Easter 3 ~ Then their eyes were opened
Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized Jesus; and he vanished from their sight. Words from the Gospel according to Luke. (Luke 24: 31)
I wonder how you are feeling today? Worried for sure, concerned for your loved ones and for yourself. Many people in this time of trouble feel helpless, but as Christians we have what others do not, we have hope. The pair of disciples we read about today certainly did not.
Desolate and dejected they were walking to a village called Emmaus, it was about seven miles from Jerusalem. Cleopas and his wife Mary were going home. Mary had been at the foot of the cross and for her there was no doubt Jesus had died and been buried. Yet when some of the women had gone back to the tomb, in the early hours of the morning, the body had gone. Gone with the hopes and dreams of redemption promised in the scriptures from the time of Moses until Jesus himself. The Messiah and freedom from Roman occupation seemed to have vanished with his body. As they discussed the events of the past few days all hope had gone.
When I was a child my old vicar told me to look for the stranger. I don’t think I really understood at the time what he meant. But our gospel today is the lesson I needed to learn. At first they hardly noticed him. There was something new and different about Jesus. When he drew alongside them and as they walked and talked together, Cleopas and his wife didn’t recognise him. I wonder would we, even with the benefit of knowing what was to come at Pentecost?
During the three years they had travelled together the disciples had listened to Jesus explaining the scriptures and yet the penny simply hadn’t dropped. Redemption, it seemed, was not going to be a re-enactment of the Exodus from Egyptian rule. The Messiah was not going to lead an army of freedom fighters to end their occupation. The travellers toward Emmaus had also got it all wrong.
The stranger asked what was going on and got an answer that we all might give, especially during this current crisis, “where have you been, where are you?” we could add, “haven’t you seen or read the news?” It was then the risen Jesus’ turned to explain how Jewish scripture throughout their history had prophesied the Messiah would come, not as a conquering hero or a king but as a suffering servant. This would be a new and different Exodus. In the resurrection to new life, death and fear had been defeated, no longer did the Romans have hold over them, they were free, even if their land was still occupied.
It seems that the two were fascinated and wanted the conversation to go on. So as their tradition demanded Cleopas and Mary invited Jesus to come and share a meal and “stay the night”.
Years ago, during a train journey with my training vicar Stephen, we had been discussing a pivotal theological point about Jesus. When the train arrived at my station, like our travellers to Emmaus, I really wanted to keep on talking, what was so special about what Jesus had done? Ok, it was massive, Jesus had risen from the dead, the world had changed forever, and human life transformed. So even in the most devastating of events there is hope. These were some of my thoughts then and I wanted to be able to express and explore them. Just as Cleopas and Mary, I wanted answers and needed them now.
Jesus accepted their invitation and when they sat at the table he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. We read, “Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized Jesus; and he vanished from their sight.” Cleopas and Mary were so completely convinced it had been Jesus that they immediately hurried back those seven miles to Jerusalem, where the disciples were in hiding. They told them what had happened on the road, and how they re-membered Jesus when he broke the bread. Now they had hope.
So what did my wise old vicar mean and what have I learnt since he told me to look out for the stranger on my journey in faith. Well that I need to watch for and learn to recognise God in the people with whom I live and work. Jesus is to be found in and through our common life, both in the church and in God’s word as we read the scriptures. But that is not the complete picture.
The broken bread has become for us the broken body of Christ. In the miracle of Holy Communion his broken body is re-membered, or literally put back together. As we eat and drink Christ’s body and blood at the altar rail, we are incorporated into the body of Jesus and into each other. At this time, when we are not able to receive communion physically we can rest assured that God our Father still holds us close to his heart, feeding us with his word.
The worries of children have recently been expressed by the drawing and colouring rainbows, putting them in their windows. This has been a sign of hope, a sign from before the story of Noah was written on papyrus. I pray when we can come together, virus free, that we may all experience again, meeting the living God in the breaking of the bread in Jesus’ name. Amen.
The Rev'd Mo Lunn, St Mary Magdalene, Enfield, 26/04/2020