original image taken from www.eveboo.com
by Charlotte O
When I was a kid, I always had a hard time sleeping the night before Easter. To me, it was just like Christmas. I was anticipating something great, wonderful, exciting. In my case, a basket full of candy. When I came to really understand the meaning the holiday, my anticipation at Easter grew. You couldn’t keep me away from the sunrise service, and that’s no small miracle for a teenager who loved her sleep. The night before Easter in the Bible story, I imagine that the friends of Jesus has similar sleeping troubles, though for different reason. They were left with grief in the shadow of the cross and perhaps shame at their own fear and cowardice in the face of Jesus’ arrest. They were left with the pain of losing a dear friend, and not even being able to perform the proper burial rituals before his body had been hurriedly cast into a borrowed tomb. So they came, on Sunday morning, with spices, with oil, ready to pay this one last respect to their beloved master, only to find that everything was changed. This is a great story. It inspires. It shines a light of hope on a dark world. It brings me a deep sense of value to think about how Jesus was willing to entrust his good news to some women, whose testimony wouldn’t even be valid in a court of law. But yet, this is not the story that I want to talk about here.
There’s another story of two disciples that takes place just a little later in Luke 24. A story that always makes me think back to a painting that hung on the wall of my grandparents’ house: The Road to Emmaus.
Somehow in my mind, I’d always pictured this scene happening on Saturday, post-crucifixion, pre-resurrection. Or maybe before they’d had a chance to hear the good news. But this week as I reread the story, something struck me.
So in the story, these two dejected disciples decide to go home after the events of the week. And on the way, they meet a stranger who asks them why they look so sad. They answer, [excerpted from NLT] “You must be the only person in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about all the things that have happened there the last few days.” They recount the story: “He was a prophet who did powerful miracles, and he was a mighty teacher in the eyes of God and all the people. But our leading priests and other religious leaders handed him over to be condemned to death, and they crucified him. We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel. This all happened three days ago.”
As I told my English students this week, it’s important to note the usage of the past perfect tense here: we had hoped. Not: we hoped, or were hoping, but a very final empty phrase. We had hoped. But no more. We had hoped. But now there is no hope. There is nothing to look forward to. We had hoped. But he is gone. It is in that tone of emptiness and disappointment that they put as much distance between themselves and the events of the past few days as possible. This phrase is why I’d always assumed the story took place on Saturday. They just didn’t know yet that Jesus was alive! They hadn’t seen the empty tomb! Everything was about to change.
But if we continue reading, we see that the problem wasn’t that they didn’t know. It was that they didn’t believe. They told the man, “Then some women from our group of his followers were at his tomb early this morning, and they came back with an amazing report. They said his body was missing, and they had seen angels who told them Jesus is alive! Some of our men ran out to see, and sure enough, his body was gone, just as the women had said.”
Wait a minute. The body was gone. Confirmed by several witnesses. And yet their response is not faith, but doubt. But here is the very good news: it was in their times of doubt and despair that Jesus came to them and walked with them. And sure, he called them fools. But he patiently explained everything to them, and stayed with them until they were able to see it for themselves.
He went into their home and broke bread with them. And it was at that moment that their eyes were opened. Now some suggest that they saw the scars in his hands [wrists] when he lifted them up to break the bread. Others think that this was so reminiscent of the Last Supper that they were able to see. Whatever it was, there is an important lesson here: When you have a relationship with Jesus, you can recognize his actions, even in the darkest times of your life. And yeah, maybe it does take time, but as one of my favorite speakers, Erwin McManus says: “The moment you begin to see God clearly, you begin to see him retroactively.” Or, as the disciples themselves put it, “Were not our hearts burning within us”?
That burning of heart is what you experience when you see or hear something that touches on a deep truth that already lives inside of you. And it demands a response. In the case of these two individuals, it meant returning to Jerusalem to share what had happened, and to meet Jesus again and again. The next time he appeared to him, he had these words: “Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day. It was also written that this message would be proclaimed in the authority of his name to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: ‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent.’ You are witnesses of all these things.”
So what is our response? There are two suggested in these words, but neither is popular these days. The first is to repent. The crux of repentance is a changing of direction. Of choosing to orient your life toward Jesus. When you have experienced the hope that he not just brings but embodies, you will want to walk, not run towards it. The second is to bear witness to what has happened. That doesn’t necessarily mean being preaching at someone’s face, and never means being obnoxious. But if you truly believe in the life-changing hope offered by the resurrection, then the logical outcome is wanting those you care about to experience it too. Fortunately, the power of the resurrection is the secret to overcoming the fear, cowardice or selfishness that prevents us from living out that faith.
The kind of relationship Jesus wants with us is one where we walk with him, talk with him, eat with him. These are the actions of friends. This is a closeness that transcends knowledge of a story, adherence to cultural traditions, and the pain and disappointment we experience every day. This is a closeness that has the power to heal us, and through us, to heal the world.
I'm Charlotte O. I'm currently working with a non-profit organization in Taiwan where I teach, lead English Bible studies, write educational materials, train teachers, pose for pictures, and a bunch of other stuff too. I'm originally from Canada, spending significant amounts of time in all three westernmost provinces. I don't really know where to call home anymore, but that's ok, because I'm a citizen of heaven. I've learned that life overseas is not as exotic as people may think, but life with God is a daily adventure. I'm excited to join Bold Cup as a 'foreign correspondent.' I’ll try to keep my posts in English though.
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