There is often a space between what Jesus says and what we understand. It is like the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). As they were walking and talking, they lost themselves in the despair of Jesus’ death. When Jesus encounters them on the road, “their faces [were] downcast” (Luke 24:17). The Greek word is σκυθρωπός (skuthrōpos) and is only used twice in the New Testament. It refers to a pain so potent it is etched into the lines of your face. Perhaps it was the grief of death that clouded them from recognizing that Jesus was journeying with them.
These Emmaus disciples were living in the space between what they understood and what Jesus had already accomplished. Jesus had already defeated the chains of death. Jesus had already broken open not only his tomb but also the tombs of many throughout the city (Matthew 27:52-53). The disciples had already received the report from the women who visited the grave only to hear from the angels, “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said!” (Matthew 28:6). But in moments of great grief and great questions, the road can seem lonely. Jesus received their questions just as he will receive your questions. Questions are not a disqualification.
If you are in a space between what has happened and what you understand, you are not alone. If you are on a road filled with questions facing unanticipated loss and violently shattered expectations, you are not alone. The resurrected Lord is here, and Jesus walks the path of pain with us. The Kingdom of God is often living in the tension of pointing to the hope of resurrection in the space between that truth and what is being experienced.
Violent death and unanticipated loss course though our world today. Tens of millions have lost their lives in a global pandemic. Hundreds of millions have fallen deeper into poverty. Racial injustices, violent nationalism, war and conflict, extreme weather, genocide, and the vacuous gasp of consumerism leave gaping holes and piercing questions. But this is part of the Easter message – the resurrected Lord is here. Even when we do not recognize him, Jesus walks the path of pain with us.
Undoubtedly as Jesus accompanied these disciples in this space between what he had already accomplished and what they understood, his teaching was essential. But Jesus’ teaching by itself was not transformative. Their eyes remained clouded until Jesus entered into their home and shared the intimacy of breaking bread with them. Teaching was essential; the intimacy of relationship was transformative. It was only when the bread was shared that “their eyes were opened” and they recognized that Jesus had always been right there with them on the path of pain (Luke 24:31).
The same is true today. To a world on a journey of pain, Jesus’ teachings are essential, but a relationship in Christ is transformative. Let us receive the questions of this world and journey with those who are seeking understanding. But let us resolve not to share answers and lectures alone. Rather let us follow the model of Jesus by embracing grief and pain in the intimacy of relationship. Are we willing to follow this Jesus model? For those who are suffering, for those with questions, for those in the grip of death – are you willing to join yourself to that pain with an intimacy that breaks bread with them in their home?
This Easter, on behalf of the Baptist World Alliance, a family journeying together in 126 countries and territories, the resurrected Lord is here. Even when we cannot fully see him or fully understand, Jesus walks the path of pain with us all the way to resurrection.
Rev. Elijah M. Brown, PhD
General Secretary & CEO