You know those times when someone points something out in the Bible that is so clear you can’t believe you haven’t noticed it before, yet so deep and profound it seems almost as though there were some intelligent author at work*, weaving the story together and hiding treasures along the way? (*Before you all panic and think you ought to have a word with my pastor, yes, that IS what I believe, and haven’t suddenly stumbled upon the idea now!) Well I had one of those moments a couple of weeks ago.
Andy Tuck, the new student worker at our church was somewhat thrown into the deep end of his task by being asked to introduce and oversee the Communion. Though his nerves were apparent to all on the first few rows, the word that he brought was simple but richly satisfying.
He read the passage in Luke 24 about the disciples walking to Emmaus after Jesus’ crucifixion, and focussed on a little phrase in v31: “their eyes were opened”.
This phrase appears on another occasion where people were sharing a meal, he reminded us. The other time was in Genesis 3. Adam and Eve ate of the fruit and “their eyes were opened”.
Adam and Eve suddenly saw their nakedness. Their eyes were opened and they were ashamed. They were aware of their guilt and their disgrace.
I’ll come back to the Emmaus Road in a moment, but in the sermon later in the service, David Stroud, preaching on Nehemiah 3, wondered why the Jews had not organised themselves to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. This holy city was supposed to be ‘the joy of the whole earth’, why were they allowing it to remain in ruins? Why had it taken a Nehemiah to hear of their disgrace from afar and come to show them the way to rebuild?
We can’t be sure, of course. The opposition raised against them when Nehemiah did get the work going suggests that perhaps they had simply faced too much discouragement and had given up trying, or perhaps, David suggested, they had simply grown accustomed to their disgrace.
Back (or forwards) to Luke 24. The disciples were despondent. “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” Despite all he had tried to tell them in his three years of ministry, the disciples had not been able to see beyond their centuries-old worldview. They expected a mighty warrior who would overthrow the Romans, but they got a man who allowed himself to be arrested and killed.
Despite the testimony of the women who saw the empty tomb, and heard from the angels that Jesus was alive, they had grown so accustomed to disappointment and their lives of subservience to Rome that they didn’t have eyes to see, ears to hear or hearts to understand the truth that was right in front of them.
But then, as Jesus broke the bread “their eyes were opened and they recognised him”.
Unlike Adam and Eve, it wasn’t their nakedness and shame that were revealed, but the promised covering for their sins, and removal of their disgrace.
Too often we live like the Jews in Nehemiah’s day, so accustomed to our disgrace we fail even to notice it, let alone do anything about it. Yet we live in the days of the One who came from afar and rebuilt the ancient walls, to make us a city on a hill, the light of the world, the joy of the whole earth.
Are not our hearts burning within us?!