Two men are walking along side a road. They are going to Emmaus yet they are going nowhere. For the last three years they had had a sense of direction, but now they are lost. Don’t misunderstand me, they know where the road leads, they just have no idea where their hearts will take them.
Sometimes we are left completely helpless by events that crash into our lives. Sometimes the faith that sustained us as children crumbles in an adult world. Sometimes the answers that come to us so easily on Sunday morning seem almost foreign, even useless, the rest of the week. We have this deeply entrenched belief that if God is for us, then nothing horrible will ever happen to us. We believe God will always care for us and will keep us from harm’s way. We were taught as children that “Jesus loved me”, and through the years we have accepted a number of preconceived convictions concerning exactly what that means. Unfortunately, as many of you have experienced, life is not always scripted the way the way we would have written it. Far too often tragedy is only a phone call away. When we lose control of our lives, we question our faith. What do we really believe when nothing around us makes sense? In our moments of pain, we want to believe Jesus is with us, but the ache blinds us from recognizing this most blessed of assurances.
The story I share this morning story pales in comparison with the tragedies many of you have experienced. It is not a recent story. My Aunt Evelyn died over thirty years ago. But when word of the death of a loved one disrupts our life, it is a moment we never quite forget. My Aunt was a brilliant woman. She taught English at Waynesboro High Scholl and was seldom seen without a book in her hand. I was privileged to spend a great deal of time in her basement when I was growing up. The walls were filled with her precious books. When I visited Aunt Evelyn, I had permission to take any book off the shelf, and go where my imagination might take me. Historical novels, stories about spies, intrigue and murder, the classics and some not so classic stories were at my finger tips. Her collection was better than any public library. I would stay up way past my bedtime, too frightened to sleep until the last page had been turned.
My aunt developed Alzheimer’s in her early sixties. The books she loved no longer had meaning. Her life was lived in confusion. One day, lost on a path she had traveled for years, she tripped, fell into the South River, and drowned. I was in my thirties and mistakenly thought I was old enough to deal with tragedy. After all I was an ordained Presbyterian minister, fully prepared to handle issues of life and death. I weekly stood in the pulpit and proclaimed the good news of the gospel. I had conducted many funerals and ended each with the proclamation that nothing, not even death, could separate us from the love of God. My head believed everything I said, but now my heart was broken, unable to call on all the recourses of my faith to offer the comfort I so desperately needed.
I quickly made plans to drive to Waynesboro. David had just been born, making it impractical for all of us to make the trip. Out of the blue the phone rang and a member of my church asked if he could travel with me. I was too confused and desperate to refuse his offer. An hour later, Phil and I headed north into a blinding sunset. My friend and I were on our road to Emmaus.
For the next six hours my friend listened to my stories, offered words of comfort, then he asked a question which left me silent. “So, is the God you are always talking about on Sunday making this trip with us?”
I hated him for introducing that question. I had been raised with a clear understanding of the power and majesty of God. I could see God in the miracle of creation. My creedal statements and theological training stressed the omnipotence of the Holy One. Yet this so called friend, in the midst of my grief, dared to question if the God I preached took a rain check when tragedy interrupted perfection? You all know the questions that creep into our minds once the keeper of unquestioned truth removes his finger from the dike. If God is all powerful, why doesn’t God intervene? If God is all knowing, why doesn’t God give us a warning? If God is omnipotent, why are we so vulnerable? It was on that trip I began to discover if I only understood God as all knowing, all powerful, omnipotent and omnipresent, then perhaps I don’t know Jesus at all.
What blinded the two men on the road to Emmaus? Why couldn’t they recognize the man walking beside them? Why were their eyes closed? Why were their hearts empty? Perhaps they too never knew Jesus.
Less than a week before he died, Jesus had taken bread, and said, “This is my body broken for you.” His last sermon was not about the power of God. His last words were not about the knowledge of God. His last breath was not about the creating genius of God. It was about brokenness, something at some point and time I believe we all have experienced.
I have no idea what the two men on the road to Emmaus expected. They heard rumors Jesus had been raised from the grave but they seemed to have discredited the unconfirmed gossip. I guess they believed if Jesus had risen he would return with a band of angels descending from heaven. That is what any of us might anticipate from the God of power and might. But what is it that we really need most when our lives have been shattered? Is it an affirmation of God’s power? Is it proof of God’s might? I am not sure any words would have been adequate. Phil’s question was not particularly helpful as we traveled toward Waynesboro, but in years following, Phil’s question continues to haunt me. I sometimes wonder if the resurrected body of Christ heals an aching heart. I sometimes wonder if God even desires to understand our pain. Then I wonder if an omnipotent God can even experience agony.
In the story of the road to Emmaus, before revealing himself, Jesus walked the two men through the Old Testament. I don’t know which scriptures he highlighted but the men were impressed by Jesus’ knowledge. But even this comprehensive journey through the sacred text failed to reveal his identity. Only when Jesus broke bread were their eyes opened.
When broken, how many of us have questioned God’s power? When broken, how often do we reconsider who God is? When broken, how often have we discovered a presence that never quite fits our traditional perception of the Almighty?
We like to brag that we are created in the image of God. Have you ever considered this image might have nothing to do with ultimate power or knowledge? Have you ever considered if those attributes are godly at all? If we are created in this image then God must be self-righteous, violent, even hateful because aren’t power and selective knowledge the vehicle we most often use to enslave or divide folks different from us?
Rabbi Abraham Heschel writes, “Sin is the refusal of humanity to become merciful, gracious, and steadfast in love. When we are anything else, we not only fail, we blame God for our failure.” Yet we still cling to power as a chalice of salvation.
Imagine embracing our brokenness? Imagine believing only a broken God can understand the pathos of our condition. Imagine emerging ourselves into the brokenness of this world as a condition for restoration. I imagine if we do, we might discover God is already there. To God be the glory. Amen.