The Walk to Emmaus
I remember a friend of mine telling me that he was walking behind two elderly women and he could overhear their conversation. One said to the other, ‘So I said to Bert I said – let’s do it out in Mongolia’. My friend wondered what this intrepid elderly woman and her husband were planning to do out in Mongolia, but as he overheard more of the conversation he realised that she was not talking about some risky foreign expedition but about painting the spare room!
Well, in today’s gospel we are invited to overhear a conversation as three people walk on the dusty desert road from Jerusalem to Emmaus – a seven mile journey. This story is told by St Luke the great story teller, who as a Greek loved drama and one of his technique is to use soliloquy when the reader is let into a secret that the others in the story don’t know. If you can remember the TV series Up Pompei you will remember the comedian Frankie Howard playing Lurkio the slave and he would turn to the camera and let us into a secret that the others didn’t know. Well, in today’s gospel, Luke lets us into a secret – the stranger who is walking with the two disciples is the Risen Christ but they haven’t recognised him. They talk with him and open their hearts which no doubt were full of sadness and confusion following the crucifixion.
Then we are told that that they arrived in Emmaus and the stranger went to carry on but the disciples invited him to stay with them – hospitality is a sacred act even when you are feeling despondent and bereaved. Then there is the moment of revelation – the stranger took bread, blessed it and broke it and they recognised the Risen Christ.
St Luke is described as a story teller and also a painter because he paints scenes that people would recognise. Those listening to the story of the three men sitting at a table would have been reminded of the story in the Book of Genesis of Abraham and the three angelic visitors at the Oaks of Mamre. In both pictures the front of the table is open to invite us to join in – Luke draws his readers into the story to become part of it.
Well there are so many sermons points that arise from this wonderful gospel but I just want to make three. Firstly, as the two disciples reflected on their journey they said, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us’. It is of course the scriptures that reveal the Risen Christ to us. One theologian said, ‘The Gospels do not explain the resurrection; the resurrection explains the gospels. Belief in the resurrection is not part of the Christian faith; it is the Christian faith,’ so as Christians read the scriptures or hear them expounded in sermons they discover the Risen Christ speaking to them – sometimes comforting them and sometimes disturbing or challenging them so we too can say, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us as the scriptures were opened’.
My second point is that the disciples recognised the Risen Christ in the breaking of the bread – and they were reminded of the Last Supper when Jesus took bread and wine, blessed it, broke the bread and gave it a new meaning in the Kingdom. When I was ordained in the Diocese of Southwark, churches were required by the bishop to use golden colour wine at Holy Communion to make the point that we receive the Body and Blood of a triumphant Risen Lord – it is not the red blood of a dying saviour. So the Risen Christ is recognised by the two disciples and by us in word and sacrament.
And my third and final point is that the Risen Christ is with us whenever we meet together and the Risen Christ is with us in the ordinary and mundane things of life – when we walk together, talk together, work together and eat together, but like those disciples on the road to Emmaus we don’t always recognise him. We need to train ourselves to become aware of the Risen Christ because only then shall we be able to experience Christ’s Easter gift to his disciples which was not oval and made of chocolate – it was the gift of peace. Amen.