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Emmaus – Sermon Sunday 26th April 2020

road

Sermon Luke 24.13-35

One night last week we had to call out an emergency plumber because we had a leak in our kitchen.  He arrived, a big man with no hair and a mask over his face and set to work, mumbling to us occasionally through the mask while his head was under our kitchen sink.  We all kept our distance!  Then, when the job was done, and as he was leaving, he took off the mask to say goodbye.  He had a kind, smiling face.  It was a moment of revelation, not because we knew him, but because we recognized him as a fellow human being, and a friendly one at that.  Up till that point he had been a stranger.  It was a bit of an Emmaus moment.

Lately I’ve found myself experiencing a sort of cabin fever.  How long is this going on, I wonder.  Get me out of here!  I know this isn’t the case for everyone – there’s a whole range of ways we react, many of them changing daily!  One thing I’ve come to realize, though, is that on the whole I’ve viewed my home as a kind of launch pad to life outside.  It’s there for me as a refuge, a resource, a place to relax, to pray, and, yes, work, but work that is to do with activity outside the home.  So, I’ve struggled on and off with the feeling of being stuck on the launch pad with no immediate prospect launching into the outside world where real life is happening.

So, I needed help.  I have partly found it in re reading some of the Winnie the Pooh stories.  I wasn’t brought up on these.  In fact it wasn’t until after our marriage that two Christopher Robin books surfaced among the worldly goods that Richard was endowing me with!  Now, in our enforced isolation they have become bedtime reading.  They offer an escape, a distraction.  So I read again about kanga giving Roo ‘Strengthening Medicine’, which of course he didn’t like (though it turned out to be Tigger’s favourite food).  That led me to wondering what strengthening medicine might look like for me, for us, during this strange time.

I was asking that question as I turned to our gospel passage for today – the road to Emmaus.  Here are two people who obviously knew each other well, and who had been in Jerusalem during the events of Good Friday. Perhaps they were friends, siblings, or a married couple, or business partners.  Luke doesn’t tell us.  We can assume that they were followers of Jesus because later in the story we see that they knew the others well enough to want to tell them about what had happened.  But, anyway, they were mulling over the events of the past few days and it was making them miserable.  Mmm, I could connect with that as I connect with friends and family about our current situation.  Then a stranger draws near and joins in the conversation and gradually their whole narrative starts to change.  There’s pain and sadness, but through the eyes of the stranger they begin to see that behind all this lies something infinitely brighter and more hopeful.  Nevertheless they didn’t realize it was Jesus who was talking with them until he accepted their invitation to eat with them in their home.  Then the penny dropped and they couldn’t wait to rush back to Jerusalem to share this life-giving twist to their old, sad narrative with the other disciples.  They really had received strengthening medicine!  It’s a very long walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus and there they were, doing it all over again!  Strengthening indeed!

Luke powerfully conveys the difference between meeting Jesus before the resurrection and after.  For those hearing his gospel years after the events themselves he conveys where and how we are most likely to meet with the risen Christ.  Most of us, I guess, will be familiar with these, so I’ll just run through them briefly:

through conversations with other believers, in church, home groups, over coffee etc

through sharing meals, and particularly the bread and wine together

through reading scripture together, with the Holy Spirit revealing Christ’s presence there

through hospitality – they invited Jesus into their home

through being together on what followers of Jesus would soon call ‘The Way’

Yes, I thought, this is all strengthening medicine, and we’re doing most, if not all of this, virtually, one way or another, and it’s good, though requiring new behaviour and skills which makes it harder sometimes; still, we’re discovering new ways of being church together aren’t we?.  But there’s a closeness, an intimacy Luke conveys about those disciples encountering Jesus which is lacking when we do everything virtually.  It made me think of a child in hospital, missing their favourite cuddly toy and a parent bringing not the cuddly itself, but a photograph of it, and saying, ‘Here, darling, hold this, it will remind you of teddy, or panda, or Ellie’.  It’s just not the same.

Luke, I said to myself, I need something more strengthening.  Then something rather obvious dawned on me.  Those two disciples had invited Jesus into their home.  Luke, writing his gospel 80 or more years after the events he describes, had probably never met Jesus in the flesh.  Yet, he’s saying that it’s possible to encounter him in our home right here and now.  It was a light bulb moment!  After all I’m spending nearly the whole time inside my home and here was Luke saying that was exactly where I might be meeting Christ.  And that’s because of the resurrection.  It’s the risen Christ I can meet.

One of my favourite verses in John’s gospel is in John 14 where Jesus is preparing his disciples for what lies ahead as they move towards Jerusalem where he knows he will die.  He is offering some comfort, knowing that, as John puts it, ‘their hearts will be troubled’.  He tells them that he is going to prepare a place for them so that ‘you also may be where I am’.  I once spent some time sitting with those words and imagining Jesus saying those words to me.  Where are you?  I asked.  There are some wonderfully rich theological responses to that question, but on that particular day what came to me was a picture of Jesus standing in the doorway of our home and beckoning me inside. It was a startling reversal of my launch pad.  Going inside my own home was where I would be meeting the risen Christ.  Suppose that when Jesus says to me that he wants me to be where he is, he means in my home?

Now that is strengthening medicine, I thought.

Christ is risen .  He is risen indeed.  Alleluiah.  Amen.