An open gospel in an empty church…Emmaus road for 2020. Sermon for Adel Parish church Easter 3, 2020.
Luke 24: 13 – 35
There’s been much talk recently of empty roads and deserted streets as we do our bit and stay at home. But although there are fewer vehicles, the road past our house has a constant stream of people taking their daily exercise.
Many are couples or family groups and usually they’re chatting away. I wonder what fills their conversations? I guess the present situation looms large – whether it’s worry about family members or finances – or a new family project as we work out how to live this new kind of life.
Today’s gospel is the story of another walk, another couple deep in discussion about their strange new situation, ”talking with each other about all these things that had happened”. Their hopes for life with Jesus are in tatters, but they’ve heard odd rumours of new hope – so they’re doing what humans do…sharing their fears and trying to make sense of the situation.
Along comes a stranger whom they don’t recognise but we know as Jesus. He asks them what they’re so earnestly discussing – and with beautiful irony Luke lets the disciples tell Jesus his own story…well at least their misunderstanding of it!
They tell him how they knew he was a special man and hoped he was sent by God to save everyone – but how they must’ve got it wrong since he was handed over and crucified. Then they tell him about claims of resurrection – which they can’t make sense of, which they’re not ready to believe…the hope they can’t quite let in.
Jesus listens…then he takes their ideas, the things they’ve grasped about him, the things they can’t get their heads round…he takes their partial understanding and puts it back together with his death in the middle. He shows that anxiety, fear, betrayal, brutality, even death, are part of the story. That the ‘saving’ comes not by avoiding those – but by God in Christ going through them. That the resurrection means those things can never separate us from God.
He does this by helping them look again at the stories they’ve inherited, stories of God reaching into human lives, he shows them how their story fits in.
I chose this reading for my licensing service – because for me it’s the story of the Christian journey…the journey of getting to know Christ. It contains two vital strands …the importance of knowing and studying our shared story – the bible…and the transformative nature of meeting Christ at his table.
And at the heart of the story is that these aren’t things done alone. The pair are already trying to make sense of Jesus’ story together when he joins them. They invite Jesus to eat with whoever is in the house.
Like everyone else at the moment – we’re challenged to find ways of doing things together, whilst physically apart.
I’ve been going into church occasionally – just to check things. The first time I was almost reduced to tears at the sight of the gospel open on the altar – at the last reading we shared before the church was shut.
I wondered whether to leave it on that page…as some sort of memorial. But then I thought – we are still sharing the gospel – and people have shared it in much more difficult circumstances than this. So I’ve been turning the pages – almost as a sign of defiance – and of hope.
And it’s spurred me to think about how we might still study the bible together. I am, of course still writing sermons. But for all I know you might be using that slot to go and put the coffee on! And there’s no chance for questions or comments as you leave church…discussions over coffee are limited.
The Emmaus road story shows the importance of sharing the scriptures. At the start the disciples are talking together. Once they recognise Jesus they turn to each other and share the experience “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was opening the scriptures to us?” They rush back together to share with other disciples.
The bible is best understood together, in community, because left alone we tend to shape the stories to suit ourselves…to look inwards. We need to hear other interpretations to challenge our own.
On our own we can’t always make much sense of a bible passage. When we share it we find each person’s glimpse of the truth adds together to make a clearer picture.
We’re in a strange and disturbing new experience. In today’s gospel Jesus invites us to explore how his story enters our story and might begin to make some sense of both. He invites us to have a go at explaining his story – with all our misunderstandings – to each other and to him. He shows us how the Christian life is a journey of discovery as we share the scriptures in his presence.
In the next couple of weeks we’ll be trying out new ways of exploring the scriptures together. On Wednesdays at 7pm there will be Compline or other evening prayers… hopefully be led by someone different each week. Huge thanks to Karen Baylis for starting us off so beautifully.
Some of our home group have already met via Zoom, and our Lent course is resuming this way for those who can access it. We’re also launching ‘Ace’ our group for young people in school year 4 and up – only a week later than planned – and also on Zoom. Junior church will be resuming in virtual form.
I would love for us to have prayer groups…other discussion groups…if you have an idea get in touch.
I am aware that often this relies on modern technology not available to all. But there is still the telephone – you could always pick the sermon apart next time you have a chat – and please do feed back…it’s a very odd experience apparently preaching into a vacuum!
Today’s reading tells us the gospel doesn’t stay in Jerusalem – but follows us into our homes – to help make sense of our lives, especially when they’ve been turned upside down.