I have been leading Bible studies for a long time now. I think the first one was in 1984. When I think back, it seems to me, that each time we study St. Luke’s account called the “Road to Emmaus” the same basic questions arise. “How could these two people, clearly disciples, people who may have followed Jesus for maybe three years – having seen the miracles, the mighty works, heard the preaching, seen Lazarus raised from the dead, and heard Jesus proclaim that he would be put to death and then rise – how could they then hear the reports of the empty tomb and then walk away in a slow descent into despair? Don’t they get it? How could they not get it? Where is their faith? It doesn’t make sense.”
Where is faith? It is there on that dirt road somewhere. Our faith and the ability to see with the eyes of faith is filtered through a number of lenses: the journey to this point and place in time, our experience along the way, the people we journey with, our accumulated response to those experiences, and more. It all comes together to shape the sense of our closeness to God. In his book Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller describes this variability nicely: In most of my life … God was like a speck in the distance. It was as though I was on a dirt road and, somewhere off in the distance, God appeared like a speak on the horizon. But now, I see that God is walking toward me. He’s close. Close enough, that I can to hear him singing. Someday, I’ll see the lines on his face.”
I think this journey in life reveals moments when we feel so close to God that we indeed see the lines on His face, hear his voice, and feel his embrace. As well as the moments when God is a speck on the horizon – if that. Every life different, every journey unique, but we all walk that dirt road to our own Emmaus. We all make that journey with our own particular hopes. The two disciples on the road had hopes when Jesus entered Jerusalem to the shouts of Hosanna. The Apostles had their hopes. But happened to hope on Good Friday?
I think about Judas Iscariot. His suicide never quite made sense to me if he was just in it for the 30 pieces of silver. I think he was hoping for more. Judas was an outsider of sorts. The only non-Galilean among the apostles. He came from the zealot party and came with those hopes: that this Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, the one who would confront the corrupt Jewish leaders and Roman occupiers as a prelude to re-establish the throne of David. When Judas realizes that Jesus will not fulfill the zealot hopes of such worldly machinations, he tries to force the confrontation by betraying Jesus. It is then Judas hopes Jesus will reveal himself, lead the people in the overthrow and revolution. When Judas’s hopes are crushed, he realizes he has put an innocent man to death, and nothing makes sense any more – it is then Judas loses hope, despairs, and takes his life. Judas cannot conceive of the Cross as a victory. But then neither can most of us.
In all the years of teaching Bible studies I have asked, “When in the life of Christ is the glory of God most fully revealed?” The most likely response to the question is “the Resurrection.” Why do we naturally answer the Resurrection as the glory of God revealed and shy away from the Cross? I think it is not a question of faith, but one of Hope. The Cross doesn’t easily make sense to us. I mean, it is hard to say, “that worked out well” or to see the good in it all. There is the nagging question of what kind of father could God be if he would allow this to happen to his Son. And in the question which comes along that dirt road of our life, God is a lot closer to the horizon, so we are sure not to see the flinty hardness of such a cruel father. The Cross does not always make sense. It is not what we hoped for. Not what Judas hoped for. It is not the hope of Mary, Peter, John or any of the disciples. There on Good Friday, faith can teeter on the edge of the abyss, when our hope is shattered.
Our answer might be the Resurrection, but each gospel writer points to something else; to the Cross. When you consider the long tradition of Christian mysticism and thought, it is on the Cross. It is on the Cross that the glory of the love of God for all humanity is revealed. God so loved the world that He held back nothing, not even His Only Son from the jaws of death. His Son who opened up his arms wide to embrace all the world, in the Hope that we would see the depth of God’s love for us.
In 1990, three years before he became the first president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel offered these reflections on hope: “Hope is a state of mind, not of the world…. Either we have hope or we don’t; it is a dimension of the soul…an orientation of the spirit;…it is not the same thing as joy that things are going well…but rather an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed…. Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”
The Resurrection is the moment of victory over death. The Cross is the place where love abounds. A wondrous love. “And he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the Scriptures.” Then it all made sense. Even in that moment of when all seemed lost, that wondrous love all made sense when the Hope of God is fulfilled.
What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this
That caused the Lord of bliss
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul!
It does turn out well. It makes sense. Were not our hearts burning within us? Can’t we hear his voice? And see the lines on his face? Now we are ready to recognize the God of wondrous Love in the breaking of the bread.