Sermon 30th April 2017 A – 3rd Sunday After Easter

Todays readings for 3rd Sunday After Easter
Acts of the Apostles 2: 14a, 36-41 
Psalm 116: 1-4, 11-18 
1 Peter 1: 13-25 
Luke 24: 13-35

Transcript of the Sermon given by Reverend Roberta Hamilton

Two disciples are walking down the road, they have walked around the roads of Palestine with Jesus over the last three years but now that journey is over. The Jesus that they have followed, have listened to, have served, have loved, is gone. He is dead and then not only dead but even his body has disappeared. In modern language there has been no closure because there has been a disturbing report that he might be alive. They are deeply disappointed, they are disillusioned they are despairing and they are disputing with each other. ‘Talking’ is much too mild a word for them, they are ekballo, chucking the words back and forth.

So, just for a moment imagine yourself into this scene. We all know disappointment and despair, we also know confusion and argument. We have all been on the journey that we might describe as ‘a hiding to nothing’. And suddenly Jesus came near and went with them. “Come and see” that great invitation in John is being played out here in this passage, except that role is reversed and it is Jesus who comes, Jesus who meets us. But they are prevented from seeing- their eyes were kept from recognising him. They will be invited to see but they have to hear first. So Jesus questions them. “What are you disputing about, while you walk along?” he asks. They stand still, no longer on their journey, and they look sad. They look sad, because they are sad, they are disillusioned and despairing. And they ask him if he is the only stranger in Jerusalem who doesn’t know what has been going on. “What things?” he asks. Let me just pause for a moment while you answer for yourself two questions. The first, how would you describe what has occurred over Easter. And the second, what are the things for you personally that disappoint or cause you to dispute or despair?…..

Cleopas and her companion walk along and they tell him their confusing story- the prophet they had followed has been killed by their national leaders and then they have been astounded by the report that he is alive. It is no wonder that they are feeling mighty disturbed, is it? “You silly sausages,” he says, “can’t you see that this had to happen- let me explain it to you from the Hebrew Scriptures”. So Jesus begins the process of enlightenment and their hearts burn within them as he talks.

They approach the village where they live and Jesus begins to keep walking. They invite him to stay and eat with them, they urge him strongly, and it is in that invitation, that reaching out in hospitality to Jesus, that all is revealed. When they are at the table, suddenly the guest becomes the host, he gives thanks, he breaks the bread and the scales fall from their eyes and they see. Do you find this a most moving moment? I certainly do as it is the passage of scripture that tells me that what I do with you, Sunday by Sunday is vitally important. When we gather together around the table Christ is revealed to us. What we do in sharing this meal, is revelatory both for us and for others.

In fact, you might have noticed that the whole of our liturgy is based around the action of this story? The first element in the story is gathering, there were two together and then a third joined them. They went along together, just as we meet to journey together. Then the word was opened and their hearts burned as the truth was unpacked for them by Jesus. We gather, as we are at this moment, to break open the scriptures and to have our hearts burn within us. Then we are invited to the meal and we gather around the table. We say our great prayer of thanksgiving and together we break bread and share the body and blood of Christ. And then, the meal concluded we go, just as they did, back into our community to tell the story of the wonders that God has done in sharing God’s very self with us. Jesus has vanished from our sight, and yet we can perceive him in the broken bread. Come and see, Jesus invites and we come, and we see.

This is why the meeting together is so important. In this liturgy the whole of our journey appears in microcosm, we meet each other, and let me say again how important it is that we share in relationship. We are not islands, we are relational beings and as we meet together we join in relationship with Christ in each other. My friends, we are the body of Christ! And then we open our hearts and minds to the truths about God both through the breaking open of the scriptures, which allows us to understand our experience, and deepen our relationship both with God but also deeply with the world around us, and then in the breaking of bread.

And this action that we share, this ‘communion’ is both individual, we are in communion with God, but also corporate, we are in communion with each other, we are ‘companions’, those who share bread with each other. The communion is also the supper, the holy meal and because we are invited guests we give thanks, which is ‘eucharist’ or thanksgiving. There is the great mystery of this sacrament, that we come together and are fed. We are unified and nourished, the gathered body of Christ feeds on the body and blood. Did you know that the pelican was one of the favourite symbols of the church in medieval days? It is quite funny really because the representations of the pelican very seldom look anything at all like a pelican and the whole idea on which it is based, is false. Not understanding either the anatomy or the physiology of the pelican they thought that the mother pelican opened her own breast and fed her children with her flesh and blood. It is a ghastly idea isn’t it? And yet, you can see where they were coming from, can’t you? It is what I am saying here today. We are both fed by God, God’s-self, and in the body of Christ by ourselves. It is a holy mystery, and yet, it is enacted with the humble and ordinary things of our world, bread and wine, by humble and ordinary people. People who are, however, united in the Holy Spirit. And do our hearts burn within us, are our eyes somehow unveiled so that we can truly see? Well, ‘sometimes’, seems to me to be the answer. I wonder, though I am not sure about this, whether this is partly to do with expectation. Do we come together expecting to be in a significant relationship with each other and with God? Do we meet, excited to listen and hear, and then to see as we gather around the table and to have God revealed to us? Or is it all much more mundane? I think that it is easy to come to the Eucharist with very little expectation, and even less joy, which is a pity really. But thankfully our feelings are not a guide to what will happen when we meet, because in some mysterious way, whether we know it or not, we are fed. This is why the writer of the letter to the Hebrews, after a long discourse on the covenant or promise of God says,

Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus,  by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh),  and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

It is easy to give up on this meeting together. It is very easy to stay in bed, to go for brunch, to read the paper, to spend time away, to go shopping and just not bother. We can see that in the dwindling numbers who come to church, and in the sporadic presence even of those who do attend, but it is in the exercise of this hospitality, both as fellow guests and hosts that we both as individuals and as the body in mutuality, are nourished. Hospitality, just as in this story of the Emmaus road, enables recognition of ourselves as beloved children of God, and the fulfilment of true love. It is a mysterious and beautiful event that enables us to go rushing back to tell others about the journey that we are on. It is meeting together that feeds us for the journey of life. Instead of despair, disillusionment and dispute we have love, peace and joy as our companions on the journey.

This wonderful story of the day of resurrection has shaped our next day, our ongoing lives, for all of Christ’s disciples, since that moment. We are people who live every day in the knowledge of the resurrection. We are people whose hearts burn within us as we meet our Lord on our journey. We are people who are fed and nurtured by the sacred mystery that is God God’s-self.