Intimacy with God

On the day of the resurrection, two unnamed disciples were on the road to Emmaus, walking away from Jerusalem. Some suggest that this was the brother of Joseph, Clopas, the uncle of Jesus, and his wife. What a poignant idea! They had been in the city during the ghastly hours of the crucifixion. They had seen the three-and-a-half incredible years of the ministry of their nephew come to a crashing close. Now, they were most likely heading home, back to some gray life, away from the center to some edge, away from the now dead hoped-for Messiah. Their dream was dead – dead with Jesus.

Rome had again flexed its muscle, killed a revolutionary threat. To Rome’s authority, the religious establishment had appealed, to quiet the crackle of fervent fire in hearts of simple people who wanted to know God. The disciples of Jesus scattered, fleeing for their own lives. These disciples were now ‘walking away!’ Walking away humiliated. Walking away fearfully. Walking away, recalling the vision of the horrendous crucifixion. Walking away confused – how could He have quieted the wind and waves? Healed the sick and dealt so powerfully with demons if He were a mere man? How could they now explain the attestations of His supernatural Messianic identity, all so real, beginning with John and His baptism? How could the miracle at the wedding in Cana have taken place? What conclusion could be reached about the visit with Elijah and Moses on the mount? Why? How? So many questions.

The death of a vision is a traumatic thing. The senses are overwhelmed. Faith and hope crash together. There is a sense of abandonment, an emotional debris field, and from such terror, we all flee. They were fleeing. The world in which they had lived and hoped for three years had collapsed. They had invested their lives – in what? Now it was all gone. He was gone. The whole enterprise had evaporated. The kingdom puzzle pieces about which they had fussed scattered to the winds. Making sense of it was impossible.

On the road to Emmaus, a concealed Jesus joins this couple. He is masked in some way. They do not recognize Him – not at first. He inquires as if uninformed, about their discouraged countenances – the empathy alone must have been heartening to them. They are momentarily shocked at how unaware he is – he must be the only one in the province of Judea that does not know, “Jesus, the hoped for Messiah, the friend of the poor and oppressed – is dead!” Rolheiser notes the irony. He is, in truth, the only one who knows the truth. Still, we like them, challenge God as if He were the uninformed, oblivious about our Golgotha experiences. “How could you not know? Where were you? Where are you now? Why did you let this happen? This was not in the plan!” He challenges their encrusted thinking. He offers a new paradigm for the kingdom, the coming of the Messiah. He connects the puzzle pieces in ways they had never considered. He countered their objections, reordered their thinking. When He sat with them, and broke bread, their eyes opened – they knew it was Jesus, and mysteriously, He was gone. He engaged them, refusing to allow them to walk away. God does this repeatedly – with Adam and Eve in the garden, with Elijah on the run, with Peter who had gone back to fishing, and with James, his brother, who was slow to believe. He challenges our unbelief, as He did that of Thomas, but with the purpose of deepening belief.

The two disciples are discouraged by the crucifixion, and like so many pastors, almost 1,500 each month, they are walking away! They were walking away from Jerusalem, the center of faith for the Hebrews, the city of David; walking away from the hope of the future reign of a Jewish king. It was not a mere place from which they fled, but a shattered dream. They fled from the humiliation, the violence, the confusion. In truth, Christ continues to be crucified, rejected, despised – and by very religious folks. His leaders and representatives get caught in the middle, often fleeing to some safer place.

Death on the cross was ignoble, unthinkable for the decent and moral. It was a cultural and social shame, a symbol of certain wrong. The cross was a seal of scandal. One tried, found guilty and crucified was identified with felons and criminals of the worst lot. It was also an indication to many that Jesus had most certainly died outside of the Father’s blessing. Otherwise, He would have been saved and protected. God would have intervened in some way. That called into question everything that they believe.

Herein is the mystery of God’s grace – He pursues us, even as we flee. He appears on our road. He listens to our babbling, is patient with our verbalized confusion and depression. Then He begins to challenge our conventional thinking, restructure our imagination and renew our faith. This is what happened on the road and over the broken bread. Their eyes were opened, they saw – and they believed. They determine to turn around, head back to the place of the shattered dream. They will no longer run.[1]

Paradigms are powerful. They are like a lens which we see things we could not see without them. Yet, they are also like a prison that limits our vision. Like an optical illusion, we see, but we cannot see what is obvious to others. A suffering and dying messiah did not fit the Jewish paradigm of prophecy. Likewise, we become rigid in terms of the way we see God work. That limits our flexibility, making our perception incomplete. These disciples were in territory for which they had no theological map. They were between the order of the old and the emerging new order – such transition required faith at a level they had never known. It required an encounter with the pursuing God.

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P. Douglas Small is founder and president of Alive Ministries: PROJECT PRAY and he serves in conjunction with a number of other organizations. He is also the creator of the Praying Church Movement and the Prayer Trainer’s Network. However, all views expressed are his own and not the official position of any organization.

[1] Rolheiser, Sacred Fire, 101-102.