By Ian Adams, mission spirituality adviser at Church Mission Society
Ian Adams explores the Emmaus story as a guide for living through constantly changing times
It can feel as if the ground is constantly shifting beneath our feet. Culture and climate, politics and work, church and relationships – all seem to be in states of rapid and continuous change.
This can be a disconcerting experience. And it is tempting to look back and yearn for times past. To take the road back to where we have been rooted before. To hunker down, and to fold in on ourselves.
But instinctively we know as Christ-followers that such a path is rarely the one to be taken.
Rather, we are called, as beloved of God, to live with forward momentum, open-handed, open-hearted, as some small gift to the world. To be people at home in changing circumstances.
How then are we to live when the ground is constantly shifting beneath our feet?
The Emmaus story (Luke 24:13–35) may be a guide to us in this task.
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 recognising him.Luke 24:13–17 (NRSV)
Cleopas and another unnamed disconsolate follower of Jesus are taking the road back. Seeking some reassuring stability, returning to the place they know. Going back to the familiar.
But unrecognised by them, the risen Jesus draws alongside them on the road.
How encouraging for us. Whatever path we are on, whatever direction, however downcast we may be, we can imagine the Christ drawing alongside us, asking if we might allow him to walk with us, to talk with us.
The disciples tell him their story. It is one of loss and anguish. And a key moment comes when they declare: But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel…Luke 24:21 (NRSV)
That phrase “But we had hoped” conveys so well the pain of enforced and unwelcome change. And its presence in the Gospel story as told by Luke suggests that it is an important principle for us to note and speak of our discomfort. The non-appearance of whatever we had hoped for is not to be ignored. It needs to be recognised, spoken of and allowed space to be. When that happens, in trust, a new thing becomes possible.
The story unfolds, the stranger opening up the deeper truths of the events the disciples had witnessed. The disciples are drawn in; we can sense that their view of what has happened may be changing.
But what will happen when they reach their home?
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.Luke 24:28–29 (NRSV)
Even as they come to the destination that they imagined would give them stability, the disciples intuitively understand that they need another source of stability. The place is not the thing. The stranger’s presence is what they need. Stay with us.
And he stays with them. And it is as he breaks bread with them that he is revealed to them as the risen Christ. He is their source of stability, their source of life.
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 recognised him…Luke 24:30–31a (NRSV)
In times of great change – even of loss and of anguish – our source of stability and life can ultimately only be the risen Christ. Other things bring comfort of course. Place, people, work and recreation are great gifts and need to be enjoyed and celebrated. But this story suggests that as Christians it is ultimately the risen Jesus who we need – his words burning within us, his presence sustaining us.
It is important to note here that the Emmaus story implies that the risen Christ’s presence may usually be experienced as fleeting.
… and he vanished from their sight.Luke 24:31b (NRSV)
A glimpse of the risen Christ, the story implies, must usually suffice. That will be enough. Having recognised their source of stability, the disciples sense renewed momentum.
That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem…Luke 24:33a (NRSV)
Their life of following Jesus enters into a new era – that of witness to the risen Christ. They tell of what has happened to them on the road, and of how he was revealed to them as bread was broken and shared.
How then are we to live when the ground is constantly shifting beneath our feet, when all seems to be in a state of rapid and continuous change?
As tempting as it may be to return to our sources and places of comfort, the Emmaus story suggests that the risen Christ alone who can provide us with the stability and momentum for which we yearn.
Unseen he draws alongside each of us. May our prayer – however unknowing – be one of faith.
Stay with us.