We live in turbulent times. Internationally, there is tension between the United States and Russia over the recent bombing in Syria and talk of war in the Korean peninsula. Domestically, we’ve now added a snap general election to Brexit and a possible second independence referendum. Much closer to home I’ve had conversations with folk this week who are dealing with life-threatening illness, relationship breakdown, and job insecurity. Despite all our planning, our sophistication and our ingenuity, life has a habit of turning out differently than we had hoped.
Following the crucifixion and death of Jesus, two of his followers were travelling to Emmaus, struggling to deal with the way life had turned out. Their despair and disillusionment at what has happened is clearly stated in their words, “But we had hoped…” (Luke 24:21, NIV) It’s a reminder that, as followers of Jesus, we will encounter times of disappointment.
But in this incredible story, the risen Lord Jesus comes alongside these two followers in their doubt, confusion, and disappointment, and gives them a double revelation. The first comes on the journey, as Jesus walks alongside them, still unrecognised. Jesus rebukes them for their lack of faith and, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, explained to them what was said in the scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:27) They later talk of the effect this had on them: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opening the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32).
The second revelation comes at the journey end, when, having invited Jesus to stay with them, he takes the bread, gives thanks, breaks it and begins to give it to them. It is as Jesus does this that Luke tells us their eyes were opened and they recognised the risen Lord Jesus (Luke 24:30-31).
I am struck that both revelations are gifts from Jesus to these two followers. There is nothing for them to do except to receive: to listen as Jesus speaks, to take the bread as Jesus gives it to them.
Two thousand years later, as we and those around us pass through times of doubt, confusion and disappointment these two routes to receiving hope remain open for us: the gift of Scripture and the gift of communion. When God’s Word is opened, God speaks. This astonishing gift through which God draws near to us and speaks words of life over our lives is a transforming one: God’s Word brings life and hope. And that Word always comes to us through the risen Lord Jesus Christ, our saviour who has overcome death itself!
The gift of communion is another incredible moment of encounter with God. We always undertake it with an eye on the past, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19), reminding ourselves again of the great salvation that God has accomplished in and through Jesus. But we also undertake communion with our eyes on the future, “until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). And when Jesus comes, he will usher in the new heavens and earth, where God himself will wipe every tear from our eyes; no more death or mourning or crying or pain. (Rev 21:4) The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the first fruits of that great new creation.
In our activist culture, in which we are encouraged to go out and secure for ourselves what we need and want, the Gospel is distinctly counter-cultural. God has done everything necessary for us: what we need to do is receive. Hope comes not by our effort, but as a gift from God through the resurrection of Jesus.
Head of Bible Engagement