Surprised by Joy

I love the story of the two disciples on the Emmaus Road. Click here to remind yourself of it if you like.

Two people, suddenly surprised by joy. Two ordinary people, feeling very low – hope crushed, lost – and miraculously regained.

Only one is named in the account. They could both be men – or man and wife? Shuffling along down an ordinary road, headed away from Jerusalem, maybe Emmaus was home for them (how often when you’re feeling down do you just want to take a walk? How often does it seem then that there’s no place like home?). Back to what is ordinary, familiar and safe.

Along the way on their ordinary journey – the extraordinary God breaks in. A stranger’s shadow catches up, his questions intruding upon their pity party. Interrupting their private moments of confusion, and commiseration. Remember they’re totally miserable after the events of the last few days. They know (‘everyone knows!’) what terrible things had happened on Good Friday. When Jesus died, so did their dreams.

That’s their focus, inward and down – no wonder they’re feeling low. They were making a getaway. Get away from the painful place where they had witnessed the destruction and the tearing down of their own private little world and all their hopes and dreams about the coming Messiah, the salvation of Israel. Shattered. Dead and gone. With the one they loved. The one they followed. Hanging on a cross and buried in a rich man’s tomb.

Rumours of angels, but these two people are down and defeated – they had something precious, all of a sudden – it’s all gone.

All they had with Jesus, all they’d shared with him and the other disciples, had been taken away by the relentless brutality of the religious leaders and the government, who had killed him as a blasphemer, an enemy of the state. But by the end of the story and something happened! They are absolutely bursting with excitement again.

At the end of their close encounter with the risen Jesus, it says immediately they got up and did the seven mile dash to Jerusalem. I bet they didn’t even finish their meal! They braved the dangers of travelling at night and legged it back to where they found the disciples because they had to relay their news of what had happened on their journey- how they’d been surprised by joy!

C.S. Lewis. made that phrase the title of his autobiography, where he talks about his days as an atheist untilone day a friend, a fellow Oxford Don and also one who absolutely did NOT believe in God said something to him that started him on a journey: “Early in 1926 the hardest boiled of all the atheists I ever knew sat in my room on the other side of the fire and remarked that the evidence for the historicity of the Gospels was really surprisingly good. “Rum thing,” he went on. “All that stuff ….. about the Dying God. Rum thing. It almost looks as if it had really happened once.”

Of course CS Lewis ended up becoming one of the most famous Christians, but it was not something that happened when he was young, and it was not a sudden thing, or the result of him having some great emotional catastrophe. After that late night conversation he had an experience sitting on the top deck of bus; where he felt like he was given a choice.

Either he could harden himself further against the idea of God, or he could choose to open up to the possibility.

He chose to open up. He didn’t become a Christian then mind you… but gradually – something was happening in his mind and heart. He began to think God was on his case. He said, “You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”

He began to attend church and to read the gospels. They started to make sense to him. Lewis had acknowledged that there was a God; but that was not enough. God wanted to introduce him to his Son! In a now famous passage, Lewis related his final step into real joy: “I know very well when, but hardly how, the final step was taken. I was driven to Whipsnade one sunny morning. When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did.” The journey to Whipsnade Zoo was CS Lewis’s Emmaus Road. I know and believe that Emmaus Road experiences still happen in our day! Many recent adult baptisms at our church services will attest to that.

They might happen to us, to you, to someone you know… any day now… We tend to think of one off, dramatic ‘Saul on the road to Damascus’ experiences; but for some people, that’s not what happens. But as you walk through life, Jesus just kind of catches up with you one day. Gradually he walks alongside, and you start to open up to him.

After a while, a light kind of comes on – and like those two disciples, you eventually say, “Aha! – so that’s who you are – now I recognise you!”

Then we speak like Narnia’s Lucy and Susan on seeing Aslan alive again…! “This isn’t just magic, Oh- you’re REAL! You’re real!” Jesus still brings unexpected joy to people who are on their journeys. Who are making their way to the Zoo. Or like these two, on the road to Emmaus…