St Bride's: Sermons

Led Zeppelin

Luke 24. 13-35

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13 And, behold, two of them went that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was from Jerusalem about threescore furlongs.

14 And they talked together of all these things which had happened.

15 And it came to pass, that, while they communed together and reasoned, Jesus himself drew near, and went with them.

16 But their eyes were holden that they should not know him.

17 And he said unto them, What manner of communications are these that ye have one to another, as ye walk, and are sad?

18 And the one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answering said unto him, Art thou only a stranger in Jerusalem, and hast not known the things which are come to pass there in these days?

19 And he said unto them, What things? And they said unto him, Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, which was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people:

20 And how the chief priests and our rulers delivered him to be condemned to death, and have crucified him.

21 But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel: and beside all this, to day is the third day since these things were done.

22 Yea, and certain women also of our company made us astonished, which were early at the sepulchre;

23 And when they found not his body, they came, saying, that they had also seen a vision of angels, which said that he was alive.

24 And certain of them which were with us went to the sepulchre, and found it even so as the women had said: but him they saw not.

25 Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken:

26 Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?

27 And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.

28 And they drew nigh unto the village, whither they went: and he made as though he would have gone further.

29 But they constrained him, saying, Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. And he went in to tarry with them.

30 And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them.

31 And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight.

32 And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?

33 And they rose up the same hour, and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered together, and them that were with them,

34 Saying, The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon.

35 And they told what things were done in the way, and how he was known of them in breaking of bread.

When I left school back in the 1970s, I worked for a year as a sales assistant in a record shop in my home town. And one Saturday afternoon, a rather unremarkable looking chap in his early thirties sauntered into the shop, spent quite a long time browsing, and eventually came to the cash desk carrying an enormous pile of vinyl albums - a great stack of them.

Now for some reason that I couldn't quite pin down, there was something about that man that had rather an odd effect on me.  I felt quite churned up when he came up and spoke to me, even though I couldn't work out why: he was perfectly pleasant and civil, and not even particularly striking in his looks, but nevertheless I felt slightly peculiar.

His purchase was also rather odd: I was very accustomed to local DJs buying up loads of chart singles at a time, but it was very unusual for anyone to come in and buy such a large number of (what we then used to call in those far-off days) LPs, and spend that sort of money on records. And I was also struck by the diverse nature of his musical tastes, which seemed to incorporate everything from the Classical, to Blues, to Joni Mitchell. But he was extremely charming and polite, and so I got on with the business of dealing with his purchase.

While I was doing this, I became aware that the other sales assistant who was standing with me behind the counter, had started behaving rather oddly - he appeared to be winking and mouthing things at me - but I couldn't work out what he was trying to say, so I continued dealing with my customer. My colleague then started twitching and whimpering slightly - but I continued to ignore him. Eventually I finished the sale, my customer gave me a cheque, signed (I happened to note), with the name John Baldwin, thanked me warmly, and left the shop.

At which point my twitching colleague, who by this stage had turned several shades of purple, practically exploded: 'Didn't you realise who that was?' he said. I was nonplussed for a moment before suddenly and dramatically light dawned: 'Oh my goodness!', I said. (Actually I didn't say that at all, but this is a church service.)  Because I suddenly realised that the man I had just been serving was none other than the bass guitarist of Led Zeppelin, better known by his stage name, John Paul Jones.

Now, I should explain to the very ancient and the very young amongst you, that in my day, Led Zep were a 'popular music combo' whose fame and success were not merely global but stratospheric. And more than that, I was myself a huge fan. I knew most of the lyrics to most of their album tracks by heart. (Yes, it's funny how all my dark secrets seem to come out in the pulpit!)  And I knew exactly what all the band members looked like, including their bass player.

