It was a lonely walk from Jerusalem….
Some say that the other disciple walking with Cleophas in the evening to Emmaus was his wife. If so, that evening walk might be like the sort of thing that we are doing too these days, as a couple, our evening exercise during a lockdown.
The mood on the walk to Emmaus was pretty sombre.
Cloephas and his wife were walking the 7 miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus. It was towards evening on Easter afternoon. A lonely walk of disappointment. They knew well that all their dreams had been shattered by events totally out of their control. They were downcast at Easter.
They had hoped that Jesus who they knew to have been a prophet (verse 19) both in word and deed would be the one who would redeem Israel, who would free Israel from its spiritual exile from God; who would free Israel from captivity by Rome.
They speak to a mysterious stranger who has drawn alongside them on the way, who asks them what they are discussing and asks what has happened in Jerusalem.
Cleophas is incredulous….‘Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?’ ‘What things?’ asks the stranger
As the couple stood stock still, faces downcast, Cleophas explains to the stranger the events of Holy Week: their shattered dreams, but also their confusion, because (verse 22) they had heard reports that the tomb where Jesus had been buried was empty and, what’s more, some of the women of their party had ‘astounded them’ because they said that they had seen ‘a vision of angels saying that Jesus was alive’.
Can we read a little scepticism from Cleophas? Is he implying ‘well we cannot seriously believe what the women said to us’? But then some of the men (verse 24) ‘our companions’ went to the tomb and found it ‘just as the women had said’….’But they did not see Jesus’.
The whole idea of Jesus being alive stretches the two disciples’ credulity and so they are still downcast even though it is Easter Day!
Then the stranger who first gave the impression of not knowing anything about what was going on in Jerusalem, is quite critical of the two disciples (verse 25): ‘How foolish you are and slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! He is critical of their scepticism, ’Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’
Is that how Jesus feels about us when we just don’t get it?……‘How foolish you are!’
Here is the missing link that so many of us face: We hear the story of Easter and maybe we want to believe it, but we don’t take on its full significance. We may understand it, but we don’t feel it, we don’t experience Jesus’ presence and, because of that, we don’t act boldly today as if it is true and we fear to place all our hope on the truth that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead.
We are effectively walking through life, still downcast, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, even though Easter Day has dawned. Maybe, we are a bit sceptical. May be we just don’t get what others seem to be so confident about.
Just imagine it…..we are Jesus’ disciples who have witnessed his miracles his teaching and his crucifixion and Easter Day has happened, the resurrection has happened but we are still downcast!!! What a tragedy!
But, of course, for those of us who do feel his presence, who desperately want others to know him too, we see how the Master responds….as an example of how we should be too, with our neighbours. He walks along the road with the two disciples. He asks them what has happened in Jerusalem in the last few days, as if he were not the centre of what has happened: he asks them their experience, their testimony, how they interpret the events of Holy Week. And when they show some real recognition of who Jesus is and their legitimate hopes for redemption for Israel, when he can tell, by what they say, that anything he teaches will not be just pearls before swine. He takes them forward in their understanding by explaining from Scripture the significance of the events of Holy Week (verse 25). ‘How foolish you are and slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken.’ ‘Don’t you get it?’ he is saying…‘here it is…. it’s all in the prophets’. All throughout the Bible, it has been predicted that this is what had to happen to the Messiah.
Then, as they finally reach Emmaus, Jesus (still unrecognised) seems to be moving on further, but they press him (verse 29) to stay with them, for evening has come, it’s too dangerous to go on travelling, as the night draws in, they invite him in. Ironically, to keep him safe! Even though he has explained the truth of the gospel, still he does not press himself on them, they have to choose to ask him in, otherwise he would have passed by….and they might have missed him, because they did not recognise who he was, and then, as they have invited him in, as they have invited his presence into their lives, and as he breaks bread they recognise him……and he disappears from their sight.
Afterwards, as they look back on their encounter, they remember how their hearts were burning within them (verse 32) while he opened the scriptures to them……
In the eighteenth century, there was a very religious Anglican clergyman who set up while he was at Oxford a group called the ‘Holy Club’. He and his friends thought that by extreme self discipline in doing good and in fulfilling religious ritual, he could become right with God. He was called John Wesley.
But, in a storm at sea while he was travelling to Georgia, he was terrified and describes himself in his biography as having ‘a fair weather faith’, particularly, in comparison with Moravian Christians (even children), who seemed to show no fear of potential death at all.
On returning to England he, very reluctantly, went to a meeting of the Moravians in Aldersgate Street, where someone was reading Luther’s preface to St Paul’s letter to the Romans. He described afterwards how his heart felt ‘strangely warmed’.
This was the spiritual beginning to Methodism, which then swept across the country over the following decades, as Wesley galloped round the country preaching the gospel to everyone: to miners, to mill workers, in fact to everyone outside, inside, everywhere they would let him.
Such a similar experience to Cleophas and his wife, feeling their hearts burning within them, as the Scriptures were explained to them by Jesus on the Emmaus road!
Are we like those on the Emmaus Road? Knowing the story, even knowing its significance, but not knowing Jesus Christ risen from the dead? Are we downcast at Easter? Or do our hearts burn within us, as we read the gospel, as we listen to the word being explained? Is there a missing link; something that we know we should have….but it hasn’t quite happened….
If so, we need to invite him in….we need to invite his presence into our lives like Cleophas and his wife.
Firstly, we need to pray to him; to repent, to really beg for forgiveness, for the things we have done wrong in our lives, taking time to ask God to recall those things to us. And then, to ask him into our lives to live in us by the Holy Spirit.
Lockdown, is not a time to be downcast. It is a time for our hearts to be warmed by his presence, when else are we going to ask him into our lives, as things go back to normal, as life gets more and more busy?
If not now, when?
How will we know that he has come in to our hearts? We may feel a sense of excitement, but certainly we will be BOLD: We won’t care what others think of us and we will want to tell others….following Jesus’ gentle example.
Cleophas and his wife (verse 33) rush back to Jerusalem, despite all the dangers of travelling at night, to tell their friends that they know that Jesus Christ is risen on Easter Day.
Let us use lockdown to ask for his presence to come into our lives so that we can know that Jesus Christ is risen on Easter Day!
Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, 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.” Then he said to them, “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.
As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Lk 24:13–35). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.