Jesus the Emmaus Road Companion
Baptist ministers John Rackley and John Weaver have been working on a project called Faith Journey as Theology, exploring how their lived Christian lives shape their theology. They are sharing their explorations through a new, six part series called The Emmaus Road Experience.
John Weaver introduces the first piece
We are two Baptist ministers who have been working on a project about God, Faith and Story over the last four years. It is very much a work in progress, and this series of articles in The Baptist Times is a step along the road of many discussions and some changes of direction and emphasis.
We did not know each other well at the beginning, but we have grown in mutual respect and understanding of each other through our conversations. It all began with a willingness to talk to each other with an openness and trust.
For both of us the story of Jesus joining the two disciples leaving Jerusalem for Emmaus on the first Easter evening has been a deeply important text. In Luke 24:13-35 two disciples, which may have been Cleopas and his wife, were depressed, confused, and probably anxious as they walked away from Jerusalem. Jesus joins them that first Easter evening and asks, 'What are you discussing together as you walk along?' In other words, ‘what’s been going on, tell your story?’
Here are two people walking away from their hopes. They have each other’s company but they feel dejected and alone. They expect no one to join them. They are not travelling far but walk as if they are carrying heavy burdens. Their conversation is heavy with sorrow (17) and disappointment (21) and sheer bewilderment (22-24). As they walk, a stranger joins them - he may have caught up with them unnoticed as they were so engrossed in their own concerns.
In response to the stranger’s question they tell the story of Jesus. Their story is made up of the ministry of Jesus in word and action, the crucifixion that completed it, and the hope of resurrection, which filled that ministry with meaning. There is the empty grave, and the witness to that fact - the women have discovered the empty tomb, resulting in a mixture of fear, joy, confusion and disbelief. They have everything in place except a personal word from the living Christ, which would in turn bring the facts alive. He was even there with them, but still their hearts remained cold. For there is no Gospel without the experience of Jesus alive.
Their disillusion is a burden. They did not expect what had happened. They were not prepared for this change of direction. They had been sustained by someone they had come to know and trust. But now it was over. He had left the scene and they felt marginalised by former companions who were having a different experience. They did not know it, but it was all about to change. Jesus seeks to dispel their disillusionment through expounding the scriptures.
When they reach Emmaus the stranger gives the disciples the opportunity to invite him to stay. Jesus reveals himself at the meal. The action of taking and breaking the bread recalls Jesus’ action at the Last Supper and serves to identify Jesus to the disciples. The effect of the revelation leads the disciples to reflect on how they had felt when Jesus opened the scriptures – the risen Jesus was already making himself known to them as he spoke to them. Two factors create this epiphany: the conversation and interpretation of scripture; and the breaking of bread. We can conclude that in the reading of Scripture and in the breaking of bread the risen Lord will continue to be present, though unseen.
This is the story of the walk to Emmaus from the point of view of the two travellers. But there is another way of telling it – we watch and listen to Jesus. He joined their Easter Day walk. He matched his pace to theirs and listened to what they were saying. He was in no hurry to speak but simply took in what was going on. He knew them but he realised they had lost the ability to recognise him. So, he began to dismantle their self-absorption by a question. It was not a threatening question. He invited himself into their conversation by asking an obvious question, and as a result everything changed.
We have one story looked at from two perspectives. From the first it is about lost hopes and the grief of disillusionment. From the other it is about the companionship of the Risen Christ.
We want to go so far as to say that the Emmaus Road story encompasses the reality of the people’s experience of God through both Testaments.
Scripture describes the pathways of God among his people. They were a people who were often walking in the wrong direction and not able to recognise the presence of God with them. The pathways of God were walked by priests and outcasts, kings and prostitutes who carried within them a response to God that was only fully realised in the grace and truth of Jesus.
As he walked the road to Emmaus Jesus expounded the Old Testament scriptures which speak of Christ. For us the scriptures include the apostolic witness, which are a living testimony to the living Christ, his ministry and mission. Jesus’s words make sense of the seemingly meaningless jigsaw of events: ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked to us on the road, and opened the scriptures to us?’(32) This is the nub of the problem for many folk within our society, and even for some in our churches - we talk about joy, peace and the reality of the presence of Jesus in our lives, but there is no joy unless the Gospel facts become alive in our own personal experience of the living Lord Jesus. We each need to invite Jesus to transform and share our lives.
It is not a matter of belief in creeds, but living out our belief through faith. It is, as the Apostle James wrote: ‘faith if it is not accompanied by action, is dead’ (James 2:17 and see 2:14-19).
We are able to affirm that life has meaning, and that that meaning is to be found in Christ. It is his words to us that do this - just as his words made sense of the jigsaw of pieces that the women saw at the tomb and of the story that Cleopas tells on the road to Emmaus. Our testimony is of our own experience of Jesus accompanying us on the journey of faith. Each of us has a personal story to tell - a journey of faith: of ecstasy and pain; of loneliness and of the company of others; of doubts and of certainties. We must find ways of sharing these stories in our worship and fellowship together, and in the witness of our daily lives.
In the next article we will layout some of the principles of seeing our faith as a story of God’s activity in our life.
Baptist ministers John Rackley and John Weaver have been working for four years on their lived Christian lives shaping their theology, in a project entitled 'Faith Journey as Theology'. They first presented this at Theology Live at Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church in January 2019. From this meeting others have joined them in reflecting on faith journey as theology.
They are now at the stage of putting these discussions together. The six part series includes:
Jesus the Emmaus Road Companion
Faith, God and Story - the principles of faith as story
Travelling together - the story of our conversations
The unending conversation
The Emmaus story as a model for ministry
Faith Journey as Story: an invitation for self reflection
Image | Matthew Gruber | Creationswap
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