Prayers, Readings and Reflections for Easter 3, 26 April 2020
The Road to Emmaus
In normal times, I would use this well-loved story of the risen Jesus meeting with the disciples on the Emmaus road to talk about meeting with the risen Lord through hospitality, entertaining strangers and in the breaking of bread at communion. But these are not normal times; and to be able to share meals with one another, let alone entertain strangers or to share communion are all things missing from our lives. The usual realities by which we are helped to encounter Jesus: in worship, in receiving the bread and wine of communion, in one another in fellowship at church, are simply not available to us at the moment.
How, then, can we let this story speak to us in our present situation? In three ways, I suggest:
The first is to put ourselves in the shoes of those two disciples, Cleopas and his companion, walking away from Jerusalem, filled with grief and despair. How could their world have turned upside down so quickly?
While not part of the inner band of the twelve disciples, they had come to know Jesus, and like many others had come to believe that he was the Messiah, the one who would be the fulfilment of God’s promises. But events had turned against him, he hadn’t resisted arrest, and even his closest disciples had abandoned him as he was led out to be crucified. That wasn’t what was supposed to happen to the Messiah. To cap it all there were wild rumours circulating that his tomb had been found empty, but how could they possibly believe the women’s tale that they had seen him alive?
As they leave Jerusalem, leaving behind any hopes that they had had, they are joined on the road by Jesus, though they don’t yet recognise him. Apparently, this stranger is ignorant of the events of the last three days. Can there be anyone not keeping up with the news on a daily, if not hourly basis?
They pour out the whole story to Jesus, who listens to their fear, their grief, their dashed hopes, their confusion and their inability to imagine that life can begin afresh. He listens and absorbs all those feelings and emotions without judgement or rebuke.
In the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, so many of these feelings and emotions are ours. There are, and will be, many stories to be told. Perhaps we feel it’s wrong to complain to God, or that we can only approach God when we are in a suitable frame of mind. But God wants and needs to hear our prayers of lament as much as our prayers of praise and gratitude. Now might be a good time to explore and perhaps pray with the very many psalms of lament to be found in the Bible, expressing sorrow and loss and the seeming failure of God to act. For example, try Psalm 13 or Psalm 42. Like the disciples on the Emmaus road, our journey of lament could be one which leads us to recognition and new life.
Which brings me to the second way in which today’s gospel can speak into our situation just now. Jesus’ response to the disciples was to point them to scripture and to the promises of God. He showed them how God’s intentions for the world made known through the prophets had been fulfilled in the person of Jesus, that it was indeed necessary for him to suffer and to die, in order to bring us into new life with him.
As we find ourselves in a period of relative inactivity with extra time on our hands, maybe we could use that time to re-engage with scripture. Perhaps begin by reading one of the gospels such as Mark through in its entirety. Dip into some of the Old Testament stories. You may find your hearts burning as you encounter there God and God’s love for you anew.
And thirdly, the place where the disciples’ eyes were opened to recognise Jesus was in the ordinariness of their own home around the meal table. Some of us, I know, have no-one to share meals with at the moment. But we can encounter God in both solitude and in fellowship, in silence and in conversation, in worship and in the wilderness.
Though we are unable to meet in church at present, and concerns about our family, friends and future are crowding our minds, may our eyes be opened to discern the presence of the risen Christ walking beside us on our journey of lament, making our hearts burn as we read the scriptures and a becoming a very real life-giving presence with us in the everyday moments of our lives.
As the rain hides the stars, as the autumn mist hides the hills,
as the clouds veil the blue of the sky,
so the dark happenings of my lot hide the shining of thy face from me.
Yet, if I may hold thy hand in the darkness, it is enough, since I know,
that though I may stumble in my going, Thou dost not fall.
Traditional - Scottish Gaelic