Jesus walks with the Broken Hearted
Cleopas and his companion are bowed down with grief at the loss of someone who meant a lot to them; and where they walk, some of us are walking, now, and others of us have walked in past years. It's a lot wider than just bereavement, because this is heartbreak in other ways as well. Some of us will have had to face great disappointment - hopes and ambitions perhaps which weren't to be fulfilled - or things which meant a lot to us but which have gone for ever, or which have not been valued by others around us. Others of us will have other hurts, painful memories perhaps, or fears; it might be that we still feel guilty over a situation that is long past. But for all of us, there's a wonderfully reassuring verse in Psalm 34, verse 18, which says:
"The Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit."
It's clear from the way that Cleopas and his companion act and speak that they have been deeply affected by Jesus's death. Their faces are downcast - you can see their sorrow; they are deeply disappointed in that all their hopes have been dashed - they'd expected great things of Jesus, they'd thought he was unstoppable, but that's all gone now; and they're totally bewildered - there are all these wild stories going around about what the women had allegedly seen and heard up at the tomb this morning but none of them make any sense.
It will have been a long, slow and depressing trudge back from Jerusalem to Emmaus, with that feeling of emptiness inside that some of us know only too well ourselves. The 'map' of their world which they had built up over their lives and especially over the past two or three years that they had known Jesus, was suddenly lost - and over the coming weeks and months, if they were going to come to terms with this shock, they would need to remake that 'map', albeit differently.
The one they had lost meant an awful lot to them. They'd known him as a friend, someone they had spent a lot of time with, someone they'd shared meals with and journeys with; but they had also valued him for his teaching and his active ministry. He was bold and yet loving and compassionate in what he said; a man deeply used by God, and with wide popular appeal too. And then there were the hopes and expectations that had been laid upon him and which he had at least partially encouraged, that he might be the Messiah they had been looking forward to for so many generations. But now the rulers and authorities had had him taken out, so those hopes had come to nothing. He was only a young man, but he must have touched so many lives. Cleopas and his companion would have understood what John Steinbeck meant when he wrote: "The effectiveness of a man's life can be measured in the depths of the wounds his death leaves on others."
We all react differently in a bereavement; sometimes it'll depend on the circumstances, sometimes it'll depend on our relationship with the person who's died, sometimes it'll depend on our own personality; but a lot of folk feel that sort of emptiness. An American Christian writer called Ingrid Trobisch lost Walter, her husband of 27 years, and she writes that, in spite of being alert to the beauty of God's world, in spite of having five good children and grandchildren as well, in spite of the healing which she had found in certain kinds of music, "in spite of all these things," she writes, "there is still that empty hole in my life. If I could only feel the rough tweed of Walter's jacket again. Smell his aftershave lotion, his good clean body. Have his fine, sensitive hand hold my hand. Hear his jokes and merry laughter. See his wonderful profile and high forehead.
It's easy to say, 'Jesus is your husband, Ingrid.' But the hole is still there. Somehow my Lord is the One who enables me to live with that hole. He hasn't filled it up yet, but he has made a bridge over it. I can live with it now, and I can stand on this bridge as I reach out to others."
Cleopas and his companion are grieving; they are mourning their friend who was more than just a friend. Jesus joins them, although they don't recognise him; there may be all kinds of possible reasons why, but grief can sometimes blind us to other things that are going on, let alone to what God is doing. As we mourn our loved ones our world can sometimes shrink down to ourselves and perhaps just a very few others.
What does Jesus do? Well, he certainly doesn't bounce up like Tigger and say: 'Cheer up, here I am, it's me, I'm alive again!' No: the first thing he does is that he is simply there, and he listens. He lets Cleopas and his companion talk. Do you remember how, in the Old Testament, when Job lost everyone and everything, including his health, his three friends sat on the ground with him for seven whole days without speaking? The important thing was simply to be there, to be with him, to listen (Job 213).
A man who lost one of his sons described two different visitors who came to comfort him. He wrote this:
"I was sitting, torn by grief. Someone came and talked to me of God's dealing, of why it happened, of hope beyond the grave. He talked constantly, he said things I knew were true.
