St Andrew’s, Milborne
Sunday 30th April 2017
Acts 2.14a, 36-41; Luke 24.13-35
As I had always known he would come, unannounced, remarkable merely for the absence of clamour.
So truth must appear to the thinker; so, at a stage of the experiment, the answer must quietly emerge.
I looked at him, not with the eye only, but with the whole of my being, overflowing with him as a chalice would with the sea.
Yet was he no more there than before, his area occupied by the unhaloed presences.
You could put your hand in him without consciousness of his wounds.
The gamblers at the foot of the unnoticed cross went on with their dicing; yet the invisible garment for which they played was no longer at stake, but worn by him in this risen existence.
As many of you know, I have just returned from a retreat. It has been wonderful, because what it has done for me is something I try to manage each year and each year I fail – to keep the Easter joy and focus of resurrection once Easter Day is over.
We are easily conscious of the 40 days of Lent, but we so often forget that there are also 40 days of Easter – 40 days of celebration and joy to counterbalance the 40 days of penitence and fasting.
Easter is a Season and not just a day.
It was wonderful to be explicitly celebrating that last week – with worship and singing and talks all on the resurrection.
Because of that I’ve managed to keep Easter going for at least a week longer than normal. I hope and pray God will help me to continue doing so right up until Ascension Day when it comes to an end.
And I urge and encourage you to join me in this.
It’s one of the reasons why during this period our first reading is always from Acts – the lectionary specifies that that must be so – because Acts shows us what happens because of the resurrection. As St Paul says – you can’t have Christianity without it, for there would be no meaning left.
So, let’s take a look at today’s Gospel reading – one of two resurrection appearances in Luke. (Note that Luke doesn’t have an appearance of Jesus at the tomb itself.)
We have two disciples walking on the road. It seems strange perhaps that they are leaving Jerusalem just as the resurrection for which they have hoped and believed has happened. But leaving they are, and very gloomily.
And what we need to know about this is why they are so gloomy. The resurrection has taken place but “we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel”.
The resurrection for which they been longing was not a quite hidden affair but one that would come with a blaze of glory when the dead would rise, the enemies of Israel would be conquered, they would be masters of their own land under God, and there would peace and prosperity for all God’s people.
None of that has happened so perhaps it is not surprising that they are downcast and trudging home.
What we miss in English is that they are not just discussing. The discussion is in fact clearly quite disputatious – the word translated in verse 14 and in verse 15 as “talking” means just that, but the discussing in verse 15 is a stronger word, usually meaning disputing or debating.
We would normally be quite embarrassed if we were on the road and came across a couple arguing – we’d probably walk past pretending to ignore them - but it doesn’t seem to worry Jesus.
He comes into the middle of the argument and asks them literally – what are you throwing at each other? The word here translated as discussing is the Greek antiballo – to throw against – as in boxers throwing punches at one another. Strong stuff.
People often wonder who these two are. I’ve never been exactly certain but I heard very good arguments last week for the version that they are husband and wife.
In John’s Gospel we know that one of the Marys at the cross is wife of Clopas – Clopas could well be a Hebrew version of the Greek name Cleopas. We also know that these two live together in the same house, and are both disciples, so I’m on the way to being convinced that they could indeed be married.
Those of you who are or have been married, I’m sure you can recognise the argument on the road scenario. Perhaps Mary had wanted to stay in Jerusalem to see what would happen next while Cleopas wanted to go home.
So, hopes dashed, they’re walking home when a stranger appears.
We know from all the resurrection appearances that Jesus clearly looks different than before he died, because so many fail to recognise him. So perhaps it’s not surprising that they don’t know who this stranger is.
He joins them as they walk and explains to them everything in Scripture about him.
The current thinking is that Emmaus is either 7 or 18 miles away from Jerusalem. It might take eighteen to unpack all the Scriptures, but maybe when we consider they walked home and then ran back to Jerusalem on the same day, seven might seem more likely. Eighteen is more than a marathon – just talk to those who ran that last weekend. I’ll leave that conundrum for you to ponder.
But they still don’t know to whom they are talking.
Even though with hindsight they recognise that their hearts burned while he spoke to them, it is only after he has revealed who he is that they put two and two together.
So what is it that reveals to them Jesus? Ostensibly it is when he breaks bread. There is a common misconception that this reminds them of the Last Supper, but let’s think more deeply. There are two things here to be noted. These two were not as far as we know at that Last Supper, and also every Jewish meal of the time began with the breaking of the bread.
So did they see the wounds on his hands, did Jesus have a particular way of doing it or particular words?
Or was there something in the fact that he had taken on himself the role of the host – it wasn’t the guest’s place to break bread. And let’s remind ourselves here that the host of every communion service is Jesus himself – is there something prefiguring that in this passage?
I think it is significant that Jesus only allowed them to recognise him after they had invited him into their home. He didn’t then and doesn’t now impose himself on those who don’t want his presence with them. Hearing the interpretation of the Scriptures wasn’t enough – they needed to be willing to experience him in their hearts too, in offering hospitality they were giving of themselves, having received from him.
It was the difference between looking at him “not with the eye only, but with the whole of my being, overflowing with him as a chalice would with the sea”.
Living the resurrection needs us to look at Jesus with different eyes. Look how the two disciples changed – they were despairing, gloomy, hope-less until they discovered who was in their midst and then they became full of energy and life.
The life of Jesus gives us hope, however we feel.
As Christians we are already living the resurrection life, but sadly so often our eyes turn away from the source of that life and we too get bogged down with despair and troubles.
Living the resurrection needs us to look at the world with different eyes too.
I’m not saying the resurrection stops the troubles but it does give us a different focus. Sometimes we can’t even hold that focus for ourselves – I know from my times of serious depression it was only allowing someone else to hold that hope and life for me that made life possible.
Which reminds us of the corporate nature of Christianity. The society in which Jesus lived was a one of community and corporateness, as is the Church he left behind. We so often lose sight of that because we live in an individualised world.
The kingdom of God can never be only about individuals, but it is always about community.
If only the church modelled that better, we might make a real difference in our world. It echoes the African characteristic of ubuntu – I am because you are. There is no existence of self outside community.
And that is what was always envisaged by the Jesus and the earliest Christians – there is no existence outside the Body of Christ. We miss so much when we forget that.
I could carry on talking on this passage for ages, but I can feel some of you wandering off already. Let’s just take three ideas from what I’ve said and hold them for a moment in our hearts:
It was when the disciples offered hospitality, they realised who the stranger was, when they invited him in to be part of their lives.
Living the resurrection requires us to look at the world afresh, not just with “the eye only, but with the whole of my being”.
Living the resurrection requires us to do this in community with each other not merely as individuals.
And as we begin to do this, the resurrection life will overflow with him “as a chalice would with the sea”, and the kingdom of heaven can be truly built on earth, here and now, until the time comes when the whole of creation will be renewed.
(This sermon owes much to the ideas of Paula Gooder, who led the retreat I mentioned at the start, and so inspired my faith and thinking this past week).