Read Luke 24.13-35: The road to Emmaus
This was the gospel lectionary reading for last Sunday but we usually celebrate the Lord’s supper on the first Sunday of the month so it fits today, when we hope to set up some sort of virtual communion service.
Today our focus is on the phrase “we had been hoping”.
That phrase rings bells with us in KSBC. We had been hoping to celebrate Palm Sunday together – the donkey had almost been booked!
We had been hoping to meet together to celebrate Good Friday and Easter Sunday, the two greatest festivals of the Christian year, commemorating the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus.
At the time I write this, my wife and I had been hoping to be holidaying on the Isle of Wight. (At least it is raining today!)
Like you, we had been hoping to see our family in person for a few days, and that hasn’t happened either.
As yet I haven’t even mentioned the non-start to the cricket season…
Disappointments, yet so petty when we consider all those who mourn the loss of loved ones to the virus. That truly puts things in perspective.
Which brings us back to that couple on the road to Emmaus on what we now call Easter Day. They were shattered, downcast and disheartened, in mourning and trying to come to terms with the loss of a friend, of someone on whom they had pinned their hopes. If you want to get some idea of their sorrow, think, for example, of people you know who have had the terrible experience of losing a child, perhaps an only child.
As we read or listen to this story, we have the advantage of hindsight and can see a double sense when Luke tells us that “Jesus himself came near”. The risen Christ physically approached them on the road, but he was along coming nearer to living in their hearts and minds as, gradually through the story, understanding and belief begin to dawn.
As Christians who believe in the resurrection, we can use our imagination to see this story as if we were there. We can enter into the story as Luke paints his word pictures, which lead on from their conversation on the way to their reaching their destination.
As they came near the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther; but they held him back, saying, “Stay with us; the day is almost over and it is getting dark.” So he went in to stay with them.
This is an excellent shorthand summary of how we come to Christian faith. We hear something about Jesus and in some way or another we say, “Stay with us.” Then he does indeed stay with us, not that we always feel or know that ourselves.
The word stranger is worth considering. Is there not always a sense in which Jesus remains in some ways a stranger? Although some would dispute this idea, consider the force of this passage, especially the famous disclosure scene. The stranger is recognized – but then disappears! Is that not a truer representation of Christian experience than the idea that our relationship is ever constant and that it simply gets ever closer?
He sat down to eat with them, took the bread, and said the blessing; then he broke the bread and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him…
Yes, there are those times of recognition, and for the great majority of Christians that opportunity is provided by the sharing of bread and wine.
Then he vanished from their sight.
What was left? Their feeling, and each other. “They said to each other…“
We are Christians together, which is one reason why lockdown is so challenging.
We also read those famous words “Were not our hearts burning within us…?” That is about memorable experiences that feed us, inspire us, keep us going when it is late, when we are tired, when we are, as it were, trudging back to Jerusalem, back to the place of shattered dreams.
“We had been hoping…”
We don’t want to be in lockdown, fearful and anxious for ourselves and for those risking their lives in various ways. But we are. Moreover, as Christians we can say, “Stay with us,” and we can take bread and wine in lockdown, knowing that we share with our fellow pilgrims, trusting that we might have that opening of our eyes afresh, that recognition of the one who comes in “to stay with us.”