Bishop Paul’s letter
Rev Paul Smith
Bishop, Lutheran Church of Australia and New Zealand
Sometimes, there are little words or phrases in the Bible that unfold the wonderful mystery of God’s gracious hand at work in our world and in our lives. There is a phrase like that in the Easter story.
In the resurrection account in Luke’s Gospel, we learn of two disciples walking to Emmaus. We are told specifically that Emmaus is ‘11 kilometres from Jerusalem’, but there doesn’t seem to be any explanation as to why that piece of information is relevant or significant. It is only when the Risen Lord reveals his real identity to these two disciples, that we discover the reason for highlighting the distance.
The Scriptures tell us in Luke 24, ‘That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.’
What is ‘that same hour’? If you remember the words of the well-loved hymn ‘Abide with me’, which is based on this Emmaus story, then you will remember ‘fast falls the eventide’. It is evening time!
The Emmaus story begins with another kind of darkness. The two disciples felt hopeless, lost and in a dark place because their Lord had suffered and died on the cross. But they had heard rumours that the Lord had been seen alive. As they wondered, ‘What did all this mean?’ they met a stranger who walked with them along the 11 kilometres from Jerusalem to Emmaus. The disciples stopped for the meal with this ‘stranger’ – who we know is our Risen Lord Jesus – and they stopped because it was getting dark.
When he reveals his identity to them, they are filled with joy, then the two immediately return to Jerusalem in the dark of night. This was 2000 years ago when there were no streetlights, no paved roads, no mobile phones with a light to switch on. They went 11 kilometres in the dark with all the hazards that would have been well known to them.
What motivated them to undertake such a perilous journey? It was the good news. These two disciples are the first to hear from the Lord himself, the gospel of the forgiveness of sin that we have through the death and resurrection of Jesus. This was what popular writer J.R.R. Tolkien describes as the good turning point in the story of Jesus, and, therefore, the good turning point of all human history.
We are told that the Lord said to them, ‘“Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the Scriptures.’
Then these two disciples travelled back the 11 kilometres from Emmaus to Jerusalem with a new purpose, full of hope and forever changed by this good news. They travelled this journey to share with the other disciples the good news of what they had experienced of the word and promise of the Risen Lord. As you join with sisters and brothers in Christ for this year’s Easter celebrations, may our Lord fill you with hope and joy to travel into whatever is ahead for you.
I once had a poster with the words, ‘If you really believed that Jesus rose from the dead, maybe you might want to shout it’. I pray that you have passion to boldly declare with Christian sisters and brothers of every time and place that wonderful Easter proclamation, ‘The Lord is risen indeed’. I pray together we would eagerly share with any who will listen, all that the Lord has made known for us.
Christ is risen!
(As a footnote to this meditation, I would like to express my personal thanksgiving for the many people who contributed to my recent installation service. God bless you.)
‘Lord Jesus, we belong to you,
you live in us, we live in you;
we live and work for you –
because we bear your name’