Lessons on the Road

And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself (Luke 24:27).

Hardly anyone remembers a sermon. Not many people remember a book. Still fewer remember a ‘daily devotional.’

Those of us who write or teach or preach don’t really like to hear that, but we know it’s true. This is not to say that all is lost or that all such efforts are wasted. The impact of spoken and written words, however, often comes in a smaller package. The book or lesson or sermon may be quickly forgotten – but people can be deeply touched by a sentence, a phrase, a word picture. These may linger for a long time.

Here’s how it happened once for me. The late Elizabeth Achtemeier taught at Union Theological Seminary in Richmond from 1973-1996. Years ago, I was listening to one of her lectures on a cassette tape in my car (yes . . . quite a few years ago). She was talking about how to teach on the prophets, making them come alive for people who attend church. I don’t recall much of the lecture at all, but I’ve never forgotten this sentence:

“Our churches are full of people who believe in God, they just don’t think God does anything.”

“Well, that’s nice”

This week we’re thinking about the aftermath of Easter and the presence of the risen Lord in our ordinary days. Luke’s post-resurrection narrative of ‘The walk to Emmaus’ is a great story, well known and much loved. The risen Jesus appears to two dejected and confused disciples making their way to the village of Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. Like Mary at the tomb, they fail to realize Jesus is walking with them. The story leads us to ask this question: How does Jesus actually show up and walk with us? Can you honestly go through this day with any expectation that this will happen in your life?

I have an uneasy suspicion that Dr. Achtemeier was right. The problem isn’t one of belief. If you’re reading this right now there’s a pretty good chance you believe in Jesus. The problem is experiential. What does it mean in practical terms to say that Jesus is alive and he walks with us? And if he does this, how are we to know it?

I’m troubled by the possibility of telling the story of the Emmaus road and having you think, “Well, that’s nice.” I’m wanting to convince you that this story is not nice. It’s life-changing and real. But again, how does it become that for you?

There are probably several good answers to that question, but I’m going to focus on one. I believe it’s the best answer because it’s the method Jesus chose to reveal himself on the road to Emmaus.

Open the Book

Luke tells us that after the Emmaus travelers had rehearsed to Jesus all that had taken place in Jerusalem, not realizing that they were talking to Jesus, Jesus started interpreting and explaining the Scriptures to them. He launched into a Bible study to help them see that everything they had witnessed in Jerusalem was anticipated in the Law and in the Prophets (Luke 24:27).

This is remarkable. Of all the things that Jesus could have done to show them that he was alive, he chose to interpret the scriptures. He took them back to the text of the Bible. He did not suddenly glow, he did not do a miracle, he did not at this moment show the nail prints in his hands. Rather than do anything like that, Jesus simply took them through the Bible.

So here’s the point: To experience the presence of Jesus walking with you, begin with the text of scripture. Be a reader of the Bible. You can do this – and it could change your life.

Of course, more than reading is required. We still need the grace of having our eyes opened to recognize Jesus with us. But if we neglect the Bible, never listening to its words or its promises or its guidance, we will regard the presence of the risen Jesus as a warm feeling or a nice idea.

As you open the book, you truly draw near to Jesus. As you open the book, Jesus draws near to you. In order to walk, read.


By your Spirit, O God, give us a hunger for your words. By those words, draw us deeper into your presence, we ask in Jesus’s name. Amen.

Seeing Through Your Tears

Mary went to the disciples with the news, “I have seen the Lord.” (John 20:18)

We’re told that the Lord is close to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18). And yet we know – perhaps from our own painful experiences – that the brokenhearted often struggle to sense or believe that God is close.

Our tears and whatever causes them can make it hard for us to see the one who stands with us, the one who has promised that a day will come when he will wipe every tear from our eyes (Rev. 21:4).

Just a couple of days ago churches all over the country, all over the world, swelled with throngs of people who gathered to hear a story that many of them have heard before. They all heard one basic message, the only message there is on Easter morning: Jesus is alive.

We’re not simply asserting that he walked out of the tomb back then. We’re saying that he is alive right now. That’s the Easter message.

I can’t help but wonder, however, how many people heard the message and sang the songs on Sunday but woke up yesterday without the slightest sense that it was true for them. For many, the presence of the risen Christ is eclipsed by some form of heartache or grief or despair.

Rushing to Conclusions

In the biblical Easter story, we see this reality at work in the experience of Mary Magdalene. In John’s account of the resurrection, Mary makes her way to the tomb early in the morning while it is still dark. She sees the stone rolled away and immediately leaves the scene to report this to the disciples. John then turns his attention to the footrace between himself (unnamed) and Peter – but once they’ve investigated the empty tomb they return to their homes (John 20:10).

Mary lingers there. She stands at the empty tomb weeping. That’s when Jesus shows up.

