That same day two of them were walking to the village Emmaus, about seven miles out of Jerusalem. They were talking with each other ....In the middle of their talk and questions, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them .... (Luke 24:13-16).
We are grateful that Jesus is our companion, and He not only walks with us in our good times but also in those moments when our hearts are filled with pain, distress and doubt.
Today if we go to any pharmacy, we will discover that even a simple pain-relief drug like Panadol has taken on new personas: Panadol Extra (for severe pain), Panadol Rapid (for quick pain relief), Panadol Long Lasting (to keep pain away longer), and many more.
We may run to Panadol when we experience physical pain in our bodies but this tablet, taken with whatever dosages, will offer no help to the pain, burden, and turmoil in our hearts.
Do we admit that pain and burdens are very much part of our lives? Someone said, "Either we pick them up or they will be dropped upon us".
Like a bomb, the two disciples on the Emmaus road experienced a deep kind of pain and disappointment that were dropped upon them. It may not be easy to describe their pain but what we know from Scriptures is that they were down -- and downcast. The text also said that "they had hoped" (v21). Notice the past tense. And now, in the present point of their lives, they must have felt hopeless. Their dream for a political Messiah to save Israel was shattered. Perhaps their hope was now buried in the borrowed grave of Joseph of Arimathea?
We could ask the two disciples to please take two tablets of Panadol, four times a day. Would the pain and discouragement go away? Surely not.
Instead in their dark journey, unknown to them, they experienced the companionship of Jesus. Likewise in our own version of Emmaus journey today, and especially in this darkness of the pandemic and political uncertainties, we can be encouraged that Jesus walks with us, each step of the way.
In our daily life, we often experience God walking with us through the companionship of a human person.
Going to a large hospital for medical tests can sometimes be stressful and anxious. Recently I'm thankful for my wife, Lillian, who walked with me inside the big maze of the UMMC hospital complex in Kuala Lumpur. My wife had also previously been a companion to my late mum in almost all of her medical check-ups, procedures, and major operations.
During this pandemic, I'm inspired by the testimony of my good friend who chooses to walk with the low-income Covid positive patients who are quarantined in the Travelodge City Centre. This centre in KL is sponsored by Crest Malaysia; my friend, in his mid 60s, serves as a volunteer, leading the sanitization team. What touches my heart is that he is willing to live-in at the centre as required by his tasks.
The theme of "Walking" is a big theme in the Bible. God walks with us and we can experience His presence in good and difficult times. It is a great comfort to experience The Lord as my Shepherd, and how He walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4).
Our life's journey is often like a roller-coaster ride. But we can learn to notice that the Lord has been faithful, walking and guiding us each step of the way. May we echo the words of the psalmist, "For this God is our God for ever and ever, he will be our guide even to the end" (Psalm 48:14).
The Lord is not only our companion. We can also be a companion to walk along side others - intentionally living out a life of mutual care and support for one another.
The NT has much to say about this "one another" ministry. The apostle Paul calls us to carry one other's burdens (see Galatians 6:2). We can also offer the simple "gift of presence" to be there for someone. In this way, we follow in the footsteps of the women who stood at the foot of the cross, being present to the Lord in his suffering.
Have you ever noticed how Luke highlighted that there were two - not one - troubled disciples on the Emmaus journey?
There is great value to walk with others. There are times we may want and may need to walk alone. But discipleship is a long journey, and if we want to finish well and go far, we walk together.
The Bible reminds us that companionship strengthens us. "Two are better than one .... if one falls down, his friend can help him up ....," says the writer of Ecclesiastes (4:9-11). In fact, as a Swedish proverb tells us, "Shared joy is a double joy, shared sorrow is half a sorrow".
There is great value when we learn to share our lives and even ministry. Indeed this series of blogs I have written would not have been possible if not for team ministry, including support from the dedicated editors. I would like to take this opportunity here to acknowledge the labour of love put in by my friends, Alvin, and his wife, Fern, in the editorial work. Shared joy is a double joy!
It was a black day and night of despair as the two disciples walked on the Emmaus road. Likewise we may be faced with gloom in our country, city or community. As I write this on the month of August, where we celebrate Malaysia's national day, we do not feel the spirit of Merdeka, or freedom.
There is a pall of despondency. Unemployment and suicide rates are increasing. More people feel mental and financial distress. While cash is king for many businesses, the sad fact is that cash is no more. Covid cases and deaths are no longer newspaper statistics but real people with names who are our loved ones, friends and neighbours. Death is real. And it is heart-wrenching to see that there are cases with no last kisses and no goodbyes for their loved ones.
In this dark period of our life's journey, we do not have any answers to the pain in life. For some the days ahead are unknown and uncertain - with a crippling economy and even with lives hanging by a thread. In the worst of times like these, however, we can be assured that God is still walking with us.
Today, I pause and respond with a grateful heart for the exhausted nurses in the public hospital who soldier on because of their passion and care of duties. Hats off to these frontliners! As they walk with the Covid patients in this painful time, may the Lord also walk with them and renew their strength.
Lord, walk with us when we feel stuck at home in this lockdown, or when we feel stuck in our work, or in our country, or even stuck in our relationship with the people around us.
May this time teach us to notice your pain and suffering. For Eugene Peterson once wrote: "The biblical revelation neither explains nor eliminates suffering. It shows, rather that...where the sufferer is, God is".
Above all, we pray specifically that you will walk and
become the husband to the grieving widow (Isaiah 54:5), and
become the father to the orphaned (Psalm 10:14), and
become the healer to the sick (Ex.15:26), and
become the wonderful counsellor to the confused and depressed (Isaiah 9:6).