Lessons from the Roads to Emmaus and Damascus

What Can We Learn From Our Roads to Emmaus and Damascus?

Fragments of my family heritage.

I remember as a child looking through the family photo albums of both my mother and father. For the most part, the captions were just names.

In 1949 my father and mother, at great sacrifice, took us to Germany to reunite with their families. I was able to hear how different their experience of World War II was from my experience in America. Their lives were terribly upended. It was much different than I had imagined. I will never forget the mounds of rubble still piled high in a major city called Frankfurt.

I also remembered how startled I was, even at age 11, to see the door lintel on the house next to where my father was raised. The date inscribed was 1503! There is so much about my ancestors that I don’t know.

The same is even more true of the fragments of my Christian heritage. Maybe that is why I have always had a special appreciation for the Acts of the Apostles – our common family album.

Learning from fragments of my Christian heritage

The Acts of the Apostles tells the story of people whose lives were turned upside down. People who had to make sense of these upheavals.

We often hear the ancient saying from literally thousands of years ago: “There is nothing new under the sun.” Indeed, this is true. It is also true that we can learn from those who wrestled with the upheavals in their lives as recorded in our family album called the Acts of the Apostles.

Today I would like to share with you what I have learned from some travelers on two different roads in the land we call Holy. Call this the tale from two roads– Emmaus Road and Damascus Road

We do not know much about the people who traveled these roads. We do know that they were so different from each other… and yet so alike. We also know something they had in common. Their worlds were turned upside down.

First – Their expectations, experiences

The two disciples on the road to Emmaus had been searching for, expecting, a Messiah. They thought they had found what they were looking for, or rather who, they were looking for… the Messiah in the person of Jesus. He spoke plainly of a different way of looking at things. What is more, he did amazing things!

Then he turned out, in their eyes, not to be the Messiah but someone who had been brutally beaten, and suffered the most painful and shame-filled death one could imagine.

The one on the road to Damascus had quite the opposite view.

He was certain that this Jesus of Nazareth was bad news. He was stirring up the people. He was certain he knew better. In his own words, he thought of himself as among the best of Jews, especially Pharisees, or protectors of the law. He was a true believer, a man with a mission trying to hunt down those whose heads were turned by the Jesus.

What they had in common

Their worlds were turned upside down, crashed around them!

The two on the Emmaus Road were trying to get away from their disappointment. They were confused and disillusioned.

The one on the Damascus Road was searching out followers of Jesus’ way. He was certain, even self-righteous, about the misguided followers of Jesus’ way.

Then God intervened in their lives.

For the two walking to Emmaus, God’s intervention came gently. It took place through a stranger entering their lives as a travel companion. It seemed like a simple social encounter, but it turned out to be so much more. Listening to Jesus and breaking bread with him they finally recognized– Jesus was alive! For the one going to Damascus it was literally a blinding experience.

They never saw it coming.

They never dreamed that God would enter their lives. What could be more simple than having a casual conversation with a stranger, a fellow traveler? What could be more remarkable than being struck down and being blinded. Neither expected to encounter Jesus.

Each had to face a question

For the fleeing along the road to Emmaus, they asked, “Were not our hearts burning within us?” Who is this stranger? For the one charging toward Damascus, God intervened much more dramatically. Perhaps it was the only way to catch his attention. He heard Jesus say, “Why are you persecuting me?”

Role of community in bringing God’s good from this experience

For the two, it was running back to a familiar community to tell their Good News. What a relief! There was so much to share. For the other, it was the very community that he had been persecuting who now supported him. What a humbling experience, with so much to learn.

Mary’s experience of God’s intervention

She never saw it coming. God’s intervention in her life shocked her. She even asked, “How can this be?”

  • She was not prepared for the way her world would be further turned upside down.
  • Yes, the angel helped her through the initial stages of the shock.
  • Yes, she sought and gave comfort to her cousin Elizabeth who was in somewhat similar circumstances.
  • Yes, in the temple Simeon gave her a stark warning.
  • Yes, years later in the temple, Jesus himself would remind her that he was on a mission from his father.

But even with all these hints and warnings, I doubt if she realized the sufferings ahead in the week we call Holy. How much comfort could the Apostle John have been?

  • I would be surprised if she had not for the second time in her life asked, “How can this be?”
  • I would be surprised if she had not also asked, “Why must this be?

But with her son, I am sure she said: “Thy will be done!”

Questions for us

  • When was I surprised my world has been turned upside down?
  • What can I learn about myself and my certainties from Paul?
  • What can I learn from the disciples on the road to Emmaus about the unexpected ways God offers us guidance?
  • Can I see beyond the immediate pain that God will bring good out of this even if I do not understand how?

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