Avril at Romsey

… and Lancefield and Riddells Creek and Mount Macedon

Sermon: Recognising Christ in Word, Sacrament and by Welcoming the Stranger

Sermon for Romsey and Lancefield
Easter 3, 8 May 2011

Luke 24:13-35

In these weeks after Easter we’re jumping around the gospels. On Easter Sunday we had the resurrection according to Matthew; last week, we had John’s tale of Thomas, who first doubted and then believed. Today we have two disciples on the road to Emmaus, a story told only by Luke and, in the opinion of some commentators, Luke’s masterpiece. Each of the gospel writers tells of different encounters between the resurrected Jesus and the disciples, but they all share themes in common. The empty tomb by itself was not enough to create faith. Faith is not a matter of empirical evidence, of being able to place fingers in Jesus’ wounds. Faith in the resurrected Christ is just that, faith. And so it’s no less available to us who live millennia after the events, as it was to the first disciples.

We don’t know who the two disciples on the road to Emmaus were. We’re only given the name of one of them, Cleopas, and we haven’t heard of him before, nor do we hear of him again. These aren’t members of the Eleven. They’re just ordinary followers of Jesus, devastated by his death. They’re discussing it as they walk along. They had hoped that Jesus would be the one to liberate Israel, and that wasn’t a foolish hope. Before Jesus was born, Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, prophesied: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favourably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty saviour for us in the house of his servant David”.  When Jesus was presented in the Temple as a baby, Simeon and Anna rejoiced because they had seen the salvation and redemption of Israel.  And at the very beginning of his ministry Jesus announced that he’d come for liberation: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”  Of course these two disciples “hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel”! And then Jesus was crucified and all these hopes seemed dashed.

As the disciples walk, Jesus joins them, “but their eyes were kept from recognizing him”. These two heard from the women about the empty tomb, but that story had only astounded them. The mere report of the facts has left them with confusion rather than faith. Even with Jesus himself accompanying them, they remain blind. We don’t know what it was that kept their eyes from recognising who it was that had joined them. But we shouldn’t be too surprised that in the midst of their doubt and despair they just couldn’t see that Jesus was with them. The same thing continues to happen today. We believe, on the one hand, that nothing is able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Yet so often we cry out, with Jesus on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  We believe that Jesus walks with us, as he walked with the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Yet our eyes are kept from recognising him: by doubt and despair; by preoccupation and suspicion; because we’re too concerned with things of the world to notice that our hearts might be burning within us.

How do the disciples move from this place of despair to recognition? In the same way that every Christian that has followed them has done, because this story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus is a blueprint for the church. First, there’s the expounding of the Scriptures. Not simply reading and understanding the Scriptures, but linking them with lived experience, making their story our own. Jesus, beginning with Moses and all the prophets, interprets to the disciples on the road to Emmaus the things about himself in all the scriptures, after the disciples have told him about the things that have taken place in Jerusalem. The Bible and human experience are integrated, and both are illuminated, with the help of Jesus. As they listen to him, the disciples’ hearts burn within them, because rather than contradicting each other, the Bible and their own experience of Jesus now support each other. Hope is kindled.

But the disciples don’t immediately share this burning of their hearts with each other. It’s not through the Scriptures alone that we discover Christ. The disciples invite Jesus to share a meal with them, and at the meal Jesus takes bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to them. He celebrates the Eucharist with them, as he still does with us today. The guest becomes the host and shares himself in the breaking of the bread. Luke tells us that we can recognise Jesus’ presence in our lives as we share in Word and Sacrament – as Christians continue to, right down to today.

Luke’s story is about two of Jesus’ many disciples, but it doesn’t end with them. After Jesus vanishes, the two race back to Jerusalem to share their news with the others, and find that Jesus has appeared to Peter as well. As Brendan Byrne writes: “The community comes to full knowledge and faith when individuals and groups bring together and share their previously separate stories”.  Coming to faith happens in community. It’s together that we discover who Jesus is and recognise the role that he plays in our lives.

The disciples recognise Jesus in Word and Sacrament, but they only have the chance to do that because of their openness to an alien. They describe him as “a stranger in Jerusalem”, and yet they’re willing to enter into conversation with him. When they arrive at their village, this stranger walks ahead of them as if to continue his journey. But they urge him: “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” They offer hospitality to a complete stranger, and through that hospitality their eyes are opened and they see Christ in the stranger they’ve welcomed. They could have ignored the stranger who questioned them; they could have let him continue on his journey. They did neither, and found themselves in the company of the resurrected Jesus. It’s an obvious hint for the church, which is invited to see God in the face of every stranger welcomed, housed and fed. It’s another reminder of the importance of community in the life of faith.

Last week we heard John’s story of Thomas, in which Jesus blessed all those Christians who have believed without seeing – us and everyone like us. Today, Luke also speaks to those who followed the first disciples, Theophilus for whom he wrote the gospel, right down to those of us gathered here today. We may not have been present at the empty tomb, or seen the resurrected Jesus, but that’s okay. We can still encounter Jesus in the very same way that these disciples on their journey to Emmaus did – in the expounding of the Word and the breaking of the Bread.

We’re all on a journey, and Jesus is our companion on the way. If we keep our eyes open and share in the community that listens to the Word and eats the Bread we’ll be better able to recognise him in the midst of doubt and despair, as well as in times of joy and praise. We continue on our way; pilgrims taught, nourished and companioned by Jesus; pilgrims who have learnt from him that in offering welcome and hospitality to the stranger we encounter God. Amen.

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May 8, 2011 - Posted by | Ministry | , ,

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