In our Gospel reading for this morning, Luke shows us one way that growth happens.
In our reading, we are still in that very first Easter Sunday.
Now, put yourself in the disciples’ place for a minute. Think about what it would feel like to have gone through the emotional roller coaster they have just gone through.
Seventy-two hours earlier, the disciples were enjoying a Passover meal with Jesus, hoping that God’s kingdom would come in power and glory and that they would have a privileged place in it.
Then boom, everything goes bad. The disciples finally realize what Jesus has been saying all along, that one of them will betray Jesus to his death. Before they can process that horrible news, they have to watch Jesus pray in agony through the night. They still have not gotten any rest when they see Jesus arrested, tortured, and killed. All that in less than twenty-four hours. They must have been in shock.
We aren’t told much about the next day, but it is easy to imagine how awful it must have been for them. The disciples feared for their own safety, with good reason. Their great hopes had been disappointed. Their beloved master was dead. They had to wrestle with despair and grief and guilt. They had no idea what to do or where to go or even whether or not to stick together.
Then on Sunday morning—about twelve hours before our reading picks up—the women discover the empty tomb. The men don’t know what to make of the women’s report and initially dismiss it as an “idle tale” (24:11). I suspect the women were a little unsure as well.
Cleopas and another disciple were still so discouraged they decide to leave Jerusalem. Jesus himself appears to them as they walk to Emmaus, and their hearts burn within them, and when Jesus breaks bread they finally recognize their risen Lord. Jesus disappears. They head back to Jerusalem.
By the time Cleopas and his companion reach Jerusalem, with their amazing story, it’s getting late. As our Gospel reading begins, Jesus’ followers are gathered together trying to make sense of this incredible day after an unbelievably awful, exhausting weekend.
That is when Jesus appears to them.
And, unsurprisingly, they cannot handle it. We have seen this before. Luke says they were startled and terrified. They thought they were seeing a ghost. Jesus tries to calm them. Even then, despite their budding joy, the disciples remain disbelieving and wondering. My guess is, some of them thought they were going crazy. If so, who could blame them, after the multiple traumas they have been through in the last three days?
If we want to make sense of this passage, if we want to hear its good news, for them and for us, if we want to learn what it has to teach us about coming to know our Lord, we have to pause in that moment.
The risen Lord is right there in front of his disciples. Jesus offers them peace, forgiveness, hope, joy, direction, life. Salvation itself is right in front of them. And they can’t take it in.
I have never lived through anything like that weekend. But, in my considerably less dramatic way, I have been there. We have all been there. Sometimes life is hard. And when we are struggling, we may know in our heads that Jesus is with us, offering us comfort and strength. But we cannot take it in. In those times, what can we do? How can we know Jesus?
Back to the upper room. In that moment, Jesus’ task is to help these broken men and women open themselves up to his life-giving presence.
And how does he do it? “Jesus opened their minds to understand the scriptures.”
We don’t know exactly what Jesus said. I think that is intentional. The point is not the meaning of some particular passage of the Old Testament. The point is to help them to see Christ in Scripture so that they will be a little better at seeing Christ right in front of them.
What was true for them then is true for us now. The Bible can help us to see Jesus, who is standing right in front of us the whole time.
Christians sometimes fight about the Bible. At least where I come from, some Christians insist on taking the whole Bible literally. People have said to me that if they thought there was a single error anywhere in the Bible, they would reject the whole thing.
That has always seemed to me to miss the point. The Bible is not a history or science lesson. The Bible is an invitation to know Jesus better. The Bible is a tool for spiritual growth, a tool to help us grow in the knowledge and love of God, a tool to help us see the resurrected Lord who is with us all the time.
It can be hard to hear God’s voice or to see Jesus Christ in some passages. Some days I don’t get much from reading the Bible. But other days, the Spirit seems to be swirling around, and my heart burns a little bit, and it is like my mind is being opened, and Jesus is there.
On those days, I am getting a small taste of what Jesus gave the disciples on that first Easter evening.
Here at Saint David’s we have been practicing what is for many of us a new way of reading the Bible, a way designed to open our minds and our hearts to its message. We have been gathering after the 10:00 service for “contemplative prayer.”
There are lots of ways to do contemplative prayer. We read a short passage from the Bible out loud, sit in silence for one minute, and then go around the circle sharing, as briefly as possible, what we think God may be saying to us in the passage. We do it three times. Often what we get is just a single word that sticks with us for whatever reason.
Our goal is not to understand the passage better. We don’t talk about that. Instead, we listen for God’s voice in and through the words of Scripture, asking Jesus to open our minds to his presence, to help us come to know and love him a little better.
So far, I haven’t gotten any major revelations. But, every once in a while, we get a bit of God’s still, small voice. That is a great comfort and a great encouragement and a great help.
I invite you all to join us if you can. But whether or not you do it here, I invite you to try praying with the Scriptures. You can choose a passage almost at random. Read it out loud, slowly, and then sit with it for a minute and see what comes up. Try that a few times over the next week or so, and see what you think. See if your heart and mind open up just a bit to Jesus’ presence.
No single practice is for everyone. But praying the Scriptures can be a tremendous help in our spiritual journey deeper into God’s presence. And that is my hope and my prayer for us.
In Christ’s name. Amen.