A New Emmaus Road
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April 26, 2020
Third Sunday of Easter
"The older or more mature we get, the more we appreciate how wonderful hindsight is. Wonderful - and sometimes rather challenging. Those times when we come to realize that God had been with us in a difficult or upsetting situation; those times when, as we look back, we can discern God’s support or action in our lives, which we had failed to appreciate at the time. Moments of this kind certainly remind us of how hindsight can be a blessing. Of course, hindsight can also awaken in us the realization of those times when we have been dumb - or even worse, have been unkind, or hurtful, or sinful in some other way. At those moments, while perhaps even more necessary to our self-understanding, hindsight can be that bit more challenging. It is hindsight, of course, that is the critical factor in the story of Cleopas, and - I rather suspect - Mrs Cleopas, who had that unique seven-mile walk one springtime in Israel. A walk undertaken in what must have been a spirit of dejection and despair; a walk which must have been tiring, and which ends with night about to fall, and an almost palpable sense of exhaustion that is not simply from the physical act of walking seven miles in hot weather in the middle of the afternoon. “Were not our hearts burning within us…?” they suddenly realize. “Wasn’t that Bible Study simply the best thing ever?” “Wasn’t it good to have our minds open to what God has been up to in our midst??” And - and this is the real value of hindsight - their newly acquired insights bring transformation. Exhaustion and night-time no longer weigh them down, either spiritually or physically. “That same hour;” we are told, “they got up and returned to Jerusalem”… Mr and Mrs Cleopas have allowed their hindsight to bring about a complete, 180 degree, about turn - a complete and utter transformation - they are transformed into being evangelists. Because they cannot keep that wonderful feeling of burning hearts to themselves. It is something they feel compelled to share. And so they tell their friends and companions “what had happened on the road, and how He had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” Which is exactly how it is meant to be for us. The writer we know as Luke doesn’t simply tell us about Cleopas and his companion because it’s a lovely story from history. He tells us this story because - just as Mr & Mrs Cleopas are transformed, so Luke wants all his hearers and readers to be transformed. Because the stories of the gospel are stories of transformation, and Luke, in particular, loves to tell such stories. The transformation of a son who went on a wild spending spree; the transformation of a wounded man who discovered that a Samaritan cared for him; the transformation of a young virgin who discovered that God’s son was growing in her womb. And the transformation of a rather hapless pair of disciples, walking home in the tiring heat of the afternoon sun, believing that their best and greatest hopes had been irrevocably dashed.
Irrevocably dashed - until they recognize the presence of God and realize how wonderful that God was in their midst, caring for them in their quite unnecessary grief. And with their hindsight, with that incredible memory of how wonderful it had been to encounter the living Word of God, they are compelled to go and share this unstoppable Good News - which is the task to which we are all called by the risen Christ, as he walks ever ahead of us, calling us on into a future of resurrection. Well before this pandemic interrupted our lives we had discovered the horrors of what we have learned to call ‘fake news’, and the spread of the Coronavirus has done nothing to inhibit it. My friend Jim Walters, who preached so powerfully for us at St James last Holy Week, has written an article in which he reminds his readers that the Black Death led to what he refers to as ‘an unprecedented outbreak of antisemitism in Europe’ and sets out how Jews ‘were irrationally accused of poisoning wells and spreading the disease’. More worryingly, Jim makes the point that commentators today have noted both antisemitic hate speech around the spread of COVID-19 - and equally bigoted claims attacking Muslims spreading the virus during the holy month of Ramadan. And Jim’s article finishes with a much-needed plea that ‘believers from all faiths should look within their own traditions for the resources of compassion that will reach across divisions in this time of shared fear and loss’. Mr and Mrs Cleopas thought they knew all about shared fear and loss - until their hearts burned within them, and with the benefit of hindsight they learned to distinguish Good News from fake news. And in this morning’s opening hymn, we were challenged ‘to make of life’s brief journey a new Emmaus Road’, because the transformation those two disciples experiences is just as much needed across the globe today. Which is why God is calling us to tell the world what has made our own hearts burn within us, so that we can offer Good News to a world in which there is, indeed, way too much fear and loss. Amen."