john davies
notes from a small curate

updated regularly
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Luke 24 - Emmaus Road - Surprised by Joy

    Christ Church Norris Green 10/4/2005 (Communion Service)

    1 Peter 1.17-23, Luke 24.13-35

    I read a true story the other day about a Brazilian businessman Alvaro Weyne who had 10,000 in cash and cheques and decided that the safest place to hide it would be in his office waste bin, because no one would think of looking in there. He was right. While he was away from his desk the cleaner came in and emptied the bin without giving it a second glance. [1]

    Life is like that sometimes, isn't it? You think you've got something precious and all of a sudden it's gone. But here's another story, which may or may not be true, but says something else about life.

    Enrico, a Brazillian pauper, who scrapes a living by scavenging the rubbish tips of the city and using or selling what he finds, picked up a small plastic bin-liner from the top of the new pile of refuse which had just been dumped. He opened it up, and to his great surprise and joy, there inside it was 10,000! He ran home to his wife and family, bought them all new clothes, had a celebration meal and put down a deposit on a house away from the slums.

    You see, sometimes life can do things like that to you. You think you've got nothing precious at all, that life has given you little, that the good things you once had are lost, and suddenly, without any warning, you are surprised by joy.

    I love the story of the two disciples on the Emmaus Road, don't you? I could read it again and again because it's the story of two people who are suddenly surprised by joy.

    At the start of the story they are two men defeated - they thought they had something precious, and all of a sudden it was gone. All they had with Jesus, all the warmth and wonder they'd shared with him and the others, had been taken away by the brutal forces of government and military, who had killed him as an agitator, an enemy of the state.

    By the end of the story they were two men exploding with warmth and wonder again, realising that the stranger they had been sharing their troubles with, the guest at their table, had been Jesus himself. They recognised him in the breaking of the bread. As the crumbs fell to the table, they were surprised by joy:

    Then their eyes were opened, and they recognised him; and he vanished from their sight [writes Luke]. They said to each other, Were not our hearts burning within us whilst he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?

    When Christ appeared to Mary Magdalene in the garden it was intimate, he called her by her name. When Christ appeared to the disciples, and later to Thomas behind closed doors, it was powerful, he gave them the Holy Spirit and strengthened their faith. When Christ appeared on the shore of Lake Galilee, cooking fish for the disciples' breakfast, it was mysterious and solemn and special. And to Cleopas and his companion in their lodgings at Emmaus it was all those things: intimate, empowering, mysterious; solemn and special.

    All these resurrection stories show us that Jesus is a God who wants to surprise us with joy.

    That expression, Surprised by Joy, was coined by the 20th-century Christian writer C.S. Lewis. He made it the title of his autobiography, where he talks about his early days as an athiest, someone who disbelieved in God and went out of his way to avoid God. But God was after him, he said, looking back.

    "You must picture me," Lewis wrote, "alone in [my room], night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet."

    Gradually he came to admit that God was God, and knelt and prayed: he said that "perhaps, that night, [he was] the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England." He began to attend church and to read the gospels. They started to make sense to him. Lewis had acknowledged God; now God was after him to acknowledge his son. The subject was on Lewis's mind constantly.

    In a now famous passage of Surprised by Joy, Lewis related his final step into real joy: "I know very well when, but hardly how, the final step was taken. I was driven to Whipsnade one sunny morning. When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did."

    The journey to Whipsnade Zoo was Lewis's Emmaus Road. It tells us that Emmaus Road experiences still happen in our day. They might happen to us.

    Writer Terry Lindvall explains Lewis's conversion like this:

    C.S. Lewis was drawn into the kingdom of God by joy - by a taste of this blessed fruit and divine gift. Joy was the divine carrot that persuaded such a self-proclaimed donkey as Lewis to plod down the road toward Jerusalem. It was the soft, disturbing kiss of God that unmade all of Lewis's world. Joy compelled Lewis toward the resurrection laughter of Easter... [2]

    I wonder if you are on the way to an Emmaus experience? Of course, you won't know if you are, that would be impossible - you couldn't be surprised if you did.

    But here is something which you can respond to. These stories tell us that Jesus brings joy to those who set themselves out on journeys. Who are making their way to Emmaus. Or Whipsnade Zoo.

    We don't know what joyful surprises Jesus has in store for us. But we can expect joyful surprises if we are on the way.

    Remember that the first followers of Jesus were not called Christians. That came later. They were called the People of the Way. Jesus had said, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

    Now, if you are on the way then you're on a journey.
    And if you are in The Way of Jesus then as you travel your behaviour will be affected by him. As they walked along the Emmaus Road those two travellers were very affected by him. Lets think about their behaviour on the way...

    First of all, they were talking with each other about all the things that had happened. Talking and discussing about the story of Jesus. People of The Way love to do that together.

    Secondly, they welcomed a stranger to walk with them. Worth remembering at an election-time where so much shameful talk is about excluding people who aren't like us. People of The Way open their hearts and their minds to people they don't know.

    Thirdly, the two men on the Emmaus Road shared the story of Jesus with the stranger. Something which People of The Way are always keen to do.

    Fourth, they listened to the stranger when he gave them a different view on the story they had told. When he turned the story around to show them a better way of looking at it, they listened. People of The Way will always be willing to listen and learn from others, whoever they are.

    And fifth, these two invited their companion in to stay with them. People of The Way practice hospitality, their table is always set for a guest.

    They were deeply unhappy, these men, they'd just been bereaved in the most terrible sircumstances, but they kept journeying, embraced a stranger, opened themselves up to new ways of thinking, generously offered up their food and their home. They did this because they were People of The Way. And if you are on the way then you're likely to be surprised by joy. And sure enough, they soon were.

    So joy comes through sadness, joy comes to those who walk the way of Jesus. This was C.S. Lewis's experience, as Terry Lindvall writes,

    Joy compelled Lewis toward the resurrection laughter of Easter, yet it was a path that had to pass through Good Friday. As Lewis grew in his faith, there would be no detour around the tears and tribulations of life - of being stomped, pressed down, and crushed like grapes - so that the sweet wine of intoxicating laughter could be poured out on dry, thirsty souls.

    So let us keep on the Way of Jesus ourselves, a Way many of us have been on for years, a Way perhaps we stray from every now and again. Let today's stories encourage us to live as People of the Way; and let us be thrilled by the expectation that in doing this we'll almost certainly find Jesus somewhere en-route, surprising us with joy.


    [1] I found this in Fortean Times, 196, May 2005
    [2] All Lewis quotes from Terry Lindvall, Joy and Sehnsucht, The Laughter and Longings of C.S. Lewis, 1997 Mars Hill Review 8 (Summer 1997)]