A couple of years ago, Abbi and I went to Washington, D.C., for spring break. It was part vacation and business trip. Abbi had an interview with Catholic University. She wanted to learn more about the school’s doctoral program in Hebrew studies. For myself, any chance I can get to visit our nation’s Capital is an opportunity I embrace. It is one of my favorite cities.
We spent two days in Washington. On the first day, Abbi and I had some time to tour the Library of Congress and museums. The second day was Abbi’s interview. So, I drove her to the campus and then I left. There was no way I was going to stick around for lectures and interviews. I was going on a walking tour of the city. I rode the Metro to the Mall. I walked to the Washington Monument, to the Jefferson Memorial and saw the blooming Cherry Blossoms. I even got clothes-lined by a low-hanging branch while taking a video for Abbi. I kept on and walked to the World War II Memorial, then went across the street the Red Cross, and over to the White House. From there, it was a short walk to Lafayette Square and St. John’s Episcopal Church before joining some friends for lunch near McPherson Square. After lunch, the journey continued to Ford’s Theatre. If it wasn’t for Abbi finishing early, I probably would have kept walking.
It was a blistering walk made more so by the fact that we put in a good walk the day before. Even though my feet were sore by day’s end, the walk was one I enjoyed. Each step was a moment to reflect on some aspect of our nation’s history. The stops were not a simply checking off of an item on a travel agenda, but instead was a chance to reflect on the lives of those who gave so much to our nation.
The walk is on my mind, today, as I reflect on the journey Luke tells us in our Scripture passage for today. He tells us of two followers of Christ who are on a seven-mile walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Who these two were we do not know. All we know is one was named Cleopas. Some have tried to make guesses about whom Cleopas might have been, but the safe argument is that these were two followers who had been in some form of a relationship with Jesus prior to his crucifixion and resurrection.
The disciples left Jerusalem on the day of the resurrection. They were leaving believing the resurrection would not take place. Even though there were reports that Jesus was alive, these two followers doubted. That is because they had not experienced the resurrection. All they knew was what they had experienced. To them, Jesus was dead and they were doubting if they could still trust his message.
We can imagine what this walk might have been like, because it was probably like the journeys we take. When we go on a journey or a walk with our friends or family we often share stories in order to pass the time. These disciples did the same thing. On this walk, they consoled themselves by sharing stories of their experiences with Jesus. Their discussions were an act of remembrance of all that Jesus did. They remembered the healings and miracles. They also remembered that Jesus taught with passion and knowledge in ways that were unlike any they had met.
Most likely, though, Jesus’ death was the most prevalent in their conversations. How could it not have been? The images of Jesus’ crucifixion would have been so engrained in their mind that it would have been difficult to not think about it. You cannot easily ignore such horrific images of betrayal and death. It was their most recent experience of Jesus.
It would seem this story is about two followers who are caring for each other while walking to Emmaus. That is not the entire story. Something deeper is going on in our passage. Our travelers are on a journey of faith. It’s the same journey of faith we are on today. Our followers, and we today, are on a journey of spiritual formation that leads us to a deeper revelation of who Jesus Christ is and what it means to be his followers. As Robert Mulholland writes, “Spiritual formation is a lifelong process of growth into the image of Christ.”
The journey took on a deeper sense when Jesus comes upon them on the road. They do not recognize him at first. Jesus takes the opportunity to ask them what they were talking about. Astonished someone could have been in Jerusalem and not have heard about what had transpired, Cleopas invites Jesus into their discussion. Cleopas’ descriptions were based on his own experiences. He had no other frame of reference to go by. His experience was such that he believed Jesus was a teacher who did some great things, they believed he was the Messiah, but now doubted because, to them, he had not returned.
We are like Cleopas in our own faith journeys. Each of us bring our own varied experiences into our journeys of faith in Christ. Life is not something we can compartmentalize as if to say what happens if our life doesn’t impact how we understand and follow Christ. As Wesleyans, experience is one of the ways we believe we come to understand Scripture. In some areas, we have a variety of experiences that helps us to understand different passage. In others, our life experiences limit us in how we approach God and understand our faith in Jesus Christ. It is in this way that we are just like the disciples who were on this journey with Jesus. They had a limited knowledge of Scripture, and their experiences with Jesus, which prevented them from fully understanding the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.
Jesus understood this about these disciples and he understands it about us today. He takes their experiences and opens their eyes to a deeper reality of truth. He tells them that they do not fully understood that the entire message of what we know today as the Old Testament. Jesus tells them that all of Scripture prepared the way for a Messiah who would suffer for his people’s sin and would be resurrected back to life.
In talking with them, Jesus is walking them trough a time of deep revelation. By this we mean a deep spiritual experience where the Holy Spirit guides us to see and understand more about the Triune God. God takes our experiences and uses them to open our eyes to deeper things of faith. This deep teaching and guidance is so that we might grow in Christ-likeness and a deeper faith than we had before. Discipleship, and really spiritual growth, is about the Holy Spirit shaping and molding us into what God has desired for us in a way similar to a potter shaping a piece of clay.
The question becomes then how can we receive this deep encounter of divine truth? We have to seek it. We will never grow in faith if we sit in the corners and say, “This isn’t for me.” Sanctification is a journey of grace. We have to be willing to step into that journey and be led by the Spirit.
To be in a position where we can grow spiritually, we have to ask the Spirit to move in us so that we might grow in the image of Christ. We are praying that the Spirit will open our eyes to the experience the lengths, breadths, and widths of God’s love and desires. By humbling ourselves in prayer, we are humbling submitting ourselves to the Father’s will, that is expressed through the Son, and is shaped in us by the Spirit. We are praying that God’s will be done in our lives and that we might reflect God’s desires more.
We also have spiritual disciples that can help us to seek after deep revelation and discipleship. We call these means of grace. The means of grace, according to John Wesley, were acts of discipleships that we do in order to grow in our relationship with Jesus. They are prayer, Scripture reading, fasting, communion, and fellowship. In prayer, we are also seeking a relationship with God. It is our way of communicating with God and, more importantly, listening to God. When we read Scripture, the Spirit teaches us about God’s love and desires. As Ezekiel 3:1 says, eat these words so that they will become nourishment for our bodies to live for Christ. In fasting, we are giving us something that hinders us from a relationship with God. By this, the Spirit is at work teaching us what we truly need to live and that is Christ’s love and grace. Communion is a time in which we experience the presence of the living Christ, so that we might be shaped to live as witnesses of Christ. Finally, in Christian fellowship we are walking together whether it is in worship, small groups, or in other forms of fellowship. Together, we are strengthening and encouraging each other, which is a grace and work of the Holy Spirit active in each of us. We minister to each other through God’s Spirit as we share life with one another.
God is at work showing us the depths of the Gospel. As our eyes are opened it demands a response from us. Will we or will we not believe what has been shown to us? When God reveals something to us it is up to us to decide whether or not we will accept it and allow that truth to transform our lives. The disciples in our story allowed what Jesus told them to transform their lives. As their eyes opened, they realized it was Jesus who was talking with them along the road and in their time of communion that evening. They accepted the message and it sprung forth a time of deep discipleship.
As we go along our journeys of faith, my desire for each of us – my desire for me – is that we will embrace the hope of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and grow each day in our relationship with the Triune God. That we will do things that enhance growth and will humble ourselves to allow the Spirit to shape and mold us. When we do, I promise you, that our lives and our relationship with God will be fuller, because it will be shaped by the love of the Living Lord.