Luke 24:13-35 The Road to Emmaus – A Reflection by Canon Julie Boyd
Grant, O Lord, that in the written Word, and through the spoken Word, we may behold the living Word, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
In many ways and in the experience of many people, the world has slowed down. If you drive through town you see empty streets, if you take a precious walk as Boris has prescribed, you might just meet no one. There is very little traffic on the roads and the world is quieter.
Early in the morning as the dawn breaks on a new day there is a stillness that enfolds you.
This year more than any other I have really enjoyed hearing the morning chorus, the beautiful birdsong that greets the sun rising. On Easter Sunday morning when I led the dawn service from just outside my garden gate, the bird song was so loud I wondered whether people would be able to hear my words above the birdsong.
I stood there alone in the cool air, on the wet ground covered in the dew, and I felt a real sense of privilege to be leading the prayers of our church on that new day as we celebrated new beginnings in God’s sight.
As I stood there, I faced the sunrise which gradually gave more light to me and to the church behind me. I faced east.
Some would say that to face the sunrise is an outward sign of how inwardly we turn ourselves to face all that is new and good, full of hope and wonder.
Our church buildings usually face east as indeed does St Faith’s. A tradition that is born out of the story of our faith, and it is said, in order to face towards both Jerusalem and the rising sun.
By contrast, to walk the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus is to walk towards the west. The disciples in the gospel reading today were facing west as they walked away.
They were walking towards the sunset. You might say that that was simply the direction they were travelling in. But note that they were walking away, towards the sunset, and we are told that their faces were twisted with grief as they spoke to the stranger on the road.
“We were hoping”, they said, “that Jesus of Nazareth was the one who was going to rescue Israel”. WE WERE hoping, implies that they no longer hoped…. despite the fact that they had heard testimony that some of the women in their number who had visited the tomb and found it empty, were declaring that Jesus of Nazareth lived.
WE WERE HOPING, but now, we walk away, towards the sunset.
When we are living through difficult circumstances, grief or fear or loneliness or disappointment it is very easy to turn away, to walk towards the sunset, to let go of the hope that we used to have. To walk towards the sunset and to forget that there will be a new day to follow, to forget that the sunset is always a prelude to the sunrise.
Into this journey full of grief and brokenness came a stranger who walked beside them on the road, who took the same route to be with them.
He gently accepted the way they berated him for not knowing all about their story of grief at the loss of their friend and teacher, instead asking them to speak about it.
They poured out their bitter disappointment, their distress, their confusion to this stranger who then poured out fresh insight and new understanding of scripture such that they had never heard before.
Their hearts burned within them while he was talking to them. The darkness became light. As they walked together towards the sunset they did not want this new warmth to end, their direction was being strangely transformed.
An invitation to stay accepted, and
as he broke bread with them their eyes were opened.
Jesus is the bread of life. He comes to us to sustain us, he breaks the bread of his very life and gives it to us. He opens our eyes and helps us to see the sunrise.
In Emmaus that first day, their eyes were opened. And that very hour they turned, they walked the seven miles back to Jerusalem. They turned to face east, they walked towards the sunrise and full of joy and wonder of this bright new day they shared their story with the other disciples.
Their eyes were opened that day but we might still ask, did they really know what their future would look like?
What were they were turning back to? Returning to Jerusalem, as they did, wasn’t so much going back to where they were but rather turning towards a new future that had been lit by revelation.
The other day I was encouraged to listen to “Thought for the Day” on Radio 4 by Sam Wells. He spoke about how things are changing for all of us at the moment. He said that people are talking about getting back to normal but that he believes that we will not be getting back to normal but rather going forward to normal. We will adapt, we will change. He talked about how after the 2nd world war people were not wanting to get back to how they used to be, but that they wanted a new and better future.
In our reading, the disciples, who at first had completely given up hope after the death of Jesus, now turned on their heels and returned to Jerusalem to be with the other disciples in the upper room. But they were a group of people who were not going to be getting back to normal. They were going to discover what it was to go forward to normal. Life often puts us in situations where despite our reluctance, our only helpful and positive response is to do just that, to adapt, to discover new graces full of hope and light.
Perhaps that is the lesson for us all today, perhaps that is what the Emmaus story is giving to us in this new world of ours. Hope in new beginnings as we go forward to normal.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
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