Jesus still does that. He shows up and stands with us in the middle of whatever heartache we’re dealing with. And like Mary, we are often unaware. The moment is interesting in that Mary sees Jesus, she speaks to him, but fails to recognize him. She doesn’t grasp the connection between the empty tomb in front of her and the person speaking behind her. That’s a connection that many of us fail to make, our vision clouded by our tears.

Don’t miss this: Mary Magdalene did not arrive at the truth of the resurrection by evaluating evidence and arriving at the best obvious conclusion. In fact, her assessment of the evidence she saw led her to an entirely erroneous conclusion. Mary came to know the truth of the resurrection and the presence of the living Jesus when he spoke her name.

Jesus spoke her name, and she saw him for who he was. That was the moment of recognition. Nothing flashy. Nothing weird. Jesus revealed himself in a way that was simple and personal. He spoke Mary’s name.

A Few Reminders

I offer this to you today as a reminder. There’s no formula that we can implement to hear Jesus speak our name – but we be confident of these truths.

First, Psalm 34:18 is true. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted. If that happens to be you today, for whatever reason or whatever circumstance, lean in hard on this promise.

Second, don’t rush to faulty conclusions about God or God’s love for you based on what you feel right now or what you’re living through right now. We don’t see well through our tears. We miss the living Christ who stands near us.

Finally, let’s ask for the grace to live as resurrection people. For Mary that meant a new found joy and courage as she rushed back to announce to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.”  That’s the testimony of resurrection people. We have good news to share. And this good news changes us – not because it shields us form any and all future heartaches and disappointments in this life, but because it allows to say with the apostle Paul, “we are sorrowful yet always rejoicing.”

What difference has the truth of the resurrection made in your life? What might be making it hard for you to see the living Christ?


We praise you, O God, for the presence of the living Christ standing close, actively at work by the power of the Holy Spirit. Help us to see this, even in our heartaches and disappointments. Speak our name and give us ears to hear, empowering us to live as resurrection people, we ask in the name of the risen Jesus. Amen.

What Happens Next?

And they brought him to the place called Golgotha . . . (Mark 15:22).

Once they had arrived at the place of execution – a hill called Golgotha – Simon was free to go.

He had done what the authorities demanded of him. He had been pulled from the ranks of spectators, forced to walk with a condemned man whose bloodied back could not sustain the weight of the cross on which he would die. That man needed help and Simon had been forced to give it.

A fifth century Christian document called The Gospel of Nicodemus suggests that Simon was not ordered to do the executioners felt pity for Jesus. The soldiers were simply in a hurry to get the job done, eager to put Jesus to death as quickly as possible. Simon was a convenient means of achieving this goal. Once they arrived at the site of crucifixion his usefulness to them was spent.

Once Simon arrives at Golgotha, he’s done. So what happens next?

Some Options

The best answer is that we do not know. We have no idea what Simon did or where he went or what became of him because the Bible doesn’t tell us. The significance of what Simon did is evidenced by the fact that three of the four gospel writers mention him and his cross-bearing walk with Jesus. The frustration is in the lack of detail and follow up provided by Matthew, Mark, and Luke. We need to be careful not to fabricate what scripture doesn’t teach us. But sometimes the open-ended stories allow room for our imaginations to explore and meditate on the biblical text.

One possibility is that Simon dropped the cross to the ground and immediately went back to his life. All he wanted to do was get out of there, leaving Jesus and the cross and the execution far behind him. In this scenario Simon, a pilgrim to Jerusalem for the celebration of Passover, rushes off to get back to his religious observances. He wants to check the religious box and pack his bags for home.

But another possibility is that somehow the encounter with Jesus and the act of carrying that cross worked a profound change in Simon. Again, we have no way of knowing if he lingered on that hill to witness the crucifixion. But perhaps the weight of the cross and the presence of the person with whom he walked never left him. Maybe Simon left that hill with a yearning to know God better and love God more. Never again would it be enough to check the religious box.

Religion v. A Jesus Life

The cross of Christ forces all of us to ask, “What happens next?”

What does the crucifixion of Jesus actually do to the way you live your life? One option is quite popular and widely practiced. Live your life with occasional religious pauses as appropriate: major holidays, weddings, attending church with your mother. Do your best to be your best.

But another option is trading a do-your-best life (with occasional religious pauses) for a Jesus life: a life a sacrificial love rooted in the mercy shown to you on the cross; a life enabled by the gift of God’s Spirit. That’s called being a Christian.

We have a few more weeks of reflections on the cross. That’s plenty of time for you to get ready to answer the question: What happens next?

When it comes to Simon of Cyrene, the answers are speculative. We’re guessing. But when it comes to your life, answering the question doesn’t involve guess work. You will answer with your life – your real-world everyday life. You can rush back to business as usual, or you can respond to God’s great love for you shown so clearly of the suffering of his son.

So what will it be. What happens next for you?


Gracious God, may the fact of Christ’s crucifixion be more than an event that we remember. Grant that it might be a reality that defines how we live, sharing with others the grace we have received through the cross, by the power of your Spirit. We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.