One evening I went to pray with some dear friends. Barb’s fear over her father’s declining health hung heavy in the air. We sat quietly together, heads bowed, while I tried to listen for the Lord’s direction, for what he wanted me to say or pray. I was surprised when these words came: “All will be well. All will be well.” When I spoke them, it was as if fresh air filled the room with relief. A few minutes later, when our time ended, Barb said, “I know Jesus is always with us, but tonight . . . he was right here in this room!”
When Jesus, risen just that morning, appeared incognito to two of his disciples on their way home to Emmaus they were kept from recognizing him. But they did see him as never before as he revealed what Scripture said about the Messiah’s suffering and glory. Later they said, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
When they reached Emmaus “they urged him strongly, ‘Stay with us for the day is almost over.’” He agreed and when he came into their home and they sat down to eat, Jesus took charge, father-like.
When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. (Luke 24:30-31)
Surely they sat there, not only marveling how their hearts had burned earlier, but also thinking, wide-eyed, “Jesus was right here in this room with us the whole time!”
Why did Jesus vanish just at that moment? I wonder if perhaps he was preparing his disciples, teaching them that he could be with them even when they couldn’t actually recognize or see him. He had told the Eleven that he would send his Spirit to be with them, the Paraclete, the Come-Alongsider. Jesus really would be with his people always, just unseen, like he had been with the two disciples that day.
Imagine you became friends with those two, Cleopas and the other one (his wife, perhaps), a few years after this. They’ve told you their story often. Imagine you were talking about a passage of Scripture and they said, “Let’s just be quiet and invite Jesus to meet us in these words.” As you talk over what you’ve read, your heart begins to warm. Or they invite you for supper. When Cleopas takes the loaf of bread and give thanks, he says, “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest.” When he breaks it that bread becomes for you manna.
Pastors can be like that, Agents of Christ’s Presence. We must be determined enough, quiet enough, attentive enough to wait till we know that Jesus is right here with us in the room. Pastors learn about the ministry of presence, meaning our presence with our people. But more important is helping people recognize Jesus’ presence by bowing in prayer with them and waiting until Jesus has our attention. When we counsel, visit a hospital room, or lead prayer in a worship service, when we disciple someone, or pray with our leaders, we might take our cues from those two disciples who strongly urged Jesus, “Stay with us.” That is a fine way to begin praying, even though they didn’t realize it was a prayer at the time.
Be ye glad!
Lee Eclov recently retired after 40 years of local pastoral ministry and now focuses on ministry among pastors. He is the author of Feels Like Home: How Rediscovering the Church as Family Changes Everything and Pastoral Graces: Reflections on the Care of Souls (Moody Publishers), as well as being a frequent contributor to Preaching Today and CT Pastors. To learn more about his Pastors' Gatherings visit www.leeeclov.com.