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  • Writer's pictureRalph Felzer


Art by Mike Moyers


I hope something from this past Sunday's message on The Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-36, ESV) has stayed with you–it certainly has stayed with me.  Because there's so much in this passage that's worth lingering over, I feel led to share the key thoughts from that passage in this week's Waybread.  Because it's such a beautiful story, I encourage you to read the whole passage in its entirety first, but I break it into smaller sections below.  I'd love to hear your thoughts and comments in the space way down at the bottom of this page if you're so inclined.


Several years ago, I read this little book by Henri Nouwen about this passage called With Burning Hearts.  The structure he uses in his book is the structure I'll follow here:

Loss, Presence, Invitation, Communion, Mission 

LOSS—Lk. 24:13-21

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 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?” 19 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, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 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

With all the hopes and expectations they had built up around Jesus, they are utterly devastated by His death.  And so, as they walk these seven miles to Emmaus, they are in no hurry.  Loss weights heavily on their souls–and what's the rush anyway?  What's the point of anything anymore?  Even under normal circumstances it would take hours, likely most of a day in their case, to walk this distance.  

There are all kinds of losses, aren't there?  Loss of a friendship, loss of a loved one, job losses, financial losses.  Many of us have been what Sandy and I call "gob-smacked" like this lately.  We've held a couple prayer services lately precisely because we know full well that we face all sorts of losses these days–mainly health issues, but not just health by any means.  I've shared before about Sandy's parents beginning to fail as they head deeper into their 90s.  She's experiencing a long, slow loss in this–the loss hasn't even fully come to pass yet, but the loss is no less real.  Some losses shake us to the very core of our being.  That's what these two men are facing.  They have lost a dear friend, a loved one even.  In some ways you might even say they've lost a family member, since they had come to know one another so intimately.  The bottom line is that they have been utterly blind-sided, gob-smacked by his death.  They expected this whole Jesus-Revolution to lead to an entirely different place.  They expected life and purpose to turn out one way, but now they're faced with the recognition that life is not what they hoped or expected it would be.  Can you identify with them?  I think we all can.  I want to encourage you to stop for a moment and consider:  "Where have I come face to face with loss lately?"

PRESENCE–Lk. 24:22-27  

22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 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. 24 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! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

In their dejection, Jesus Himself comes alongside them and yet is completely un-recognized.  God is right there with them and they have no idea!  They see a stranger but they don't see Jesus!  This stranger explains their situation and unpacks all the Scriptures that have pointed to Him over the centuries, but they still don't see Jesus!  I can’t help but wonder how often this happens to us.   

I wonder how often Jesus has come up to us in our loss or disappointment or sorrow or discouragement and we turned away, perhaps not even wanting to be consoled or comforted, preferring just to steep in our grief for a while.  And what does He say?  "How foolish you are and how slow of heart to believe…."  They're grieving, they're mourning a great loss, and this stranger is telling them how foolish they're being!  Now, Jesus isn't being callous here.  He's not telling them not to grieve, He's telling them they've missed the point.  They aren't seeing their loss clearly.  Their loss is all too real, but they don't see it for what it truly is.  The stranger tells them that if they knew God's promises as spelled out in the prophets, they would understand.  And yet all the while something is stirring in them, something mysterious and exciting, but they can’t put their finger on it—in all likelihood, they don't even recognize it at the moment.  In interpreting the Scriptures to them, the vaguest sense of possibility, of hope I think, begins to stir in them.  We see this unfold in the next part of our story.

So here again, I invite you to consider your own situation.  Are you, even now perhaps, sensing any possibility stirring in you, any chance of hope on the other side of your dark sadness? 

INVITATION–Lk. 24:28-29  

28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 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. 

Jesus acts as if He's going to continue on His own journey, but the two disciples, raised to value hospitality to strangers, invite Him to come in and stay with them, since they've been so long on the road.  I expect we would probably have let him go on, and then tell the others later about this great guy we met on the road.  All the while, comfort and compassion in our grief and sorrow and suffering was right there all the time–and we didn't know it!  We anguish over a situation we're facing and ask, "Where is God in this?"  And like these two, we say, "Apparently, nowhere."  "Apparently."  It seems to be so, it looks like He's nowhere to be found.  But I want to encourage you to consider the possibility that He's not absent after all–He's actually very present, only in ways you can't see yet.

So where is the "stranger" in your own life?  The stranger might be a person.  It might be somebody you see every day.  It might be even be somebody you usually try to avoid, or who gets under your skin.  A musician I used to listen to a lot but haven't heard much from lately, Michael Card, once wrote a song about Jesus showing up for us in His "distressing disguise"–that is, our neighbor.  I wonder if Jesus is nearer to us than we think He is.

So are you willing to ask the stranger in?  Evening is near and the road's been long.  What is going on in your life that is painful and difficult to understand?  Take a moment—it might be right there on the surface.  You might just be "sucking it up" or "soldiering on," or perhaps you've just resigned yourself to it: "This is just the way it is, and just the way it's going to be–deal with it."  There is a place for that–it's called patience; but there's also a kind of "giving up"; it used to be called sloth, which we think of as laziness, but it's really this giving up, this quiet resignation to things we ought to be fighting through.

