Our road to Emmaus - St Bride's: Reflection

Updated 23/03/20: Following a statement from the Bishop of London, St Bride's Church is now closed to the public due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Further Information →

St Bride's: Sermons

Our road to Emmaus

There are times when our personal circumstances and surroundings seem to resonate with the celebrations of the Christian year and others when they very clearly don't. 

I've spent a few Christmases over the years in tropical and Equatorial climes.  As nice as it is to be able to spend some days over the Christmas and new year period on a beach somewhere, for me there is no denying that there is a particular quality to the season when Christ's light shines in the darkness.

This Easter season I have paid rather more attention than usual to the emergence of spring.  There is something comforting in nature's indifference to the corona virus pandemic.  Having become rather more familiar with walking routes from my own front door than I've ever previous managed, I've noticed the emergence of blossom on particular trees and bushes and realised how often I am simply oblivious to such wonders.

I've never experienced an antipodean Easter but I'm sure if I were to, the absence of abundant new life in nature would feel very strange.  Well I've now been in Sussex for the past month but of course despite enjoying the emergence of spring, this Easter has felt very odd indeed and as much as I have enjoyed our online services I have greatly missed gathering to celebrate Easter together.

In the first epistle of Peter, that we have heard a section of his morning, he speaks of a period of exile and that is very much how this period of lock down feels.  If we have been left feeling that our expectations for Easter have not quite been realised this year we need look no further than today's Gospel to realise that for Jesus' disciples the disappointment was rather more marked.

I would like to share with you some reflections from Julie Gittoes, Vicar at St Mary's in Hendon.  As she puts it, this Eastertide, we are walking a road to Emmaus. The world around us is unsettled and fearful; we have questions that we can't answer; we are haunted by death. Yet we also hear stories of life-affirming and demanding care.

Cleopas, like his fellow disciples, had believed that Jesus was a prophet and liberator of Israel.  Their expectations were shattered, Jesus ministry had ended in his execution, they had all fled except for John and some of his female disciples amongst whom interestingly, scripture tells us, was Mary of Cleopas.  Perhaps Cleopas walked with his friend to Emmaus that day knowing that his wife had been there at Jesus' death and even amongst those women reporting the vision of angels claiming that Jesus was alive.   

The scriptures tell us that Jesus came alongside the disciples but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.  He opened their minds interpreting to them the things about himself in all the scriptures beginning with Moses and all the prophets. 

Whilst that teaching is not recorded, we can imagine what it included because it is the faith that we have received.

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up.

It is striking though isn't it that on this day of walking and talking together the moment of revelation for the disciples is at the breaking of the bread.  This surely points us to the special place of the sacrament in Christian worship. Jesus "took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them" then the disciples' eyes were opened, and they recognised him. Like the manna in the wilderness, the eucharist is the food of the pilgrim Church during its earthly exile -- both sustaining her on her journey and offering a foretaste of the eternal banquet.

In his book Finding the Church, the late priest and theologian Daniel Hardy described the eucharist as a gathered interval in the scattered life of the Church.  This Eastertide we face an extended interval but it is worth recognizing that throughout the majority of the history of the Anglican church weekly communion has not been the norm.  It was not so long ago that a monthly or quarterly sharing of communion was common practice, often with extended periods of preparation before hand.

In this extended interval. Members of the body of Christ have readily turned outwards from their own sense of loss to respond to others in need, in obedience to our Lord's command. We have seeing an intensification of loving service.

We must wait to share the Eucharist as a community once again but it may be helpful to recognise in today's Gospel that Christ reveals himself to Cleopas and his friend through the fire of the Spirit. In retrospect, the disciples recognise that, as Jesus was "opening the scriptures", their hearts were "burning" within them. The Holy Spirit reminds us that we are a people in exile, "groaning inwardly" for the promised land.

Presence is a rather more subtle quality than it may appear.  Yes, physical proximity and indeed touch are hugely significant but perhaps they are neither necessary or sufficient to presence.  On that road to Emmaus the disciples were unable to recognise Christ's presence amongst them until the breaking of bread.  Slowly they realised that their hopes and expectations of Jesus were grounded in worldly notions of power and that Christ's victory was different and of infinitely greater scope, a victory not over Roman oppression in Palestine in their day but over sin and death in eternity. Their own conceptions of what Jesus should be were swept away.

This Eastertide we may feel disorientated by fear for our and our loved one's health and livelihoods, for our country and for the nations of the world. Nevertheless, in our isolation we may still know God's presence in his word and in our hearts.

All Glory to be him, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and to the ages of ages.


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