If you wonder as you wander…
April 30, 2017
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.
Truly this is a story filled with possible points we could consider in finding ways in which this passage might speak into our lives. Somehow the story moves from the disciple’s sad confession that “We had hoped Jesus was the Messiah”, to the wonder-filled proclamation after Jesus had vanished, “Were not our hearts burning within us when he spoke to us?” In the space of just a few hours they had moved from a place of absolute despair and loss of the will to carry on a meaningful life…to a fullness of joy and incredible relief that in fact their fears and worries were completely unjustified…what an incredible gift!
And from there we could consider that, so moved were they by the revelation of Jesus’ resurrection that they set out very late that same evening to walk the some seven miles back to Jerusalem in the dark, just to share the story with their fellow disciples. I wonder how long they had to bang on the door in order to wake them all up after they had arrived…
And then of course there is the part about how they recognized Jesus in his breaking of the bread, much as he had done in their presence countless times before, and most recently at the last meal he was to have with them on the Thursday night just prior. This most common of acts, this routine thing that Jesus did with his disciples each day, was as yet decidedly not a ‘sacrament’, but rather just part of the routine that all who were grateful or faithful performed – blessing and giving thanks to God. And also notably, this blessing and sharing by Jesus was done using common simple bread which was a core staple of the meal. Then, just as at the Last Supper, Jesus was seeking to teach an important lesson…the lesson that our God communicates sometimes most profoundly through the everyday occurrences of our lives and through the basic rudiments of our daily life…not always or only through high liturgy or holier-and-sacred ‘blessed components’, but rather with what is already present and in use in one’s everyday life…how simple…how fascinating.
Each one of these parts to our story would support a full discussion and teaching moment. However, I think there is another that, although maybe not as obvious, is just as meaningful and important. And that comes out of a closer look into how the disciples were actually feeling before they were shown just who it was that had drawn near to them on that road. For in some ways the disappointment and lack of clarity they were experiencing feels just a bit more familiar in times such as our own…at least to me.
It seems as though there may be at least two very different ways of dealing with what comes before us as ‘life’. Opportunities, challenges, good, and evil all seem to be a part of the mix of what each of us encounters and is required to deal with as the content of our daily life. The first way some of us choose to deal with life could be described as analytical, whereby we look to understand how and why certain things happen from a systematic, almost scientific point of view…searching for the underlying root causes of a particular situation in hopes perhaps of discovering pathways that will best yield the outcomes we desire in terms of meeting or overcoming a challenge or opportunity. And that approach is surely human and surely understandable as we have all been gifted with both intelligence and a deep curiosity, both of which cause us to look for such causes or solutions. Science itself as a discipline is born out of this mix of wondering and deep thinking.
However there is a line where the rational analytical boundaries of our understanding ends and beyond which possible challenges remain unsolved…challenges as well, that may not allow us to disregard their importance easily. And I suppose that some might be content to stop there…to let go of the quest for understanding if it seems beyond the ability to solve or understand it rationally.
However, for those who still seek answers, there is then a need to find an alternative way forward, and perhaps that is where a second approach to life’s challenges may come in. When reason and intellect fail to satisfy our need to understand, some individuals turn instead to faith and belief as possible sources beyond reason alone. These look not solely to their own resources but rather look to invoke the aid or support of God to reveal an answer or pathway otherwise unimagined.
The real difficulty comes in however when we are caught between the two – not able to reason our way into understanding and afraid as well to trust fully in something we cannot touch or see, unsure of the wisdom of leaning on something that may seem at times like a decided departure from reliance on reason or intellect.
And it is in this place of betwixt and between that we may experience the deepest of angst…for if our brains and intellect are not able to help us find reason and meaning in what we are facing, and we struggle somewhat to accept that ‘someOne’ or ‘something’ is actually interested in looking out for us and leading us…than we truly are stuck in limbo, unsure of where to turn and forced with a choice between having no reason-based answers and trusting in something that on the surface at least, feels a bit unreliable.
And it is squarely in this place I believe that we find our disciples on the Emmaus road in our reading. Due to recent events they were completely at a loss and surely felt as though they had no place to turn, literally wandering about in confusion with a lack of grounding and any sense of purpose. All that they had come to believe in, all in which they had placed their hope seemed to have evaporated right in front of them with the death of Jesus. In their hearts and I am sure in their minds as well the hopes of countless generations had been focused in on this particular individual…focused in on what they believed was the final fulfillment of a divine promise in the person of Jesus…this was their messiah, their deliverer, their redeemer…now all gone away.
These lonely disciples on the road to Emmaus had reached an insurmountable barrier, they had reached the absolute boundary of what their reasoning minds could understand…they had nowhere else to turn to other than depression and hopelessness…for not only reason, but their faith understanding as well had left them far short of the ability to hope or to trust in a good outcome. They had reached that place of needing to make a decision…they needed either to dig deeper into reason and intellect to at least find some measure of closure for their disappointment, or, to lean more heavily on the search for a faith-based understanding that would enable them to retain some vestige of hope in such a dark and defeated time. There were no easy answers, no clearly defined pathways, no options that seemed appealing or even possibly hopeful…and so they just wandered along, confused and unsure.
