Lent creates a buildup to Good Friday, and the anticipation of the resurrection. In the afterglow of Easter, we often find ourselves wondering, “What’s next?” Well, of course, forty days after Easter comes the ascension, and another ten days after that comes Pentecost – but until then, what’s next?
The story in Luke’s gospel that follows the resurrection is the journey to Emmaus trod by two friends. The risen Lord Jesus joins them, but they don’t recognize him. They remain baffled by all that has happened, for they were hopeful that Jesus, who was crucified, would be the Messiah. Those hopes were dashed when Jesus was crucified, but then they heard the remarkable rumour that the tomb was empty and he had risen from the dead.
These faithful people, like most of their fellow citizens, did not think this was how the story of the Messiah was supposed to go. But Jesus, at this point a stranger to them, explains the Scriptures to them to help them see that indeed, their faith tradition did call for the events that had transpired in recent days – even if their cultural tradition did not see it that way.
The story of the walk to Emmaus has many lessons in it for God’s people, and perhaps this one flies under the radar too often: when we make assumptions about our faith that are cultural and not biblical, Jesus may surprise us.
The Jewish people of the first century expected a political Messiah, one who would ride in on a white horse and send the Romans packing. While there are occasionally allusions to such a hope in the Old Testament, there is much more that points to the Messiah who would suffer and die, and be raised from the dead.
Though Jesus does not walk alongside us physically as we journey through life, he does live in and through us by the Holy Spirit, who helps us understand the Scriptures as we read them. The Holy Spirit wants to work in us; the trick is to position ourselves for that to happen, and it starts by reading the Scriptures. For as we read the Bible under the promised illumination of the Holy Spirit, we will find, as those journeying disciples did, that our hearts will “burn within us”. That’s a kind of heartburn no antacid will take away! And that reading of Scripture will help us see what’s cultural and what’s biblical about who we are and how we live.
“They said to each other, ‘Didn’t our hearrts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?’” (Luke 24.32, NLT).