(Sandy’s sermon for Easter 3A, based on the Walk to Emmaus from Luke 24)
The story of the travellers on the road to Emmaus is such a familiar story from the Easter season. I wonder what resonates with your own experiences?
Here are some of the ways I engaged with this story again:
* the despair, the despondency, the sorrow, the sense of loss of those two travellers whose hopes had been dashed, ‘we had hoped he would be the one’….
* the remembering and recounting of the stories of our spiritual ancestors, and their testimony about the way they have seen God’s activity in their midst – tracing all the way back to ancient days of Moses…..perhaps a prompt to learn and discover more, to dip into our sacred stories with fresh energy…?
* the sense of anticipation and excitement when you sense the divine presence, even if we can never fully understand it….
* the sense of breathless excitement at sharing the good news about Jesus’ risen life, that cannot be kept silent or hidden but is transforming news for the whole world…..
This story was cradled by the early church as an important story, though the historical details would have been blurred somewhat by the passing of time between the appearances of Jesus and when Luke’s Gospel was written several decades later. But it holds important truths for us. And it is part of the narrative where the disciples and followers of Jesus came to realize they were in uncharted territory, where people like Mary Magdalene, and Peter, and Thomas were ‘alive’ and animated in a new way by what would later be called ‘resurrection life’. The Emmaus story unpacks what the struggle to make sense of it all looked like for the early church. Perhaps this walk on a single afternoon was but one of many such walks where Jesus was present with his followers. Perhaps it happened over several years or even decades. It recounts the walk of the whole early ‘church’ on its journey to make sense of Jesus’ risen life and the implications for them.
Perhaps that walk is still happening now, in our place and time. And yet, it’s hard to imagine the present church taking that walk. Our present culture does not sustain Christian practice as our spiritual ancestors practiced it. Post-modernity is a hard place in which to find and live out resurrection faith, or look for signs of risen life. Ours is a world where, for some, it is materially easy to live, where freedom is taken for granted, and leisure a right. It is a world of consumerism with every available distraction. It is a world endlessly busy. It seems it’s not easy to live in our time and place, and at the same time, orient the human spirit towards God.
The two disciples are on a journey when they meet Jesus. Scholars think that they are meant to be a picture of the early church for Luke’s community. It locates the church on the road. Jesus is met on the road. The Greek words for “on the road” are literally “on the way.” Christians referred to themselves as people of the Way. (Acts 19:19) The Christian way of living is to be on the road. Churches are not meant to be static and settled and comfortable and never moving. A word of challenge to us as we gather each week for worship in this beautiful building.
The two people could have journeyed with Jesus on the road to Emmaus and then let him walk on, but they invited him in for a meal.….Jesus took bread and broke it and blessed it and gave it to them…the words we recount in communion. Jesus is made known to us in communion. If you read the story you will see it doesn’t say they went back and told the apostles they had seen Jesus, or that he had appeared to them. They went back and told them how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
What provoked the disciples to begin celebrating a meal in memory of Jesus is a ‘missing link’ in the history of the eucharist in the early Church. The disciples began to celebrate ‘the Breaking of Bread’ very soon after Pentecost. Immediately after Luke tells us about the coming of the Holy Spirit and Peter’s preaching to the people, he writes, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers’. (Acts 2:42)
Two people meet and travel together. (That’s a church.) They talk about life – about all these things that had happened, and without them even noticing, Jesus came among them. Jesus is present in our conversations – in our deep sharing about our own experiences, of love and loss, sorrows and struggles, and when suffering and fragile hopes overwhelm the possibility of joy and transformation. This is part of being church – where two or more can meet to talk and to share deeply, to name our deepest realities in our human journey.
And then… the conversation changes. With his help, the two people start to relate all the things that have been happening to what was in the scriptures. They started to make sense of their life and what was happening by looking back at their own sacred stories. We practice this when we read and reflect on the Bible when we gather for worship. Looking at our experiences through the lens of our sacred stories.
As the early church journeyed with Jesus, it grew mightily. Three thousand people responded to Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, one man’s testimony drawing others into God’s life, where they continue their own journey looking for signs of risen life. Our task as individuals and as a church is to remain always open to God’s life and where it may break out next, and then to be ready with a response that brings grace and life to others. In this year when we celebrate many important historical events here at Pilgrim, and the 40th anniversary of the Uniting Church in Australia, we also need to step back also and ask, in what ways this community of faith, and our Pilgrim congregation, contributes to God’s work in the world, and especially amongst those whose journey is marked by the same sense of sorrow and fractured hope as our two travellers on the road to Emmaus? For the testimony of our own spiritual ancestors in this place bears witness to the risen life of Christ. If a church is “on the road,” and if it worships God by putting its life together informed by scripture, and celebrating communion together, then Jesus will be made known to it…
The journey on the road to Emmaus goes on, even now. The church – you and me, we’re all in it together – is called to be part of that journey, on the road, on the way, and to recognise and give witness to signs of risen life amongst, here and now and in all places and in all times.
May it be so. Amen.