Sermon preached at St. Mary’s Church, Fordingbridge on Easter 3, 30th April 2017, Rachel Noël

May the words that I speak and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen

What a gift of a reading today. The road to Emmaus. There is so much in this story, it’s one of my favourite passages in the Bible, one that I come back to again and again. So my challenge today is to focus on just some of the amazing richness in this passage.

Each year Easter brings us the same questions… What does the Easter experience mean for us today? How do we comprehend it? It’s such a familiar story, and yet each year it is an incredible story. Jesus…. The Jesus that rode on a donkey into Jerusalem just a few short weeks ago… Jesus who was tried and then crucified… Jesus who was then buried in a tomb… is no longer in the tomb…
Each year we have to face the questions…

do we really believe that Jesus was raised from the dead then?…

and do we really believe that God is present with us now, in all the twists and turns that our lives may take (and trust me… I’m becoming more expert by the day at the scenic route to life!)

This whole chapter of Luke happens on just one day… both last week’s reading about Thomas and today’s reading of Cleopas on the road to Emmaus. It was an intense day.

We’re told that these two disciples were going to Emmaus… but we’re not told why. Were they just going home? Or were they trying to escape from the terrible things that had seen in Jerusalem?

Theologian Frederick Buechner interprets Emmaus as “the place we go in order to escape – a bar, a movie, wherever it is that we throw up our hands and say – Let the whole damned thing go hang… it makes no difference anyway…. Emmaus may be buying a new suit or a new car or smoking more cigarettes that you really want or reading a second-rate novel…. Emmaus is whatever we do or wherever we go to make ourselves forget that the world holds nothing sacred… that even the wisest and bravest and loveliest decay and die…..

Whatever our Emmaus… our escape…. The Risen Lord meets us in our ordinary places, in the reality, the experiences of our own lives…even in the places we retreat to when it all gets too much.
But this story warns us that Jesus may come in unfamiliar guises… when we least expect him.

It was only when Cleopas and his travelling companion stopped to share a meal together that they realised that it was Jesus with them. They hadn’t planned the perfect sacred moment with just the right music or incense or building or any of the other things that may seem important to us today… they hadn’t had time to prepare the perfect Masterchef meal… there were no Mary Berry cakes…

They just stopped to share bread with a stranger… It was in that act of sharing that they recognized Jesus…
The passage tells us that Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.

He took bread… the ordinary, the normal, regular food. He did something that happens every day, everywhere… taking the regular, staple food….

And then he blessed it…. The ordinary suddenly becomes sacred through that act of blessing. Every week we bless the bread here and share it… at home we say grace, we pray and bless the food that we eat… the ordinary becoming extraordinary…

And then Jesus broke it… Gary will be doing the same later… breaking the bread, opening the ordinary, making it available to all..
And then he gave it to them, he shared it.

That ordinary, simple meal of bread… Jesus broke it and shared it… the basic act of hospitality, sharing what we have….welcoming the stranger
And then the story changes… the hidden suddenly becomes visible… their eyes were opened and they recognized Jesus… and then he disappeared from their sight.

I wonder if that is echoed at all in your own experiences of God… Theologian Alan Culpepper suggests that God’s presence is often elusive, fleeting, dancing at the edge of our awareness and perception. If we are honest, we must confess that it is never constant, steady or predictable….(and getting a piece of plastic round your neck doesn’t change that either…)

The nuns in the Sound of Music sing – how can you catch a moonbeam in your hand, how do you hold a wave upon the sand? The mystery of God, of God’s presence is experienced in fleeting moments… in the middle of the ordinary… the extraordinary breaks through and then the mundane closes in again.

Often it is only in retrospect that we learn to treasure religious experiences. Followers of St Ignatius use the daily prayer of examen… reviewing the day with gratitude, focusing on the day’s gifts, noticing its joys and delights… paying attention to the small things… the food we eat, the sights we see, and other seemingly small pleasures…. God really is in the details, in the ordinary things of our lives. What is it like for you? Where do you notice God in your life?

For these disciples… they finally recognise Jesus and then he is gone…
In retrospect they notice “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”

Do you have any physical experiences that correspond to your spiritual encounters? A wise nun once suggested to me to notice how my body feels as I pray… it is in the ordinariness of being ourselves that we experience God… it may be a tingling in your body… it may be the warming of your heart… how can we attune ourselves to notice God in our own day to day lives.

I find the expression ‘our hearts burning within us’ to be fascinating. I was recently reading some research by a professor in Oxford, David Patterson, who has found that our hearts actually contain neurons too, similar to those in our brains… that our hearts and brains are closely connected… his research shows that these neurons in the heart are part of our decision making… and that this heart brain connection is at work when you experience feelings of compassion and empathy.

Somehow, in our hearts, our brains, our bodies we too can encounter God through bread blessed, broken and shared.

And it changes everything… these disciples return to Jerursalem, and encounter the eleven proclaiming “The Lord has risen indeed”…. And they have to share their experience, it comes bubbling out of them.

Easter isn’t over at the end of Easter Sunday… or even at the end of the 50 days of Easter that we’re in now….it stretches into the rest of our lives… these disciples may not meet Jesus on the road again… but that encounter changes everything. Whether we encounter God at the tomb, on a lonely road to our own Emmaus, or in hospitality with others… those encounters transform us… and our hearts too can be strangely warmed.

The Lord is risen indeed…and he continues to meet us on the road

We recognize him in the breaking of bread then, and in the breaking of bread today…

And we share our stories… our own ordinary stories, our own experiences…. Of the sacred and the ordinary, and together, let’s encourage each other as we gather to worship our Risen Jesus, to share bread and wine… and then as we go back out into the world with our stories to tell of our own encounters.

I will end with a poem by Ann Lewin:

Emmaus Walk
‘Don’t talk to strangers,’ we are
Told in childhood. It takes years
To grow through infant training.
Daring to trust comes with maturity,
Or perhaps is born of desperation.
The Emmaus two discovered
That the stranger unlocked
Understanding;
Shared food became a blessing.

Amen

(Thank you to The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary on Luke)

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