Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Emmaus

Coming to Faith Acts 2:14a, 36-41 Luke 24:13-35

This story of the events around the journey on the road to Emmaus is one of the most memorable in Luke’s gospel.
It’s a story you could tell almost entirely in verbs.
Walking, talking, arguing, asking, explaining, understanding, inviting, staying, breaking, praying, sharing, recognising, returning, telling.

All this activity, but perhaps the most important part of what happens is the process of turning around.

First the disciples literally turn around – they walk the 7 miles or so from Jerusalem to Emmaus & then, as night falls, they turn around and go straight back to Jerusalem again.

And what causes this physical turn around? A turn around in their knowledge and emotions.

At first they fail to recognise Jesus, but they are taken on a journey by Jesus which leads them to turn around from lack of recognition to recognition.

There is a real sense of transformation in this story.
The disciples are crushed, puzzled, crest-fallen – arguing between themselves about what has happened. Jesus joins them on the road – but we are told they did not recognise him.
Emmaus, where they are headed, stands to the West of Jerusalem, and so some have argued that they didn’t recognise Jesus because they were blinded by the setting sun.
But surely even if they didn’t recognise Jesus in the setting sunshine as he joined them, they would have recognised him as he talked to them and walked alongside them?
Yet just as Mary, in the garden on that Easter Sunday morning, had failed to recognise Jesus at first, so it is with these two. It seems that the risen Jesus is not just a revived Jesus, he is not instantly recognisable.

There is an argument sometimes put forward that the so-called resurrection of Jesus can be explained away by the idea that Jesus did not die on the cross but was only unconscious and was then revived by the cool of the tomb.
But that would not explain this difference that is apparently there – the resurrected Jesus is recognisably Jesus, but is not simply identical: hence the failure to recognise him at first.
So, un-recognised for the moment, Jesus engages them in conversation.
And when they talk of the Messiah, he shows them how, starting from Moses and the prophets, God’s word speaks of the purposes of God through suffering and trial. We are not told the argument Jesus gives – what bits of the scripture it is that he unpacks for them.
But somehow, slowly, their eyes are opened.

Finally when Jesus joins them for the meal and breaks bread, their eyes are opened as to who he is. They recognise him, and rush back to tell the others they have met with the risen Jesus.

And it’s not just their knowledge, but their expectations and emotions have been turned around.

As they explain to Jesus on the road why they are so sad, it becomes clear that Jesus needs to turn around their hopelessness and fear. They think the story of Jesus has ended in defeat ‘But we had thought that he was the one to save Israel’.

They need to see the new thing God is doing.
God is not acting through a messiah who is victorious in war – but triumphs by passing through death to new life. They thought they knew how God would act – sending a great warrior to rescue Israel. But God has been doing something else. Jesus does not avoid suffering, but triumphs over death by real encounter with it. God does not carry out resuscitation, but resurrection. They must turn around everything they think they know and embrace new life, new hope, new ways of God acting in the world.
Where does that leave us?
If it really was the risen Christ that couple met on the road to Emmaus, then Jesus Christ has turned round death for us. He was alive that Easter Sunday evening and he is alive forever, not limited to a physical body in Palestine 2000 years ago, but set free to be with all his disciples, forever.

So we, too, can meet with Jesus. As we travel through life, are we ready to be turned around by an encounter with the living Christ?
We might feel that all is lost, that hope is gone… but Jesus can walk with us, and show us life and hope.
We might think we have seen it all and that God can no longer surprise us, and then find that Jesus turns round our expectations.
We might meet him, here & now, this morning…

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