Several years ago, when attending a Sunday morning worship service at a Salvation Army corps (church), I heard one of our leaders preach. It was not a typical sermon, in fact it seemed too simple, especially for this seasoned preacher. But his first language was not English so I suppose for this English-speaking congregation, he had to play it safe and not try to be too theological, using words that he was unfamiliar with. He simply told stories about Jesus. It may not have been a sermon that won a best preacher’s award but it was one that moved me to tears and remains an unforgettable experience.
Such stories not only make for powerful sermon material but are at the heart of Christian music. The Salvation Army like most of the Christian churches loves to sing what it believes. Stories about Jesus, put to music, are forever etched in our memories. As we sing them we are called again and again to reflect on him, his life, death, resurrection and what this all means to us today.
One line of an Easter song keeps playing in my mind: ‘Alone on the road, oppressed by my load, Jesus himself drew near and walked with me.’ This line captures the event recorded in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 24) and it also speaks powerfully to us today. The story is of two followers of Jesus returning home after his crucifixion, with their hopes dashed. The horror of the crucifixion was enough to shatter anyone, but when it happened to one you loved, one who was innocent, not only innocent but absolutely perfect in your eyes, then how could you put it all together? Their grief was compounded by the fact that they had believed Jesus was their Messiah, the hope for their world. The light for which they had waited for so long was now snuffed out. Everything was darkness and despair. They were overcome and overwhelmed, blinded by this ghastly and unexpected reversal.
Perhaps for many reading this article, this Christian story does not make sense: God loved us so much that he sent his Son to earth. Jesus comes in flesh as the babe in the manger, lives an exemplary life, healing, preaching, performing miracles. Then he dies the criminal’s death, takes our sin upon him and breaks its power by his sacrifice. Through him a relationship is restored with God and through him we can know forgiveness, freedom and life to the full. And maybe the biggest stretch is this belief that he rose to life again and appeared bodily, to his followers. No ghost or apparition but a real live Jesus! Please don’t dismiss these facts as either fanciful or irrelevant. Just for this moment, hold on to them as truth, real Truth. Not fiction but facts.
Now here in Luke’s story is the Lord, the Saviour of the world, the resurrected Jesus, taking time to walk down a lonely road with two shattered people, to open their eyes, to give them cause to hope again. This same living Jesus spans the ages. He walks your path today, hoping only that you will open your eyes to see him, your ears to hear him and your heart to receive him.
That song’s phrase ‘alone on the road, oppressed by my load’ may be describing you today. ‘Aloneness’ is not numerical. If I am by myself, then I am alone. No, you and I know of times when we were surrounded by people and felt an ‘aloneness’, an emptiness that all the human bodies in the world could not fill. The weight on our shoulders, the burdens we were carrying seemed to separate us from the smiles and light-hearted fellowship experienced by others. Perhaps illness, financial worries, family concerns, addictions, failure, or even limitations imposed by others contributed to dreams unfulfilled. Maybe we have felt deluded by life and by people.
Friend, Easter is about life, life with its tragedies and triumphs. Despair need never be an option. You don’t need to be a theologian to understand Jesus. Let his story be your story, Jesus himself is with you. He draws near as the song says. Not at a distance, shaming you for your depression or your limited expectations. Not at all! He died for you, and believes in you. He wants you to believe in him, to see him as the Constant Companion, your Saviour. Don’t take my word for it. Take his – and life will never be the same again.