I was unmoved except to wish that he would go away. He finally did. Another came and sat beside me. He didn't talk. He didn't ask leading questions. He just sat beside me for an hour or more, listened when I said something, answered briefly, prayed simply, left.
I was moved. I was comforted. I hated to see him go." (quoted in Ingrid Trobisch, Learning to Walk Alone, p36)
So now Jesus is concerned, initially, just to be there and listen to Cleopas and his companion; it's a chance for them to be able to describe the situation as they see it and how they are feeling; and then he'll be in a better position to answer their needs.
So they talk - and what emerges is a clear description of whom they understood Jesus to be, a description of the cross, and even a description of the empty tomb - although they don't understand that yet. If you like, it's the gospel according to Cleopas - and the one thing that's missing is an experience of the risen Christ. That's what Jesus has to give them.
But he starts from where they are; and it's clear that Cleopas and his companion, like many other folk, were expecting a Messiah who would break the Roman occupation by force of arms. A Messiah who allowed himself to be caught by the Jewish authorities, handed over to the Romans and then be crucified before he'd even begun to organise any guerrilla activity or uprising: what good was he? Jesus of Nazareth couldn't be the Messiah, because he had died.
So Jesus had to show them from the Old Testament that the Messiah had to die, and that his work of deliverance actually depended on his dying. Jesus had to show them that the deliverance promised in the scriptures was bigger than simply a political or a military one; it had to go to the heart of their lives, the heart of their human nature, the heart of where they stood with God. What Jesus had to show them was how he himself was the way to resolving the jumble of events that they had witnessed.
And the result was that their hearts were warmed into faith and hope and new life. When they looked back, later that evening, they could see how it was happening: "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?" (Luke 2432).
And when they recognised him, at their dinner-table, everything fell into place. This was the final piece of the jigsaw. Recognising Jesus, present with them in his love and his risen power, made all the difference to their despair and grief; this gave them new hope and the energy to walk or perhaps run those seven miles back to Jerusalem, a lot quicker no doubt than on the way out! Simply being told about the empty tomb, earlier on in the day, hadn't been enough; they needed an actual meeting with the risen Christ who was no longer dead but powerfully alive; and they needed to hear his voice, speaking not the words of a dead prophet but of a living Saviour. Meeting Jesus, knowing that he is with us here and now, and hearing his voice speaking to us: that's what makes the difference. And if Jesus is with us, then heaven is very near; and he brings healing to the broken-hearted, and peace, and pardon too.
Back in Holy Week we'll have been reminded of the way St Peter was broken-hearted when he realised how he had denied three times that he even knew the Lord. But after his resurrection Jesus brought him healing, peace and pardon; and many years later, in his first epistle, he writes how Jesus's resurrection gives us new hope:
"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope though the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade - kept in heaven for you" (1 Pet. 13,4).
Knowing that Jesus is risen, knowing that he is with us in happy times and in sad times, and knowing that he speaks to us, gives us new hope - a hope that's based on solid fact, and not simply on fantasy or on dreams. Jesus lives! so life is worth living and all things work together for those who love God.
And we also shall live, because Christ's resurrection means the removal of the curse of sin and evil and death from God's world; God is making a new heaven and a new earth; we have a whole new future to look forward to. "Why do you look for the living among the dead?" says the angel. "He is not here; he has risen!" (Luke 245,6).
In the space of just an hour or two, Cleopas and his companion have moved on from despair and grief to new hope and trust, excitement and joy. Their world had been totally shattered; now it was being turned topsy-turvy all over again, but in such a positive way, and life would never be the same again. Those of us who come today with broken hearts know that our journey of healing and mending will take a long time, but they are God's gifts to us; and what makes all the difference to us is recognising that our risen Lord, who knows death and grief and life from the inside, is alongside us - he walks with us every step of the way; and listening to his voice:
"Do not be afraid... I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever!" (Rev. 117,18).
Taken from the sermon's at St. Nicholas, Sturry, and All Saint's, Westbere on 14 April 2002 by Revd Peter Cornish.