O God, your Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread. Open the eyes of our faith, that we may see him in his redeeming work, who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
GOSPEL: Luke 24: 13 – 35
On that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’
Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
The song “You’ll never walk alone”, originally from the musical “Carousel” and later boosted in popularity by Gerry and the Pacemakers, is now probably best known as the anthem of Liverpool Football Club, with the title words even emblazoned in wrought iron on top of the iconic Shankly gates at the Anfield stadium. It’s a song that Liverpool fans will sing at the drop of a hat. It’s also a song that I feel an urge to sing every time I contemplate the genius little story in today’s Gospel of the disciples encountering the risen Christ on the road to Emmaus. It’s the Gospel story which assures us that, like the disciples, we will “never walk alone”- ever again – because, in the words of the 1982 Liturgy, “He whom they had loved and lost is with us now, in every place, for ever”. It’s living proof of the promise that he made to us before he ascended to the Father: “I am with you always even unto the end of the age”.
Immediately after the crucifixion, the bewildered disciples are understandably a long way from believing that promise, but the Emmaus Road story is one of several that begins to turn that belief around. In it the two disciples perceive the closeness of Jesus in two ways. They feel it when he opens the scriptures for them; we are told their hearts burned as he spoke. They feel it again when he breaks bread for them and transports them right back to the upper room and to the first Eucharist where he gave them his very presence in bread and wine.
We, too, feel his closeness so powerfully when we study the scriptures and celebrate the eucharist but we can also be very aware of his proximity in situations where many of his actions and stances, words and gestures are repeated and re-enacted in the here and now.
Speaking personally, the air moves with his presence for me when I hear or receive a word of forgiveness or when I observe the offering of a compassionate helping hand. The atmospheric pressure around me tightens with his presence when I watch footage of nurses and doctors the world over as they suffer and struggle to go the extra mile to care for and heal Covid19 victims. The hair on the back of my neck rises at his presence when I hear someone courageously speaking Gospel truth in the face of worldly nonsense. My heart melts at his presence every time I hear a prayer being offered in faith, hope and love. I do a double take, to catch his presence, at every attempt made to establish God’s upside-down kingdom in the unfair kingdom of this world. I know he is the third person in the room when someone gives me a private account of their life being redeemed and saved. And as I walk along the roads to Lanark, litter picking as I go, I feel him right beside me, telling me what a wonderful job Wombles are doing here and everywhere to care for God’s creation.
“You’ll never walk alone”. That’s the message of the Emmaus Road story. So, this week, walk on, walk on, with Christ in your heart and may you know the intimacy, the challenge, the assurance and the power of his presence with every step that you take and every turn that you make.
The Revd Canon Drew Sheridan
Easter 3 A (2020)