"....and he disappeared from their sight .... (v31) ...While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven ..." (Luke 24:50-53).
C.S.Lewis, writing in The Last Battle, described it beautifully when he came to the conclusion of The Chronicles of Narnia: "this is the end of the stories."
But for the Narnia characters, he said, "it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page and now at last they were beginning chapter one of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever - in which every chapter is better than the one before."
What an amazing conclusion that leads to the Great story going on and on.
So Jesus disappeared. Is this the end of the story?
As the disciples discovered two thousand years ago and as we will soon discover, there are many more chapters and blessings in the Big Story of God's salvation for the whole world and for our lives.
How might Jesus' disappearance or going away bring about this reality - the reality which says that the gospel story has not ended and indeed "the best is yet to be"?
One way to reflect on this question is to consider what Jesus said before his death, in the upper room, when he told the disciples: "But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counsellor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you" (John 16:7).
Jesus said that it is for your good. Really?
But Jesus means it. We do not have the human Jesus with us but it is better for us to have presence of the Holy Spirit.
Today we are truly blessed because we have the Spirit of Christ with us. We can experience God, the Holy Spirit, as our Counsellor, Comforter, Helper, and Teacher. In time of emotional and mental distress, we may be able to call the Befrienders but we can also open our hearts to be ministered by the Spirit of the Living Christ who is our Comforter.
The Holy Spirit also empowers us in the work of evangelism. My wife, while physically small in size, was empowered by the big Holy Spirit during her young days to share the gospel with so much passion to her classmates. She even rode a bicycle to their houses to do Bible study or follow-up work. Decades later, some of the school friends have come to know Christ ; they expressed gratitude for her zeal to share the good news to them.
Jesus' going away did not end the gospel story. Luke continued to write the next episode and chapter of the story in the book of Acts. Because of Jesus' going away, we now have the power of the Holy Spirit given to us today - so that the gospel can be proclaimed in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to all people at the ends of the earth (see Acts 1:).
We do not have the human Jesus but we have the spiritual gifts.
Today we are grateful that the giver of spiritual gifts is the ascended Christ (see Ephesians 4:7-10). We are blessed with spiritual gifts so that every member of the body of Christ has a ministry. We learn to serve with maximum effectiveness and minimum weariness, as one writer puts it.
Another helpful point on spiritual gifts is shared by Marva Dawn: "There is no such thing as being more or less gifted than another. All persons are gifted with a fullness of grace, though that grace takes different manifestations in particular individuals. Still the grace is the same."
We do not have the human Jesus praying and teaching us how to pray, but we have the risen Christ interceding for us daily.
The best is yet to be - because the ascended Christ is our great High Priest in heaven and because of this we can approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (see Hebrews 4:16).
We can also be encouraged that as our great High Priest, Jesus always lives to intercede for us (Hebrews 7:25). How comforting as our prayer life is often very weak!
We do not have the human Christ for us to see with our physical eyes but we can see Christ in the pages of his living Word.
Meditating, reflecting, and writing on this long series of Emmaus devotions has opened my heart and eyes to see Christ in Scripture. I am grateful for the Spirit of the living Christ who helps me experience the risen Christ in my life today.
Yes, we cannot have the physical and human body of Christ to feel and touch. But we can experience being touched by God's love through the church, who is the body of Christ.
Writer Philip Yancey shares that Jesus is operating as the invisible Head of a large body with many members. This implies that we, the members, are the visible and physical representation of Christ. The phrase, "the body of Christ," expresses what we are called to do: to represent in flesh what Christ is like, ministering especially to one another and to those in need. It means that Christ often relies on us to help one another to cope in our lives.
We cannot hear the direct and audible voice of the human Jesus but we can hear the voice of Jesus through the heart cries of the people around us.
Recently I reread a book, Listen to their Heart Cries, & pray specifically, written by Lee Bee Teik. In this little book, we hear God speaking to us through a mother and her child, afflicted with cerebral palsy and unable to walk.
Dear friends, there is also this important point as noted by theologian, N.T. Wright: "The ascension therefore means that Jesus is available, accessible, without people having to travel to a particular spot on earth to find him".
