by: Denise Robinson
We continue this week with our devotional from Henri Nouwen's letters to his nephew, Marc, explaining his faith and addressing the void in life his nephew finds himself feeling. In the first letter (see last week's devotional), Nouwen discusses Jesus as the heart of our existence. The central question for last week was one which Jesus asked his disciples: "Who do YOU say that I am?"
Letter 2: Jesus: The God Who Sets Us Free (Pt. 1)
At the moment I'm in a charming little town in South Germany that was completely rebuilt after the big air raid of 27 November 1944. As luck would have it .. the beautiful cathedral remained undamaged. Every time I visit this cathedral church I feel more centered and serene. The simple thought that construction on this church began in the year 1200 and went on until 1513 is reason enough to calm down and not behave as though everything has to be wrapped up this very afternoon. Walking around here like this, I have the feeling that this world of ours must be all right .. But you yourself know that Freiburg doesn't tell the whole story. The papers are full of .. violence and oppression .. For most people freedom is a dream. It's a lot easier to find evidence of oppression in this world than of freedom. And from what I know of history I get the impression that it has never been much different.
I'm mentioning all this to help you appreciate the first story I want to tell you about Jesus. It's the story of Cleopas and his friend and the road to Emmaus. [pause here and read the story from Luke 24:13-35].
Left with the impression that their great expectations had once again been shattered, Cleopas and his friend were grief-stricken. So when Jesus joins them, he knows what is in their hearts .. What does Jesus tell them? Not that death .. is unreal. Not that their yearning for freedom is unreal. He tells them the Jesus in whom they had placed all their hopes .. is alive. As Jesus was talking to them, they experienced in their hearts the arrival of something new. Jesus had kindled in them something for which they had no words .. but was authentic. He said something entirely new: "The most tragic, the most painful, the most hopeless circumstances can become the way to liberation you long for most of all."
It is very difficult for [rational people] to grasp much of this. It's only with our hearts that we can understand this. When the three men reached Emmaus .. they said, "Stay with us." And now there happens something which, for you and me, is of major significance. It touches the very core of the spiritual life. When they sit down to eat, Jesus takes some bread, speaks a blessing over it, and offers it to them. And as he does so, they know suddenly and with unshakeable certainty that this stranger is Jesus .. But at the precise moment this certainty is given to them, he (Jesus) becomes invisible to them. So much is going on here that it's difficult to get its full significance across to you. Here is the crucial aspect of this incident. What matters here is that at the very moment Cleopas and his friend recognized Jesus .. his bodily presence was no longer required as a condition for their new hope .. So close does he come to them that they no longer need a bodily manifestation in order to hope. They realize now that the new life born in them as they talked with him on the road will stay with them and give them strength .. Cleopas and his friend had become different people. their hearts were born again, and their inner life was made radically new.
Last week's question asked you to answer who Jesus is to you. This week's question asks: has your heart been born again and your inner life made new? Another way of asking the question might be to ask whether you have had an Emmaus road type of encounter with Jesus. You are now ready to write your second letter. In your second letter, write about your personal experience with Jesus, when you feel (from the heart) his presence with you most clearly, and how this has changed your life.
Have a blessed week!