Imagine a life without U-turns. Imagine a life where you’re heading the wrong way in life and it doesn’t feel like there’s any hope to make a change in your life.
That’s what these two travelers were experiencing during their seven mile journey on that first Easter Sunday. They were trying to get away from the place where it had all gone wrong and where their hopes and dreams were sealed in the same tomb where Jesus’ body had been placed just a few days earlier.
And as they were walking down the road, they were recounting all the events that had taken place those last few days…the parade where the crowd had waved palm branches and shouted hosanna to Jesus as he entered the city…the arrest in the garden…the trial…the crucifixion…and now, the wild and crazy rumor that those who visited the tomb earlier that day were told that he was alive.
To them, they figured that rumor was fake news or wishful thinking. With all of these thoughts swirling through their heads, they were now traveling down the road toward the little village of Emmaus. They were struggling to make sense of all they were experiencing and feeling in that moment.
And so they traveled and commiserated with each other about all these things. It’s times like this when you’re all tied up in knots, you’re confused, you’re angry, you’re in grief, and you just need to take a walk, or maybe go workout at the gym. Little did they know as they walked down that dusty Emmaus road, that they would experience a U-turn like no other.
Jesus appears to them as a stranger which is an interesting thought in and of itself. We don’t always recognize Jesus right away, do we? It’s only in hindsight where we look back and realize that he was with us the whole time.
These two travelers, after realizing that the stranger was Jesus said to themselves, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road?”
I love this story because this is what we are always encouraging each other to do here at Athens First. We are encouraging each other to become more aware of how Jesus is present in our every day lives. We call these “Thin Place” moments. The phrase “thin place” refers to the thin place that is between heaven and earth where God is made present to us in very real ways.
These two travelers experienced the ultimate thin place moment when they recognized this stranger as the Risen Christ. Luke tells us that after Jesus left them, they got up right then, and returned to Jerusalem to find the disciples and share the good news of Easter with them. What they thought was fake news was actually real news.
The good news of Easter was how they were able to make a U-turn and head in a new direction of life, hope, and great joy.
Emmaus U-turns still happen today, thank God!
Nationally known Christian author and speaker, Tony Campolo often tells the story of someone who made a U-turn in his life literally and spiritually. It’s a great story.
Tony tells about the time he was asked to speak at a Pentecostal college. Before the service, eight men had him kneel so they could place their hands on his head and pray. Tony was glad to have the prayer, but each of them prayed a really long time, and the longer they prayed the more they pushed on Tony’s head. And then they even seemed to wander in their prayers. One of the men didn’t even pray for Tony. He prayed for some guy he was concerned about. He began to pray and said, “Dear Lord, you know Charlie Stoltzfus. He lives in that silver trailer down the road a mile. You know the trailer, Lord, just down the road on the right-hand side.”
Tony wanted to interrupt and tell him that God already knew where the guy lived and didn’t need directions, but he just knelt there trying to keep his head upright.
The prayer went on: “Lord, Charlie told me this morning that he was going to leave his wife and three kids. Step in and do something, God. Bring that family back together.”
With that, the prayer time ended and Tony went on to preach at the college chapel. Things went well and he got in his car and began to drive home. As he drove on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, he saw a hitchhiker and felt compelled to pick him up.
Tony said, “We drove a few minutes and I said: ‘Hi, my name is Tony Campolo. What’s yours?’ He said, ‘My name is Charlie Stoltzfus.’ I couldn’t believe it! I got off the turnpike at the next exit and headed back. He got a bit uneasy with that and after a few minutes he said, “Hey mister, where are you taking me?’ I said, ‘I’m taking you home.’ He narrowed his eyes and asked, ‘Why?’ I said, ‘Because you just left your wife and three kids, right?’ That blew him away. ‘Yeah, yeah, that’s right.’
With shock written all over his face, he plastered himself against the car door and never took his eyes off me. Then I really did him in as I drove right to his silver trailer. When I pulled up, his eyes seemed to bulge as he asked, ‘How did you know that I lived here?’ I said, ‘God told me,’ which I guess he kind of did, right?
When he opened the trailer door Charlie’s wife exclaimed, ‘You’re back! You’re back!’ He whispered in her ear and the more he talked, the bigger her eyes got. I said with real authority, ‘The two of you sit down. I’m going to talk and you two are going to listen.’Man, did they listen…that afternoon I led those two young people to Jesus Christ.”
Charlie Stoltzfus experienced an Emmaus Road U-turn that day.
God specializes in U-turns.
Good Friday leads to Easter. Death leads to New Life. Grief leads to Hope. Sadness leads to Great Joy!
When I was a freshman in college, I was really struggling with what I was supposed to do with my life. I wasn’t happy with my major, and so I decided to put all of my focus on playing baseball in college. When baseball was no longer fulfilling my happiness, I started to feel really, really empty.
I didn’t know what to do with my life. I was headed down a road without any clear direction or purpose in life.
That changed one day, when I happened to come across an old cassette tape from a county-wide youth rally that I had attended when I was in my early teens.
After I dusted off that old cassette tape, and by the way, for those of you who grew up with Bluetooth and streaming devices, a cassette tape was something that cavemen had to use a long time ago.
Anyway, I listened to that cassette tape in which the speaker challenged the youth who had gathered for that rally to make a commitment to put Jesus Christ first in our lives. He said that if we would put Jesus first in everything we did, that we would experience a sense of peace and purpose in our lives.
Now, remember, I was there at that youth rally and heard that message in person, but when I listened to it on tape several years later as a struggling freshman in college, it was like I was hearing if for the very first time.
