Now that Lent is over I am back to using a script (just so that I can meet the challenge to deviate from it when prompted) I can post here the sermon from this morning. It will soon also be available in audio format at the St Mary's Stebbing website.
The readings were Acts 2, 36-41 and Luke 24 13-35
Luke 24 verse 14 & 15
“They were talking with each other about everything that had happened.”
Well this week there has certainly been a lot of stuff for us to talk about in the news, nationally and internationally. From the Royal Wedding to the death of Bin Laden to the elections on Thursday, opinions continue to be divided in homes, shops, pubs, newspapers and across the world via the internet.
“As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them.”
I wonder, would our discussions of world and local events differ, if we remembered more frequently that Jesus is walking with us, and wanting to inform how we think and act in response to what we hear.
That’s exactly what he was doing on the road to Emmaus, bringing clarity and understanding, restoring hope and faith and ultimately revealing himself in the breaking of bread.
At Easter I usually teach on counter arguments to objections to the resurrection, and this year was no exception. It was therefore a slightly strange experience this week to be reading of a death, and the non-appearance of a body, leading to claims that the person wasn’t really dead.
Christian voices around the world are saying quite a variety of things about the death of Osama Bin Laden. Almost as soon as it was announced, the internet news media were flooded with various versions of a quotation from a 1963 work by Martin Luther King, who said,
• "Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate... Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness:
only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that."
He of course was speaking of how the life and ministry of Jesus inspired his own life and ministry, yet those words cut to the heart the uber-patriotism of the chanting crowds at Ground Zero.
And since then both Bishop Tom Wright and Archbishop Rowan Williams have expressed disquiet about the raid on Abbottabad. I am sure they both did that prayerfully and after serious reflection. In other words, they allowed their relationship with Jesus to shape their thoughts. The Emmaus road experience, of having Christ at our side to make sense of things, can be a useful one these days, and not just for Archbishops!
So how do we tune in? How do we access that experience that Cleopas and his companion were blessed with?
Well there are three things we can say about Emmaus.
The first is, “they were talking” – the sharing of thoughts, emotions, worries hopes and disappointments in fellowship with our brothers and sisters, is a way we can learn how God works, how we are the body of Christ. It’s a big reason why Christianity is not am individual but a corporate faith. So an Emmaus principle is “talk to someone about it, and listen to others”
Related to that is “we had hoped” – the two were unafraid (because they didn’t know it was him) to tell Jesus all the things they had hoped for – even as they thought they had lost them. I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again, that we are the walking wounded, not a triumphant conquering force. The way of the cross is a way of suffering, not of human power and authority. So let us be unafraid to express our struggles, our doubts, our difficulties, for in so doing we may grow in faith and confidence – even if only because we realize “it’s not just me then”.
The second is “in all the Scriptures”. If we want to know how Jesus’ mindset was formed, we need only read the Old Testament. We need Jesus to guide us thought it too, we need New Testament coloured glasses to read the stories of genocide and invasion, otherwise we are liable to fall into the trap of those Ground Zero chanters again.
Jesus explained to Cleopas and his companion how God’s plan was laid out in the Hebrew Scriptures; they shared a knowledge of those scriptures but Jesus gave them new meaning. How often do we share things we have learnt or read in our Bible study with our friends or family? One of the legs upon which our fellowship stands is the Bible. Let us then be accountable to each other in reading it and sharing that experience.
Another of those legs is our tradition. “Then their eyes were opened”. This is the third resource that Emmaus gives us.
The Emmaus story is one of the reasons that I am such a sacramental person. Cleopas and his friend and family had their eyes opened to Jesus when he broke the bread. Now, we don’t see Jesus like that in communion, but I see here a strong encouragement from Christ to his church to break bread together, that we may continue to grow in faith, to tap again into the Emmaus road experience – a knowledge of Christ’s presence with us along the way.
And that final thought brings us to the Acts reading, about which I could go on at great length, but that’ll have to wait for another day. Suffice it to say that here also faith is expressed in what we now refer to as the sacrament of baptism – repent and be baptised. A key verse, which will bring us back to where we started, is verse 39 “the promise is for you and your children and all who are far off”.
I have 2 things to say about this as I conclude.
First, the promise is for you and your children. I don’t think that means “your children when they grow up” it means the children standing next to you now. That’s why I remain an advocate of the baptism of infants, and of the admission of believing children to communion, as well being committed to an all-age church.
Second, “all who are far off”. This is ambiguous to a degree – I’m sure there are missionaries who read this and were called “far off”, but it most powerfully speaks to me of the people who are far off from the gospel, from a knowledge of the love and saving power of God. It is easy to forget, to quote a church poster displayed across Australia in 2006, that Jesus Love Osama.
So let us allow the Emmaus experience to build our faith and our fellowship, that all who are far off may hear and respond to the message we declare.