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On the road to Emmaus

The Road to Emmaus

Luke 24 v 13-35

It was lovely to have an adult baptism today in our communion service and here are some words linking the baptism with the gospel reading for today.

“ Abide with me” must be one of the most popular hymns in our hymn books, written by Henry Lyte during a period of illness and his inspiration for the opening words seems to have come from the passage in St Luke’s gospel where two of Jesus’ followers  said to the stranger they had not yet recognised “ Abide with us, for it is towards evening”.

It was a distance of c 7 miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus and it was Emmaus where the two disciples had asked their unrecognized walking companion to remain  with them.  Franciscan monks have built  on the site of where Emmaus was in NT times and claim that inside the church are some of the original foundation stones of the house of Cleopas. Over the entrance gates are the Latin words, “ Domine, mana nobiscum” – Lord abide with me.

We know that one of the two disciples who were walking to Emmaus was Cleopas – most probably the Cleopas of John 19 v 25. He had a wife  Mary who is named as one of the women close to the cross when Jesus was crucified. Maybe his companion was his wife.

What made these two walk all that way from Jerusalem on the first Easter Day? We could answer that there was no point them staying in Jerusalem. Jesus’ crucifixion had been to them a disaster, a collapse of all their hopes for their nation. They had hoped he would be the Messiah of Jewish nationalistic expectation who would redeem Israel from gentile domination – but his crucifixion had been catastrophic, an end to all the promises Jesus has made.  So, overwhelmed by their grief and maybe anger too, they set off for home, their heads hung low, their footsteps dragging on the road, their minds going over  and over the events of the past days

What a huge difference it would have made if the disciples had recognised Jesus from the start. Maybe it was because of their deep grief that they couldn’t perceive the truth. After all, the last thing they expected to see was a risen Jesus walking with them.  They were amazed when the stranger asked them who they were talking about.

“ You must be the only visitor to Jerusalem who doesn’t know what has been happening there in the last few days” they replied. They told him how Jesus had raised their hopes – that he would be the one to set Israel free. And how, some of their women friends had been told by angels at an empty tomb that he was alive. You can feel their confusion coming through in the story – they just didn’t know what to believe amongst all these rumours.

But then the stranger rounds on them. “ Your hopes were not ill founded – can’t you  see that Christ  was meant to suffer and enter into glory?”  He took them through the OT to show how frequently the theme of a suffering servant occurs – and how the scriptures pointed to Christ. By the time the bible study had finished they reached Emmaus and the home of Cleopas – the stranger seemed to be going to walk on, but they persuaded him to stay with them “ Abide with us – eat at our home”.

How strange! They still didn’t recognise him. But they certainly had discerned in him a man with valuable things to teach. At the beginning of the meal, they invited him to bless the bread and then the recognition came.  And just as suddenly he vanished. They were left starring at the bread on the table.

After this staggering realisation, they could understand why and how their hearts had been strangely warmed  as he had talked with them.

Grasping the truth of Jesus’ resurrection, they experienced their own inner resurrection. Their confusion was transformed and they became certain that Jesus, the risen Jesus, had been with them and given them new hope and a new purpose. They hurried all the way back to Jerusalem, found their friends, told them of the news and found they hadn’t been the only ones to see Jesus – so had Simon Peter.

Yes, it would have made a big difference if Cleopas and his friend had recognised Jesus with them from the start.  But maybe that is often the case with us too.

We can go through life with a confused, uncertain outlook, unaware that Jesus is walking with us, and we can’t discern his presence, despite  him being very close.  But as with those travellers on the road, we can meet Jesus when and where we least expect to find him. It’s good to try to be in a frame of mind and heart where despite all our human preoccupations  Jesus can meet with us.

And the place of our meeting him? Surely, as with these two followers, it can be any where, any time.  But I like the picture of the ever present possibility of meeting him on the daily journeys we take in life. I like the idea of us moving, exploring, being open to what comes our way. Someone once said, Christianity is a way of walking not talking.

Just a few days ago I enjoyed spending some time with “N and N”  talking about their marriage service on May 28th here in St James Church. Unexpectedly “N” asked about being baptised …. and as we talked it seemed right and appropriate for her to take that step in her Christian life this Sunday.

It is something “N”  has thought carefully about for some years and I’m so glad it can happen for you today. How strange that we have the reading from The Acts of the Apostles – from Chapter two where Peter is giving his sermon to the crowds, preaching to them about Gods saving act of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

“ Repent” he says to them as they listen to the story of Jesus and how it had been foretold in the OT scriptures “ Change your ways, turn your life around, invite Jesus into your life and be baptised  as a sign that you are making a new beginning. The Holy Spirit, he adds, will be your gift to strengthen and guide you in your new life with Christ. Acts 2 v 41 tells us that 3,000 were moved to ask for baptism that day – a good result from any sermon!

We live in a world which I’m sure we all wish was different. There are so many sad and harrowing situations that we wish we could change. Perhaps like me you have been left with confused feelings and thoughts about the way that Osama Bin Laden met his end. Whether it can ever be right to repay evil with blatant killing in cold blood. Whether the world really is a safer place without him or whether another act of violence will only cause more terrorism and violence. How we wish that somehow the hearts of those who see violence as the only solution  to differing world views could repent, could change and  turn to the ways of peace. If only those who have been wronged could forgive – and those who have done wrong would apologise and pledge to find a new way to live together with those with whom they differ.

I used to sing a song “ Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me” – it’s a great sentiment. When “N” makes her commitment to follow Christ today may each of us renew our commitment as well in our hearts and minds. We shall say an affirmation of faith with her – may those words really speak to us today as we strive to be like a light in the world, to the glory of God the Father. And like the disciples on the road to Emmaus who realised that the risen Lord had been with them all the time, may we open our hearts and minds so that we truly know his presence abides with us constantly. Amen.

May 8, 2011 - Posted by | Uncategorized

1 Comment »

  1. Great sermon paxtonvic, I went for contrast between Emmaus and Acts- they think it’s over, but it’s not ( I love a good sporting metaphor).

    Comment by Cheryl Collins | May 9, 2011 | Reply


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