I listened to that tape over and over again, just taking in the message to put Jesus first in everything I do. And then, one afternoon, I’ll never forget it. This is what became my Emmaus Road U-turn.
One afternoon, I got on my knees and I made a recommitment of my life to Christ. While on my knees, I promised Jesus that I would do whatever he wanted me to do. I told him that I had tried to do things my way, but now I wanted to trust in him.
When I stood up from that prayer, it was like this huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I felt a peace that I had been missing in my life. I could sense that a turn around was about to happen in a really good way.
There were two things that Jesus wanted me to do immediately. The first thing was to study and get good grades even though I wasn’t sure about my major. It worked! I made the Dean’s list the next Semester.
The next thing Jesus wanted me to do, was to begin a new bible study group by inviting people my age who didn’t have a church home.
That bible study group met regularly for the rest of my time in college. Two people in that group ended up becoming pastors. One of the group members stopped going to parties every weekend and started attending church on a regular basis. His Emmaus Road U-turn was pretty dramatic. For others, we were able to encourage and help each other grow in our faith.
My Emmaus Road U-turn led me to respond to a calling into the pastoral ministry. It was only when I finally stopped walking down a road where I wasn’t following God and putting Christ first, that I was able to turn around and follow a new direction in my life.
The wonderful thing about Emmaus U-turns is that they appear all along our faith journey. Jesus is always present with us and invites us to follow him in new and life transforming ways.
The gospel writer, Luke, is very clever in the details he gives us on how these two travelers were finally able to recognize that the stranger who had been walking with them was Jesus. Luke tells us that it wasn’t until they were about to eat together, that they figured it out.
It was when this stranger broke bread that they finally had their “aha!” moment. Think about this for a moment. How did Jesus keep a straight face for that long?? There is no way that I would have been able to hide my expression. Jesus must have taken some pleasure in watching their faces when they finally realized it was him.
The other thing I like about this story is that Jesus doesn’t force himself on these two travelers. He becomes their traveling companion and invites them think about their faith in a new way.
So, Luke tells us that it was when Jesus broke bread that they figured it out. “Breaking bread” is Luke’s code phrase for what we refer to as the Sacrament of Holy Communion.
Luke is reminding us in this story that if we want to follow a new direction of faith that includes the hope and promise of resurrection and new life, the Sacrament of Holy Communion is a great place to encounter the Risen Christ in our lives. He also emphasizes the importance of the scriptures since that’s an important part of his story as well.
The sacrament and the scriptures – both are important ways that we encounter the Risen Christ in new and fresh ways.
Rachel Held Evans is a Christian author and speaker. She has an interesting story of how the Sacrament of Holy Communion helped her eyes to see Christ in a new way in her life.
She says how Holy Communion has always been important to her but it took on a whole new meaning for her when she was the keynote speaker at a large youth rally worship service a few years ago.
The person who was in charge of the rally had asked her to hold the communion bread at one of the several communion stations during the youth rally. Rachel was glad to do so.
Since there were hundreds of youth at this event, that meant that several youth would be coming to her station to receive a piece of bread. They would then dip the bread into the chalice of grape juice which someone would be holding next to her.
Rachel knew to say the words, “The body of Christ broken for you,” to each youth who came to her station. What took her off guard, was how many times she had to repeat those words because of all the youth who came to her station.
She said how it was so interesting to see how each youth received the bread in their own unique way. Some came with a serious look on their face. Others were smiling. Some expressed nervous laughter. Some looked indifferent when they received the bread from her because for some, this was probably the first time they had ever received communion. She said that the variety of expressions of these young people reminded her of how God’s grace is offered to us wherever we may be on the road of our faith journey.
But what impressed her the most about serving communion to so many youth that day, was in the number of times she said that phrase, “The body of Christ broken for you.” She would look in the eyes of each youth and say, “The body of Christ broken for you.” “The body of Christ broken for you.” “The body of Christ broken for you.” “The body of Christ broken for you.” Imagine saying that same phrase over and over, like about 80 times!
She said that just by saying that phrase so many times, “The body of Christ broken for you,” she was able to sense the presence of the Risen Christ in a very real way, like she had never experienced before.
Like those two travelers on the road to Emmaus, the breaking of the bread opens our eyes to see the Risen Christ, and lead us into a new direction that is filled with hope, joy, and new life.
Thank God for U-turns.
The Emmaus U-Turn
Small Group Questions
April 30, 2017
The Emmaus Road story is about two followers of Jesus who are walking toward the little village of Emmaus. They are very sad over the death of Jesus just a few days earlier. They had heard the rumor that Jesus was alive, but didn’t believe it to be true. The women who visited the empty tomb that morning knew that Jesus was alive. This story reminds us that we are all at different places along the road of our journey of faith.
Share where you feel you are in your spiritual walk with Christ? Are you struggling with doubts? Are you feeling strong in your faith? Are you at a place where you have a lot of unanswered questions about your faith?
When the two followers of Jesus realized they had been in the presence of the Risen Christ, it was like a U-turn in their faith. The Gospel writer, Luke tells us that their hearts burned within them when they realized it was the Risen Christ. Pastor Robert shared about a U-Turn experience in his life when he made a recommitment of his life to Christ while he was in college. It led him into a new direction of trusting Christ.
Have you ever experienced an Emmaus U-Turn experience along your journey of faith? Share with the group.
The followers of Jesus were able to recognize the Risen Christ along their walk to Emmaus because the stranger shared the scriptures with them and when he broke bread with them during their meal. Pastor Robert shared that the breaking of bread is the gospel writer’s code for what we know today as the Sacrament of Holy Communion.
In what ways do the scriptures and the Sacrament of Holy Communion help you to experience the Risen Christ in your life?