WHEN YOU WALK THE ROAD TO EMMAUS
Did you hear this alarming news?
“Drug overdose deaths are the leading cause of injury death in the United States, ahead of motor vehicle deaths and firearms (deaths),” the Drug Enforcement Agency announced on Wednesday. In 2013, the most recent year for which data is available, 46,471 people in the United States died from drug overdoses, and more than half of those deaths were caused by prescription painkillers and heroin.
It’s alarming. A serious wake-up call. Snoozing is no longer an option when you get this kind of news. That someone you knew, loved, shared life with has overdosed and died. That tragedy became personal this past week as our collegiate son lost a friend to an overdose.
Questions immediately arose. Disturbed, that heroin was that close to my son’s inner circle of life, we confronted him with frank questions. Distressed , we worried if we’d been naïve or distracted-majoring on the minors when the unimaginable of heroin was a real threat to his life and never discussed. Distraught, we grieved for his friend’s family. My troubled heart found a place of comfort from Luke’s account of Resurrection Sunday where two disturbed, distressed and distraught disciples found answers.
The road to Emmaus is a picture of the aftermath of a traumatic experience.
Times when you think it’s all just a bad dream and you’re going to wake up but instead you find yourself in the reality of an emotional roller coaster ride you never wanted on and can’t get off. This is the universal journey when death has come—to a person or a job or a marriage, or your good health, or a dream. Something has died. And it changes the orientation of life. What do you do now?
The two disciples in Luke’s account began to walk home, trying to make sense of it all. Their hopes of the kingdom of God and in the Messiah they had given up everything to follow were ended in a brutal crucifixion. Jesus was dead and buried.
They wandered home, suspended between yesterday and tomorrow.
Powerless to prevent the events or change their current situation. Wrung out—emotionally, spiritually and physically—by the troubling “what ifs”. These disciples were in what Richard Rohr calls “liminal space”—a particular spiritual position where human beings hate to be, but where the biblical God is always leading them. The Latin root limen literally means “threshold,” referring to that needed transition when we are moving from one place or one state of being to another. Liminal space usually induces some sort of inner crisis: you have left the tried and true (or it has left you), and you have not yet been able to replace it with anything else.
Biblically this is:
Abraham called to a land he did not yet know.
It is Joseph in the pit or later prison.
It is Jonah in the belly of the whale.
It is David the shepherd anointed to be king.
It is pregnant Mary.
It is blinded Paul.
And it is two disciples on the Emmaus Road.
This journey is a time for overwhelming emotions and dangerous questions. Thank God we have each other!
Like the disciples, when two like-minded friends chose to walk together and talk things out; comfort-that inner strengthening-occurs. They didn’t stride in silence or talk about the weather or anything else but that. While the experience was still raw and fresh and powerful, unresolved and unhandled they chose to talk with each other about ‘all these things that had happened‘. This open-hearted conversation created a place for Jesus to join in. That is the soul of Christian community that can happen in a home, a coffee café, a corner of campus or the bleachers of a stadium. It’s an unfixed place where two or more are gathered in His name with open hearts and authentic discussion seeking to discover Jesus and His transforming power. Here power is released for today and hope is given for tomorrow and comfort is received for the past through the Holy Spirit.
Traversing the road between the now and the not-yet it is vital to have a spiritual companion with whom we can freely talk about ‘all these things that have happened’. Whether comforted or challenged, confessing doubt or debating action steps, always we gain a spiritual perspective that causes our hearts to burn within us as we realize Jesus has joined in the midst of these conversations, bring his wisdom and love as we walk the road together.
After the alarming news of my son’s friend who died of an overdose, we gathered together as a family. We talked and assured one another. We prayed and our son joined with his friends and talked and they grieved together and they remembered their friend. And friends went together to the memorial and they talked and they comforted one another and this grieving family and they agreed in the promises of God and believed what was written, “He has risen.” And had hope.
So let’s do it—full of belief, confident that we’re presentable inside and out. Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word. Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching.
May the Lord Jesus Christ bring you grace and peace in the midst of your Emmaus road.