So, bizarrely, I realised that I had just spent about ten minutes interacting with John Paul Jones, one-to-one, without for a moment realising that it was him. And suddenly everything else made sense as well: he was a millionaire rock musician, famous for his eclectic tastes (indeed, in his youth he had been organist and choir director in a church!) - which explained the scale and varied nature of his record purchases. And the reason why I felt so peculiar when he came to the counter was in all probability because at some subconscious level I had indeed recognised his significance - it was just that my rational mind hadn't yet made the specific connection. Once I realised the truth it all seemed glaringly obvious.

Now, compare that experience with the story we heard in this morning's gospel reading. Following the death of Jesus, two of the disciples, traumatised by that terrible event, are walking to the village of Emmaus, deep in conversation. As they walk along, they are joined by the Risen Christ, but they don't register that it is him - they are so deeply engrossed in conversation that they probably don't pay much attention at all to the stranger walking alongside them.

Eventually he speaks, asking what they are talking about. The two proceed to tell him about the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth - and the strange story that some women of their group had visited his tomb, found it empty, and had seen there a vision of angels. The mysterious traveller expresses astonishment at their failure to understand what has truly taken place, and explains it all to them with reference to the scriptures - but they are still so bound up with their own grief and bewilderment that they can't fully comprehend what it is that he is saying, or who it is who is speaking to them.

They arrive at the village, and the two disciples urge the mysterious stranger to stay with them. He sits at table with them, takes bread, blesses it, and gives it to them - and it is at that moment, suddenly and dramatically, through glimpsing that familiar gesture, that they finally make the connection and see who it is that is with them. And only then do they think back, and realise that it all made perfect sense - that their hearts had burned within them when the Risen Christ was talking with them on the road. They had known deep down that something remarkable was happening - they just hadn't been able to see what it was.

When describing the resurrection appearances, the Bible asks us to hold together two notions that might at first sight seem contradictory: the fact that Jesus really was totally and utterly and absolutely alive and raised from the dead and could be known as such; and alongside that, the strange fact that when he does appear he was not immediately recognised by his disciples:  Mary in the garden thinks he is the gardener; the disciples on the road to Emmaus have absolutely no idea who their travelling companion is, even when he speaks to them and explains to them what has happened.

Now, this lack of initial recognition might seem rather far-fetched, until you reflect upon incidents such as the one I described earlier from my own experience. How was it that I was unable to recognise someone so famous, and whose face I myself knew so well, when he was literally standing in front of me?  Answer: because the thought that a mega rock star might stroll into a record shop in East Grinstead and speak to my eighteen year old self, seemed so far beyond the realms of possibility, that it didn't occur to me that it might actually be happening.

There is a very wise saying that 'We do not see things as they are - we see things as we are.'  It is an unfortunate fact of human life that we are all liable to come to certain encounters and experience so laden with our own prejudices and assumptions about what must be the case that we can sometimes fail to see what is staring us in the face. It is only when something happens that manages to cut through all of that stuff, that we are finally able to set aside our prejudices, and experience that unexpected reality for what it truly is - and indeed discover, contrary to our expectations, that it does in fact make absolute and perfect sense.

So it is that when the risen Lord breaks bread with those two disciples, suddenly everything becomes dazzlingly clear to them: Jesus is raised from the dead; the Lord is with them. But interestingly, it is also at that moment of recognition that Jesus withdraws from their sight: their certain knowledge of his risen presence means that they no longer need him to be with him in person, because now they know the truth: it really is him; he is alive; death could not hold him.

When those two disciples, dejected and downcast, were travelling on the road to Emmaus, it was Jesus who came to them, who sought them out. But interestingly, it was only when they themselves did something to receive him - by urging him to share their hospitality in the village - that their eyes were finally opened to his true identity.

It is Christ who comes to find us; Christ is the hidden stranger who travels alongside us on the road. But until we, in turn, are prepared to invite him to come and spend time with us (as we have now invited him to be part of the lives of Finn and Daniel), we will never be able to see him for who he truly is. We will never be able to see the wonder that is staring us in the face.

Because the initiative is his; but the decision to receive it is ours. Amen.

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