Lets imagine for a moment that we are there that Sunday evening watching these two men, with their heads bent down walking in silence along a dusty and deserted road to a place seven miles from Jerusalem, a small hamlet called Emmaus.
These two men had once been disciples of Jesus and were amongst those he had gathered around him during his ministry. They walk with great sadness and now you can just about hear their hushed voices as they discuss what they had heard that morning on the disciples’ grapevine, the news that the women had reported to the Eleven of the empty tomb and the angels.
We now hear the name of one of them, Cleopas, his companion has been said to be none other than Luke himself, the author of this gospel and the empty house to which they were returning in Emmaus was possibly Luke’s home.
Suddenly another, a stranger who falls easily in step with them, joins them. As they walk they start to talk. It is Cleopas that is the first person to speak to Jesus about what happened and how shattered Jesus’ followers were after his crucifixion. They begin to tell their story so sadly to this stranger that you cannot help but feel moved by the scene as it unfolds.
They tell him how they had hoped that Israel would be liberated once for all from pagan domination, free to serve God in peace and holiness. They explain that’s why the crucifixion was so devastating to them. It wasn’t just that Jesus had been the bearer of their hopes but now he was dead and gone and they couldn’t understand why their redeemer didn’t defeat the pagans, but instead die at their hands.
They finish their story and silence falls, then the stranger begins to speak and as he does his words begin to comfort them, they find peace in them and they feel encouraged once more.
The story that you just heard is an age-old story, it’s the model of how many people come to faith. It begins with two men who feel broken, whose dreams have been shattered, who are facing a dark future because someone they’ve loved more than anyone else in the world has died a cruel death. They feel that promises have been broken, and all hope is lost.
Then God in his providence brings a stranger into their lives. As they make their journey away from all that has happened they fall into conversation with this stranger and as they walk together, they feel a growing openness towards him. They then share their story, their hurt and their fears with him. A relationship develops and they are encouraged and comforted by the stranger’s response to their situation, then as they reflect on the experience their eyes are opened and their savior is revealed. It’s a story of our relational God gathering His community by meeting people where they are on their journeys in life.
It’s the model Jesus used and it’s the model the early church used to build up the body of Christ.
A small group of us from Trinity recently began a yearlong course called Mission Shaped Ministry. The course is being run by a nationwide Anglican initiative called ‘Fresh expressions’. The course loos at finding new ways of doing church and fresh ways of sharing the gospel. We have started to hear stories of how people are doing their ministry in places other than church buildings – from pubs to coffee shops Gods people are taking Jesus to where the people are. The body of Christ is going out into the communities where they live and through the works and guidance of the spirit are helping people to meet Jesus in their own context, in places where they feel comfortable. They are literally taking the presence of God into parks and shopping centers, and church; or rather church community is taking a very different shape and looking very different to how we normally experience it.
They are following the early churches model of entering the worlds of those who they are called to serve and as they do so they are transforming communities by bringing people closer to Jesus in a way that is natural and comfortable to them.
God is a relational God, God is community and when people gather in His name there is community. He sends people out to find people in their despair and sadness, to walk alongside people, to share stories and to be his son in this broken world we live in.
This story is our model, as these two men walk away in despair Jesus pursues them, he listens to their stories and then he offers them words of comfort and encouragement. But this story is not just the story of discipleship, it’s a story of hope.
Luke’s story ends with joy and praise. The crucified Jesus has been resurrected and has ascended to heaven to take His place at God’s right hand just as the ancient prophets predicted. For the band of disciples, Easter joy has eclipsed Good Friday sorrow.
This ending point becomes the starting point for Luke’s sequel, known as the Acts of the Apostles. The story isn’t over; it’s just begun. The life and ministry of Jesus that Luke has just recounted is the mustard-seed stage of the kingdom of God that continues to grow and grow and grow.
Luke’s Gospel is about what Jesus began to do and teach, and Luke’s sequel is about what the risen Jesus continues to do and teach through His followers. Luke writes in hope that future believers will be taken up into this beautiful story that will never, ever end.
But human hope is such a delicate and fragile thing, and fear and lack of confidence can be so overwhelming and at times paralyzing. So when opportunities arise to walk alongside the stranger or friend and share our stories we often don’t take them because fear takes over. I’m sure that we have all suffered times in our lives when we have had the perfect opportunity to share a faith story and we don’t. This leaves us feeling hopeless, and when the next opportunity arises we don’t even try.
But we need to hold onto this story, because when we draw near those longing to hear the good news the spirit draws near, he draws near and gives us words to speak into the hearts of those he sends to walk with us, those he sends for us to hold and those he sends for us to speak his words of comfort into our lives and situations. He draws near but sometimes we don’t recongnise it and our eyes don’t allow us to see what is right in front of us.
Perhaps as the travellers made their weary way to Emmaus they were so focused on their defeat that when this stranger joins them they don’t realise that it is Jesus, right by their side in their moment of despair, ready to listen to their troubles ready to comfort them ready to walk alongside them in their troubles. They don’t see him because they are so wrapped up in their own situation and their own pain.
Sometimes we are so wrapped up in our own fears and anxieties we don’t see the opportunity that is right in front of us. The opportunity not only to share the gospel with someone but the opportunity to draw close to Jesus ourselves. Because when we share His story in our lives there He is also and you feel him so close you could almost touch him.
We can all take comfort from this story, because just like those two despondent disciples our eyes can also be opened. Because Jesus is also there with us in those journeys and conversations. He is the unseen "stranger", walking with us and, if we are willing to hear his voice, revealing himself through our stories. He is always there and he always will be there we just need to lift our heads, open our hearts and we will see and we will hear and we will have just the right words.
In this story there is a model to follow and there is a commission, for just as Jesus has been the hand that has pulled us out of the turbulent waters we too are expected to seek out the drowning and take them to dry land. Just as he has walked alongside us in our dark times to strengthen and comfort us we too are expected to do the same for his beloved.
When we look up, when we take his hand, when we acknowledge that Jesus is making this journey with us in our lives, we then have a responsibility to share this with others. There is no testimony without a test and in those tests and we must remember that part of our Christian walk is to share those testimonies with not only with those who do not yet believe but also with those who do, because this is the heart of Christian witness. Later in this story the Emmaus two share their testimony of their meeting with Jesus, with the other disciples and suddenly He is with them – their enthusiasm passion and pure joy is so intoxicating that Jesus is in the room with them. It really is that simple – when we tell our stories, when we share our testimonies when we bear witness to our faith then Jesus will be there with you. You don’t have to be able to explain a detailed theology, or be able to preach a sermon – you just have to tell your story, in your words, in your experience in your way as you walk along side someone and fall into step with them. You too can naturally share your journeys, how when you were walking along a road, struggling to understand or cope or make sense of your world, and you met Jesus. This is a commission, not just to the Emmaus two but to all of us; when you have seen God do something amazing in your life, share it! Because when you do amazing things happen, just like they did for the disciples on the Emmaus road when you share your story, Jesus appears. It’s such an encouraging passage, because as followers of Jesus we too can also have the same experience as these disciples, as we share our stories with others, Jesus will be there. The holy spirit will work through you - you will feel it at work and more importantly so will the person with whom you are sharing your story.