The chosen hymns for this week, We Will Walk with God and We Are Marching In The Light Of God can be found below along with a transcription of the sermon for those who prefer to read.
Isn’t this the strangest of times?
I’m here in an empty church, talking to you, each of you in your own homes.
My world has been reduced to my home and surrounding area and a weekly shop at the supermarket – no more hospital visits, dropping in on my sister or friends, no gallivanting to the big city or an impromptu visit to the coast.
A full diary has suddenly become empty.
And then there is the concern, brought daily – if not hourly – about the “Virus pandemic – Global Emergency” as Sky News has it. The daily totals of infection and death, occasionally interspersed with “good news” stories, scenes of normally crowded cities now eerily silent, worry over jobs and the economy, the opinions of many and the Thursday clap all add to feelings of dislocation and the sense that all is not as it should be.
Dislocation, uncertainty, even fear and anxiety inhabit our world.
Where is the hope?
I think this may also have been the feelings of the two followers of Jesus as they walked to Emmaus. In our Gospel reading today, two utterly confused followers are joined by a third man. Their world has been turned upside down by the events of the past week: celebration, conflict, violence, and death, and now the possibility that their martyred spiritual leader has come back to life.
They walk the seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus, sharing their common grief.
They walk with each other, trying to discern the meaning of what has happened in their life, trying to discern what steps to take next.
Somehow, they cannot recognise their companion on the journey as the teacher and healer Jesus who joins them to guide and comfort them, to inspire and challenge them.
Confused and grief stricken, the two men nevertheless reach out to the stranger. They pour out their grief and story of what has happened.
They invite him to supper, and come to know his identity as the Risen Jesus in the breaking of the bread.
Recognition came to the travellers. It didn’t come as they walked the road with him, or when he interpreted the scriptures to them to put all things in perspective. It came after they had walked with Jesus, pouring out their story while he listened and then told then what the Scriptures meant.
It came while he took bread, blessed and broke it. In that minute they knew him. And the minute they did recognise him, he disappeared.
I think there is something important for us to learn from this.
There is something here to give us hope at this time.
Jesus is a tough man to pin down. He comes, he goes.
When you are able to meet him, it is totally on his terms, at his initiative, in a place you wouldn't expect. And what does he do?
He walks with you in your grief.
He listens and only then speaks. The road to Emmaus is where the Son of God comes alongside his children. It is where the King of kings walks with his beloved ones.
Read too much into the gospel accounts and you get Jesus just meeting ‘the eleven’, ‘the women’, the inner circle.
There’s an exclusivity to the man of God, a strictly controlled invitation list. But the beauty of the Emmaus road is you see Jesus mingling with the crowd, with those on the fringes. You understand the point of it all, the scales falling from our eyes, the barriers being broken down, the bridges being built.
Here is our hope.
Jesus is not exclusive.
Jesus walks with the crowd.
Jesus walks with us in time of trouble.
This has always been one of the realities of Resurrection. Jesus is free to come and go. He is never where we expect him to be.
Remember what the angel said on Easter? "He is risen, and he is not here." The story of what happened on the road to Emmaus makes it clear that the Lord is alive, but we can't always tell where he is or who he mingles with. If he is present with us, we don't always know it. If he seems nowhere in sight, we may have to trust that he has gone where he is needed most. Just when you think you have him, he goes someplace else.
If you ask me, he goes somewhere else where he is needed.
We need to recognise Jesus for who he is and what he has done for us. We also need to recognise Christ in others. Why did God keep the two followers from recognising Jesus?
Because isn’t that just what life is like? We encounter Jesus at those moments when we least expect to and it can be the greatest blessing we ever receive.
As we walk this Easter road, we can either stand around looking sad, or we can stop feeling sorry for ourselves and just listen to his words, believe and do.
On Easter Sunday this year, millions watched as the Pope delivered his Urbi et Orbi message from an empty and silent St Peter’s Basilica. His message was called “The Contagion of Hope”. At this time of global emergency, he challenged us to ban indifference, self-centredness, division and forgetfulness - and to spread the “contagion” of hope.
Our hope is in the risen Christ, who never leaves us and who sustains us in difficult times.
And we can spread hope even in these difficult times when we communicate encouragement through letters, phone conversations, social media posts, emails, texts, facetime and even Zoom meetings.