained that all recent events were meant to happen in order that God might redeem God’s world.
Notice here, and this is extremely important! Jesus did not rebuke these disciples for not believing the resurrection; He rebuked them for their failure in accepting the scriptures.
Scholars are quick to remind us, however, that with those disciples of old, scripture in and of itself is not the “sacred presence.” Scripture is sacramental (conveys the reality or presence of God’s grace) in that it points beyond itself (the Word that is written) to sacred presence (the Word who is Jesus Christ).
Live out your redemption
As these travelers approach Emmaus, it is clear to the two disciples that this stranger intends to go further. So what do they do? They invite him to dinner.
As the late Dr. Robert McAfee Brown observed, this is the turning point! Rather than continuing to talk about redemption, they actually act it out. These two disciples engage in a redeeming deed. They invite a total stranger to share a meal.
It is only when these two disciples move from words to deeds, when they actually break bread together, that clarity really comes. Jesus was not known to them in the discussion on the road, but “He was known to them in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:35).
But no sooner had those two disciples recognized Jesus than He was gone. Surely, they must have longed for a longer period of fellowship with Him. But the scripture says, “He disappeared from their sight” (Luke 24:31). Stated simply, the Divine can never be truly apprehended and from my own longing and experience that recognition gives me comfort.
So, like those early disciples, we modern day followers move forward proclaiming the glorious message that Christ is alive, not with irrefutable proofs but in faith and trust in the Divine goodness of God.
Further Reflection: Invite class members to name several concrete ways they might live out their redemption.