The "Chuck It" Plan vs. The Grace of God – Luke 24:13-35
This is one of my favorite Gospel stories. I’ve thought for years that this story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, just days after Jesus’ crucifixion on that first Easter day, as a matter of fact, is a snapshot of our larger faith journey. I see what happens to these two disciples on that road as something like our respective faith journeys all rolled into one compact, microcosm of a story. And it’s a pretty good story.
We have these two virtually anonymous and apparently insignificant followers of Jesus (after all, one of them goes nameless and this is the only time we ever hear of the one named Cleopas). Anyway, as Jesus’ followers, they thought they had it all figured out. They knew who God was. They knew who Jesus was. They’d heard him preach. They’d listened to him teach. They’d seen him heal and work a miracle or two, I imagine. They were on his side and ready to see him redeem Israel and conquer the world and usher in the Kingdom, and all the rest.
Then Good Friday happened. Their hero, their teacher, their miracle-worker, their Messiah wasn’t going to take on anyone. He was betrayed, he was denied, he was handed over to death and he was crucified for the whole world to see. And after three days, he was still dead, as far as they knew. So, they were leaving Jerusalem with their tails between their legs. Disappointed. Embarrassed. Wrong again. Pitifully sad. Maybe even in danger. So, it seems they opted for the “chuck it” plan, with no alternative but to give up hope and get the heck out of Dodge.
And then they meet Jesus. They don’t recognize him at first, but he asks them how they’re doing. He walks with them and he teaches them, again. He breaks bread with them, again, and they see him for who he is again – their Messiah, their salvation, their forgiveness, their reason for living despite all that had happened.
This is life as we know it, if you ask me.
Have you ever had it all figured out? Have there ever been times when everything was going your way and you just knew that God was on your side? Maybe it was a house. Maybe it was a car. Maybe it was a boyfriend, a girlfriend, a husband or a wife. Maybe it was a career or a diet or a cure or a gift that was going to be the answer to everything we think we need. Have there been times when you knew exactly who and where God was in your life and because of it, you were ready to take on the world?
And have you ever woken up to a Good Friday kind of morning – or maybe even a string of them day after day after day? Days of embarrassment, of disappointment, of shame and of failure? Have you ever fallen off the wagon, crashed the car, missed a mortgage payment or lost a job? Have you ever failed a marriage or lost a love? Have you ever been betrayed or denied or have you ever betrayed or denied in ways that make you want to get out of town? Have you ever been so wrong that you just wanted to chuck it and leave with your tail between your legs?
We all know some of what these disciples were feeling as they made their way to Emmaus. We’ve all wanted to “chuck it” and get out of Dodge. Maybe some of us even have. And sometimes there’s good reason for that, don’t get me wrong.
But sometimes, we get so blinded by our sadness and our frustration and our anger and our disappointment that we miss the very presence of Jesus among us. See, when Jesus sidles up beside these knuckleheads on the road to Emmaus and starts to talk to them about Moses and all those prophets and about how all of it pointed to a Messiah who suffers and then enters into glory, it wasn’t the first time they had heard this. This was old news. This was what Jesus had been preaching and teaching and promising all along.
He had dared them to destroy the temple of his body and then promised that it would be rebuilt in three days. He had commanded them to take up a cross and to follow him. He had told them straight up, flat out, in plain language that he must go to Jerusalem, undergo great suffering at the hands of their elders and chief priests, and be killed – all before being raised on the third day.
So when he shows up on the road that first Easter day, his restraint is almost as unbelievable as his resurrection from the dead! He plays it coy and cool with them, after all, with his questions. “Whatcha talking about as you walk along?” “Oh…did something happen in Jerusalem this weekend? I hadn’t heard.”
I’d sooner picture Jesus tackling them from behind, laughing and cackling, and overcome with joy that this resurrection thing all really did come true. I’d at least expect him to smack them upside the head, like a long lost friend, and say, “Weren’t you watching?” “Weren’t you listening?” “Weren’t you paying attention?” “It’s me, you knuckleheads! I’ve been saying this was how it would be, and here I am!” “I told you so!”
But their grief and their regret had gotten the best of them. They had forgotten that death leads to new life, in the kingdom of God. They had forgotten that God can transform struggle into celebration; brokenness into wholeness; darkness into light; sin into forgiveness; grief into joy; anger into peace; and the list goes on. And don’t we forget that, too, too much of the time?
None of this is easy. Life in the kingdom – even life on the other side of Easter’s empty tomb can still be really, really hard. There was never a promise of cake walks and easy living. “Wasn’t it necessary for the Son of Man to suffer and then enter into his glory?” And if that’s true for Jesus, might it not also be true for you and me?
Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber makes it a practice of inviting people new to her congregation to expect to get their feelings hurt; to expect for someone in the church – to expect even that the pastor – will upset them, hurt their feelings, make them mad at some point or another along the way. And what she invites her people to do – on this side of that anger, disappointment or hurt, before it gets ugly – is to decide to not employ the “chuck it” plan. To not cut and run. To not leave when the going gets tough.
Because if we just up and leave, we will never get the chance to witness the ability of God’s grace to transform all of that bad stuff into something beautiful and new and worthy of our time and energy and devotion.
And that’s as true for churches as it is for every area of our lives, really – families, relationships, careers, whatever. If we just up and leave, we will never get the chance to witness the ability of God’s grace to transform the bad stuff into something beautiful and new and worthy.
I’m not suggesting God relishes our struggles or our suffering or our sadness or puts us through it all, just to teach us a lesson. And I’m not suggesting that there’s never a time to chuck it and get out of Dodge.
But, Easter’s good news is that, in the midst of what hurts; when our hopes are dashed; when it all hits the fan, God still walks with us. Jesus comes and enters into our lives. Jesus breaks bread, blesses it, offers himself to us and reminds us that God’s grace – and the new life that has and will come – is bigger and more powerful than our deepest struggles.
That doesn’t take them away. But it gives us courage to endure. It gives us hope for the more that is to come. It gives us faith to wait and to see, to work, even, to let the worst of it all be changed… to be redeemed… to be transformed right where we live, right before our eyes into something holy and mighty and altogether new by God’s amazing grace.