Let me encourage you to take that load, that grief, even that resignation, and make it your worship offering.  Come into the presence of God and release it to Him.  This is perhaps the sole reason you're at worship at all is to let it go in His presence.  It can be your gift this very day, your morning sacrifice.

Why not invite Him in, like these two travelers do?  In the quiet of your heart right now, invite Him in to the very center of that crisis of yours.  And then watch–something awesome is about to happen!

COMMUNION–Lk. 24:30-32  

30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, and he vanished from their sight. 32 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?” 

Notice the beautiful rhythm of Jesus' practice: Taken, Blessed, Broken, Given.  Everywhere this rhythm, this marvelous, mysterious, holy rhythm.  This marvelous, mysterious rhythm of a life lived in the middle places of grief and sickness and disappointment, disillusionment.  The next time you take Communion (or The Lord's Table or the Eucharist), let your inner eyes of faith see Jesus sitting right there in the front of the room.  We're all of us just sharing a simple meal together.  No rich, lavish courses or plates brimming over in abundance or flaming desserts,  just simple bread taken, blessed, broken and shared.  And this is us, friends.  Let Him take you into His care, bless you, receive your brokenness, and send you into the world, a gift to those others who are still wounded and burdened.  You can become, like Him, a wounded healer, blessed to be a blessing.  

MISSION—Lk. 24:33-35  

33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem, and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35 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 Eucharist in the Catholic Church used to end with the Latin phrase, “Ite Missa est,” which means, “Go, this is your mission.”  What is?  This marvelous, mysterious, holy rhythm of Loss, Presence, Invitation, Communion and Mission.  This, that Jesus had said was ALL that was written in the Scriptures: that “the Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations beginning at Jerusalem.”  

This is our mission too.  But we don’t go because it’s just a good idea, because it’s selfless or helpful or kind.  That may all true, but it’s not why we go.  We go because we’re sent.  We go bearing life and hope and joy.  These men don't wait till morning when they'll be well-rested.  No, they practically run back to the others!  

Like them, we ought to practically run to the hurting, the sorrowful, the heartsore.  We are now Jesus in the world, indwelt by him, speaking his words, doing his deeds, and serving because now, we too, like the disciples on the Road to Emmaus have discerned the presence of Jesus.  We see him in our church; we see him in our community; we see him in our neighbors; we see him in those we work with (especially the ones who rub us the wrong way—remember, more often than not, Jesus is the stranger!).  And isn’t it awesome:  It’s Christ in others we’re on the lookout for, but it’s Christ in us who loves and serves them!

And now, even though we know now that this is what Jesus has called us to do, there is still one thing lacking: the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit.  

I believe we are on the cusp of something; I believe God is doing a new thing, and we need to be careful not to get out ahead of Him.  Let’s be a people who are alert for His presence and movement around us and then respond in loving obedience to His initiative.  There is an out-pouring of God’s Spirit yet to come, an out-pouring of His power to accomplish his purposes, an out-pouring of power that will make possible what would otherwise be impossible.  This is the story told at Pentecost (see Acts 1-2).  And the Spirit poured out then is the same Spirit poured out upon us even today.

Nouwen writes:  “Go and tell.  What you have heard and seen is not just for yourself.  It is for the brothers and sisters and for all who are ready to receive it.  Go, don’t linger, don’t wait, don’t hesitate, but move now and return to the places from which you came, and let those whom you left behind in their hiding places know that there is nothing to be afraid of, that he is risen, risen indeed" (p. 104).

LASTLY, PEACE–Lk. 24:36 

While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

The Holy Spirit is: 1) Comforter  2) One who walks alongside  3) Empowerer 

You don't have to memorize the creeds, or understand the theology of the Trinity, or of the Incarnation, or even of the Resurrection.  What you need is to know and face your loss, to know and understand that Jesus is with you and for you (and that this isn't just pie in the sky–the full authority of the Scriptures testifies to this).  You need to know that He wants you, that He is inviting you, not demanding or requiring anything of you, or brow-beating you, not even to give you anything, or do this or that, or ask you to do this or that–no, just Jesus, just presence, just availability.  He wants to eat with you and share with you and give you hope and meaning and purpose, all of which come simply from being in His presence, not as the result of some well-crafted action plan.  When you spend free, agenda-less time with Jesus, you find that even if all your circumstances stay exactly the same, somehow you are different.  

And then there's really only one thing left to do.  I hesitate to even say it that way because it's not a duty or a job or an obligation to add to your to-do list or your calendar–it's just GO AND TELL.  Not even Jesus could shut people up!  He told people all the time, "Now don't tell anybody, just go!"  And of course, they told it… and told it… and told it!  

So, where once Jesus told those following Him, "Don't tell a soul, just go!"  Now He says, "Go now!  Tell it on the mountains!"  In Matthew 28 we see the Great Commission:  "All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.  Now go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you until the end of the Age."  I can't help but wonder if Jesus weren't sort of standing there with a starting pistol rather than a whip.  Now go, friends!

Be encouraged, friend, for God, the Maker of Heaven and Earth, who spoke all worlds into being, is both with you and for you.

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