The pandemic has helped us to see that God is available and accessible - not only to those who are worshipping in the church building - but also to everyone who is at home and joining the worship through Zoom. Furthermore, these encounters are not just on a Sunday but everyday.
The story of Jesus as a companion to the disciples did not end in the village in Emmaus. Yes, Jesus disappeared from the disciples but he is the risen Christ who continues to walk with us each day of our lives.
In the Emmaus account we may wonder why Luke, a meticulous writer and chronicler of tangible facts, left out the name of one of the two disciples. He named only Cleopas. What about the other unnamed disciple? Perhaps Luke has a reason: now, each of us with a name can step into the shoes of the "the unnamed" disciple on the Emmaus road. We can all become the companion of the risen Christ.
I am reminded by the words of this old chorus,
I don't know about tomorrow,
I just live day by day ...
Many things about tomorrow,
I don't seem to understand,
But I know who holds tomorrows,
And I know who holds my hand.
Yes, Jesus had physically disappeared but we have the assurance of the presence of the risen Christ with us. This spiritual companionship is beautifully expressed by St Patrick's prayer:
Christ be with me,
Christ within me,
Christ behind me,
Christ before me,
Christ beside me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me.
Farewells are usually sad. We will miss the people we love. However, when a good friend is leaving us, there is a feeling of gratefulness, because we appreciate the love and kindness shown by our friend toward us.
Do you notice the joy at the end of the gospel of Luke? Are we seeing a joyful departure here? We read, "So they worshipped Him and then returned to Jerusalem filled with great joy" (v52).
The disciples' response to Jesus' departure is the opposite of what we would normally expect. They could no longer see Jesus, yet they experienced great joy. The disciples could clearly see now that Jesus was the promised Christ. He had completed his mission and now returned to heaven to rule the world. One day He would come back and take them to share his glory. This was an occasion not for sadness but joy.
While the journey in following Christ is not easy and is surely costly (Luke 9:57-62), the road leads toward joy and glory.
So we see that Jesus' disappearance and ascension do not mark the end. There is an element of coming joy as the disciples wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 1:4). The best is yet to come. With the blessing of peace on the first Easter, we now see the gospel of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ preached to all creation as the Holy Spirit leads and empowers the disciples to go into all the world (see Acts 1:8; Mk 16:15).
By the grace of God there are many more chapters in the gospel story for the disciples and for us. Like the characters of Narnia, let us also believe that every coming chapter in our life and gospel story is better than the one before.
And now we have come to the end of our Emmaus journey. Are you experiencing more and more of the risen Christ in your present life been?
The disciples on the Emmaus road had hoped - and likewise in I had hoped and lost hope along the way. That's life in the past tense. But today I am reminded of this important truth: the Emmaus journey took place on the day of the resurrection of our Lord. The disciples had a present tense experience with the Lord.
So it speaks to me about the message and life of hope I can experience afresh in the person of the living Christ. Christ is risen, let us encourage one another to have a new beginning to love God more dearly and to love others more fervently.
And finally. As we grow older each year, we may ponder this verse written by a Christian poet, Robert Browning, with regard to our future years:
Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in His hand
Who saith "A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half: see all nor be afraid!
Dear friends, let us give thanks that each day is a gift from God to us. As long as we have the gift of life, today OUR LIFE STORY IS NOT YET OVER. Let us trust the Lord. THE BEST IS YET TO BE.
Lord, at the beginning of the Emmaus journey, the disciples could not see who you really were. They were kept from recognising you. Then they could see. They recognised you as you broke bread, but you disappeared too soon from them. After that, they could not see you again.
Lord, we may not fully understand. But now we understand more: that your disappearance and going away has a far greater purpose and blessing for our lives today.
Lord, in a physical way we do not see you but help us to see you with our spiritual eyes and heart so that we can respond to the ongoing story of salvation. We believe that the best is yet to come.
May the amazing grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the extravagant love of God the Father, and the fellowship and friendship of the God the Holy Spirit, be with you. Amen.