And it was here, here in this place on that road that Jesus found them and drew near…here that Jesus chose to enter into the middle of their distress and to begin to lead them towards a new place of deeper trust and understanding. It was here in that place of total lack of direction or purpose…in that place where no answer seemed like the right answer, that Jesus began to build within them a deeper trust and to plant at least the seed of hope that this man who appeared to be a stranger…had something they needed…and so they invited him in to stay the night…invited him into the mix of their confusion and uncertainty. They could find no answers through reason, their faith had left them deeply conflicted, they did not know where to turn next…and then Jesus appeared…and they invited him in…
There have been times in my life, and quite possibly in yours when the boundary of understanding through reason and intellect has been reached and when answers seem to lie on the other side of what we feel we can grasp. There have been times when not only reason but deep faith-hopes or perceived promises have not been able to satisfy either…times when we may have prayed deeply and willed ourselves into believing that our need or our prayer request surely had to have been in conformity with the will of a good and gracious God. Times when we too were out of places to turn to, or understandings to lean upon, times when truly it seemed like all we had left was to wait in uncertainty for something to break…some new understanding, some breakthrough that might put us back on a track towards hope or understanding.
And it is in times such as these that we may hear, or recall the old adage that claims that, ‘God never gives us more than we can handle’, a phrase actually, that is taken from the tenth Chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. And though it sounds positive…it is in fact a phrase that is not always so and may in fact seem at times like just a pep talk intended to convince us to put off total depression and the will to give up entirely. And yet…those who have a deep faith know that it is at times, an adage with much merit…
For indeed I believe that God intended that ‘life’…was meant to be lived by those who are fully alive. We are supposed to wonder, to seek and to wander through all that life places on the path before us with the belief that indeed when the going gets really difficult, that there is one who will not hesitate to draw near and to walk alongside of us, comforting, teaching and encouraging along the way.
Those who have a deep faith and have lived for a time walking along the journey of life, all through her rocky and sometimes perilous pathways, know that a life lived in faith is all about the journey and not so much about the destination. For those who fix their eyes only on some future destination point are often tempted to find ways to cut the actual time spent on the pathway short, tempted to find ways around the difficult parts and to search out shortcuts to reach that promised land sooner than later. But in truth, the fullness of life is meant to be found and experienced within the walk itself… in all of the struggles and uncertainty, in all of the lack of clarity and the hope that seems yet another step further along…in the dark times that are suddenly and overwhelmingly brightened by a single ray of sun breaking through…a journey filled with goodness and sometimes woe…a journey of challenges met…and challenges as yet unsolved…and overall…a journey traversed in the presence and company of this One who is faithful to draw near and accompany us on our way.
I received an email early this week from my sister in Houston in which she had copied the family on a letter she had sent to the teachers in the school my nephew David attends. David was adopted by my sister Ann and her husband Mark when he was seven years old from rural Taiwan. He was an orphan who had lived a life of struggle and incredible turmoil up to that point leaving him deeply scarred and erratic. Ann has worked diligently for years now to raise David within the embrace of her and Mark’s love as well as within the embrace of and reliance upon the love and grace of God. As a special needs child, David has presented an incredible challenge but he has also been an incredible blessing.
Ann began her email to us with an explanation that she was copying us on her letter to David’s school teachers in which she asked for their assistance and blessing on the need for them to place David, now seventeen, into a special program several afternoons a week to help him become better able to adapt to stressful situations. The move would interfere with his studies and Ann was hoping to gain their assistance in working to keep David on track academically.
But in her beginning explanation Ann quoted the same verse and hope that we have just spoken of. Ann wrote, “Please continue to keep our David in your prayers. Below is an email that I sent to all his teachers. I have been told that God never gives us more than we can handle. I’m flattered that he thinks we can handle this – boy is it difficult. However, I will say that all my experience with David has given me tools to help other moms. I’m meeting with one over coffee this Wednesday so maybe that’s all part of God’s plan. As usual, I’m trying to find a silver lining. Love Ann.
Indeed, Ann dwells in the middle of a journey of deep faith and sometimes seemingly insurmountable struggle. But I do know that Jesus draws near to her and to Mark, and I do know that David is a gift to our whole family, a reminder that sometimes love and purpose is most clearly revealed during the most difficult parts of our lives…perhaps because it is there that our need is the greatest and our hearts are the most open to hear anew the promises whispered to us by the Spirit of God’s love…those same words that allow the confusion to begin to clear and the fog of uncertainty to start to lift. It is there, in that exchange of grace given unto need that life is infused with meaning that can well up within us spilling over in tearful gratitude…and it is there that we begin to understand that indeed God does give us the absolute maximum we can handle, with the full intent of walking along and picking up whatever is beyond our capability. It truly is a holy partnership, for as the Apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians, “He who began a good work in you…will be faithful to complete it…”.
Indeed, God is always faithful at finding us in those times of deepest need, deepest struggle, and deepest uncertainty…even as it is he who has led us to that place to fulfil his greatest work.
And so, if you find that you are wondering as you wander…If both reason and faith seem sometimes insufficient to meet your need…if you are at a real loss for answers…it is then that Jesus will draw near…
…when all else seems lost or hopeless…when you can’t even find a reason to smile deep within…when the deepest of anxiety overrules the search for calm and inner peace…keep wondering and keep wandering…keep believing that Jesus knows your heart…
…for I promise you…he will find you on that road.