Friday, 2 May 2014

On the Road

Sermon for Easter 3.

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them,but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 

‘Lord as we gather around your Word now and meditate on the story of the Emmaus journey, may you draw alongside us today as you did then, and open our hearts and minds to you afresh. Amen.’

Today in our Gospel reading, we are ‘on the road’.

I’m bound to think of Jack Kerouac’s novel of the same name in which free spirited friends from 1950s America travel across the States in a car, in search of freedom and self identity, fuelled by poetry, jazz and not a little drug experimentation.

Or the even more gritty novel by Cormac McCarthy, ‘The Road’, about a father and child who trudge the road in an apocalyptic scene set some time after most of the world has destroyed itself and only those who roam and scavenge can survive.

In both novels the main characters are on the road. They travel from A to B. The road is the only way ahead and it must be walked.

On that evening of the first day of resurrection, we find two disciples on the road. We assume they were disciples because it says ‘two of them’. One is called Cleopas and the other is un-named.

We don’t know why they were journeying to Emmaus, a small village about seven miles from Jerusalem, but we might imagine that in the light of all that has happened, they are still digesting all their conflicting emotions and disappointments. They are trudging.

They talk while they trudge. They talk of all the things that have happened – how their hopes have been dashed and how sad they are it has all come to this. How the hoped for Messiah did not win against the powers of evil.

And then Jesus comes alongside.

He walks with them, he gives them an incredible bible study and, once they reach the village, he is known in the breaking of bread.

I wonder what it is you find on the Emmaus Road?

It would seem that in accompanying them, opening the Word of God to them and making himself known in the breaking of bread, Jesus gave all the sustenance we could ever possibly need for the journey.

So how’s your journey going?

I don’t know how often you are able to consider how your life’s journey is going, or if you have anyone with whom you can reflect on this question…it is perhaps a sign of the paucity of our spiritual relationships that we find it difficult to find anyone with whom we could ask some searching spiritual questions, such as: how have I grown nearer to God in the last year? How has my prayer life grown?

In their book Sleeping with Bread, Jesuits Dennis and Sheila Linn, and their son, Matthew, write of how they meet annually with trusted friends to spiritually review their lives under God. It sometimes means driving a distance to find such friends, friends who aren’t afraid to ask searching questions and who don’t mind you asking these of them either. Friends who understand that life is a spiritual journey; that if we gain the whole world bur forfeit our soul, we are truly to be pitied.

Dennis writes: ‘for about twenty years, Matt and I met with a group of six Jesuits each summer at a lake. Each person took half a day to share his year and hear the others’ reactions. We did this because we wanted to be known by one another so well that we could help each other discern new directions’ (p. 38).

He talks about new directions though he is well past middle age – but this is a sign of walking the road and keeping close to Jesus.

Staying still in the Christian life is not an option. We are all journeying, but how do we discern the presence of Jesus in that journey? One thing to think about might be to find someone with whom you could review your journey on a regular basis, someone who can discern the presence of Christ in you, and what new directions Christ may be calling you into.

Secondly, that bible study. We heard in the reading how the disciples reflected that their hearts burned within them as Jesus revealed all about the Messiah in their Scriptures; about what had to happen to the Messiah as he lay down his life for the world.

And Jesus chides them gently.

I love that phrase ‘slow of heart’ that Jesus uses to describe how they have been a bit dense when it came to interpreting the Scriptures. Not slow of mind, note: slow of heart. We can read the Scriptures for all we’re worth, but if we’re not finding ourselves in Christ within those pages, it might as well be just an academic exercise.

When was the last time you read something from the Bible and it sank slowly in, sounding fresh and making an actual difference to your inner being? When was the last time you (or I) chewed over a word or phrase at some leisure, not assuming we know what it means, but being open to a new relevance?

Have you been reading the same bible notes for decades with nothing new to challenge you? Why not try a different writer, from a different Christian tradition? Jesus’ admonishment to his disciples reminds us that the Word of God is alive and active; in it we meet the Living Word. If this doesn’t happen, we need to have a fresh bible study with Jesus.

And finally, the breaking of bread.

As if company on the road and bible study were not sufficient, Jesus makes himself known in the breaking of bread.

It’s very simple. He took it, blessed it, broke it and gave it. It’s the exact same pattern used in all services of Holy Communion since.

And it was in this taking, breaking, blessing and giving that he was finally recognized. Their eyes were opened and he vanished from their sight.

He feeds us still every time we break bread together.

The service of Holy Communion can become so familiar too that we forget that it is here that we are supremely fed, and fed together, which is significant.

I wonder what you find on the road to Emmaus?

Is the companionship of Jesus on the journey that feeds you?

Is it the bible study that warms your heart?

Is it the taking, breaking, blessing and giving of bread?

Jesus is so generous he gives himself to us in all of these, and more.

We take a moment’s silence to meditate on these 3 things we find on the Emmaus Road: the companion, the living Word and the broken bread. Please use the illustrations to engage afresh with the risen Christ and pray we might meet him again today.

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