by Rev. Doug Gray
As long as I can remember, having family come visit always meant hours—even days—of cleaning. The ordinary, “lived in” house just won’t do when family is coming, especially if it’s mom. Once, Cynthia’s mom was coming to visit and things were crazy. The kids were sick. Things were blowing up at work for both Cynthia and me. With hours to spare, we gave up on “Queen of England” clean. With minutes to spare, we gave up on family clean. I can’t speak for Cynthia, but I was really stressed just because of what was going on, and then to not have the house clean for Karen? I love my mother-in-law and it’s not how I wanted things to be for her. In fact, I am getting teary about it even now—embarrassed and even a little ashamed. At times, I have felt like that with God too. I want God to come into my life, so I start a life-cleaning project—trying to change old habits, trying to be more thoughtful of my family, volunteering to help someone out, read the Bible more, find some solitude for prayer. But things get crazy and all of a sudden, I look up and God is coming, and I need God…and my life is really messy. And I’m not sure I want to let God in to see that. Our passage has some advice for us if we’re feeling that way.
First, Jesus comes into the messiness. I’m not sure why the two disciples left Jerusalem, but they are obviously depressed about Jesus’ death on the cross. Are they trying to leave the hard facts of death behind as they head out of town? In the midst of their confusion and sadness, Jesus comes. Jesus doesn’t wait until these disciples are organized and ready, and Jesus doesn’t wait until our lives are neat and orderly. Jesus comes into the messiness.
Second, Jesus cares about what’s going on inside. You’ll notice that Jesus asks these disciples what they are talking about, and truly listens to their response. Jesus knows what is going on for them, knows what has upset them, but there is something about really telling someone what is on our hearts that helps us. Jesus cares enough about what’s going on inside of us to truly listen.
Finally, Jesus explains to the disciples why it had to be. In his book, The Juvenilization of American Christianity, Thomas Bergler describes how in America, we have become satisfied with a nice God who wants us to be nice, and who helps us on the road to self-development. But this empties the Cross of its power, because we forget that we can worship and experience the power of God in our suffering as well as our good times. Bergler writes, “We must be vigilant and creatively compensate for what gets lost in translation when we use the language of [the world]. For example, if we sing songs that highlight the emotional consolations of the faith, what can we do to help…people also embrace the sufferings that come with following Jesus?” Indeed, Paul experienced God saying, “My grace is sufficient for you and my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) On the road to Emmaus, Jesus explains God’s plan to the disciples—why the Son of God was willing to suffer—and it made their hearts burn with joy and passion.
When my mother-in-law came to the door, we were so happy to see her, and so ashamed at the messiness of our house. She didn’t bat an eye. In fact, she rolled up her sleeves and helped us make things better. What a blessing! One of the reasons I love this story of the Road to Emmaus is that just as Jesus comes to those disciples in the middle of their messed up lives, Jesus comes into the messiness of our lives and really listens to us—what are we thinking, what are we sad and upset about. No need to feel embarrassed or ashamed—Jesus loves us! Then, if we will listen, Jesus tells us of the never-failing, sacrificial love of God, of the way Jesus put God’s Will first, and how the Cross (a symbol of death) releases the power of forgiveness and healing. Jesus is with us, though it may be Jesus will use someone from our family or our church or a complete stranger to explain it to us. When we worship, God takes us, and blesses us and breaks us and gives us to each other and the world. Then our eyes will be opened, the eyes of everyone will be opened, and we will see Jesus Christ is indeed with us in a way that fills our hearts with passion and our limbs with energy to tell the Good News! He is risen! Hallelujah!
Thomas Bergler, “When Are We Going to Grow Up? The Juvenilization of American Christianity,” Christianity Today, June 2012, Vol. 56:6, pp18ff.