Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Journey to Emmaus by Brooke Foss Westcott (1825–1901), Bishop of Durham

An excerpt from  The revelation of the risen Lord 
by Brooke Foss Westcott

If now we endeavor to gather into a brief compass the abiding lesson of this second recorded appearance of the Risen Christ, we may, I think, say truly that it conveys to us a lively sense of the way in which the Lord is the life of all history. Not in startling visitations or great deliverances only, but in the still, gentle, currents of life He is working His good pleasure. Not in a few scattered predictions, but in all the Scriptures we find the things concerning Him.

Above all it shows to us how the great mystery of suffering and death is the condition for the conquest of evil and not the declaration of the triumph of evil. If that is, it was in accordance with the will of God, that the Christ should suffer and so enter into His glory, and if we can be enabled to see this necessity and see also the noble issues which flow from it, then we can understand how the same necessity must in due measure be laid upon His brethren.

And Those who have had the courage to look upon the whole state of the world and of humanity, who have watched the slow agonies of a last illness, who have felt the awful silence when the breath long feebly drawn comes no more, who have looked upon the cold marble features which hardly recall their loved one, will know that we need such light in the darkness of the inevitable future.

It is most false—false to experience and false to the Gospel—to deny or to extenuate the reality and the bitterness of grief and pain. And it is not surprising that clear thinkers, who are—nevertheless—deaf to the voice of the Risen Christ, maintain that this checkered world must have been made by a Being imperfect either in goodness or in power. But, thanks be to God, Christ has reconciled in His own Person the contradictions of life, and proved once for all that through these comes at last the perfect fulfilment of the Father’s wisdom, and of the Father’s love.

But this history of the journey to Emmaus carries with it other and more personal teachings. It brings before us how Christ, the Risen Christ, in a special sense draws near to each one of us severally: how He adds Himself to the two or three gathered together in His name: how He journeys with us: how He enlightens our reason and fires our affections: how He abides under the shelter of our dwellings: how at some supreme moment, it may be, He allows us to see, with the eyes of the spirit, a brief vision of His majesty.

For that which was enacted on the evening of the first Lord’s Day has been fulfilled, and is fulfilled no less surely and tenderly through the experience of all believers. Christ draws near to us now, as to those unknown wayfarers, with purposes of love.
Christ draws near to us when in the sacred intercourse of friendship we speak of our highest hopes and of our greatest sorrows, when we dare to throw off the veil of conventional irony, and talk openly of that which we know to lie deepest in our nature.
Christ draws near to us at the sad season when He seems to have been finally taken away, if we are not ashamed to confess, in the apparent disappointment of our hopes, that we are still His disciples.

Christ draws near to us when at some solemn appeal we pause on our journey, and stand in wondering sorrow perhaps, not knowing what answer to give to an unexpected and importunate questioner whose words touch us to the quick.
Christ draws near to us at the very crisis when we strive to give distinctness to our misgivings and to our difficulties. He asks us to speak freely to Him, and accepts the most imperfect confession of a sincere faith as the basis of His tender discipline.
Christ draws near to us when humbly and honestly we ponder His word. The study is difficult, far more difficult than we commonly suppose but also more fruitful.  He illuminates the dark places, and through a better understanding of the letter guides us to a warmer sympathy with the spirit.

Christ draws near to us when we take gladly the reproof which reveals to us our ignorance and our coldness, and resolutely strive to retain in our company the Teacher who by sharp methods has made us better able to see the Truth.
Christ draws near to us when we are bidden to draw near to Him at His Holy Table, and there gives us back with His blessing the offerings which we have brought to Him.
So Christ draws near to us, or at least He waits to draw near to us, in the manifold changes of our mortal life, near to us as we go in and go out in the fulfilment of our common duties, near to us when we are reassembled in our homes, near to us in the time of trial and in the hour of death.

The journey to Emmaus is indeed both in its apparent sadness and in its final joy an allegory of many a life. We traverse our appointed path with a sense of a void unfilled, of hopes unsatisfied, of promises withdrawn. The words of encouragement which come to us, often from strange sources, are not sufficient to bring back the assurance which we have lost. Yet happy are we if we open our griefs to Him who indeed knows them better than ourselves, if we keep Him by our side, if we constrain Him to abide with us.

Happy if at the end, when the day is far spent, and darkness is closing round, we are allowed to see for one moment the fullness of the Divine presence which has been with us all along, half cloud and half light. But happier, and thrice happy, if when our hearts first burn within us, while life is still fresh and the way is still open, as One speaks to us in silent whisperings of reproof and discipline, speaks to us in the ever-living record of the Bible, we recognize the source of the spiritual fire.

This we may do nay, rather, if our faith be a reality, this we must do and so feel that there has dawned upon us from the Easter Day a splendor over which no night can fall. 


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