This is a first draft of next Sunday’s sermon. I’m publishing it early because I’d like to initiate a conversation around it, to hear the insights of others, particularly in my local setting, perhaps (not necessarily) around the questions at the end.
We are still in the Season of Easter, the season of getting to grips with what this life-out-of-death means – or rather, the season of life-out-of-death getting a grip on us. Today we find ourselves walking away from Jerusalem towards Emmaus, walking in the company of two disciples, part of the wider circle beyond the eleven apostles, walking from the highs and lows of recent days back towards the security of the familiar, of home. And as we walk, a fellow-traveller comes alongside us.
That in itself is also familiar. After all, if you are alone it is always safer to travel in proximity to others. Sitting on the Metro, taking in the people sat across from you – but not looking too closely, so as not to make them feel uncomfortable, so as not to attract confrontation. Glance up, and look away again. Slowly, though: too fast and you’ll look shifty. But you can’t help listening in to their conversation; laughing at the puzzling lines…
The man asks, ‘What are you discussing?’ Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard? It’s on everybody’s lips.
The man listens. This thing they are discussing, they don’t really seem to understand. It is clear that Jesus is somehow important to them, but how following him relates to their life is harder to work out. They are familiar with certain stories, but the relevance eludes them.
The man listens. Hears them out, until their words run dry. Only then does he speak. And when he does, he shapes their history, their culture, around the person of Jesus. Not pulling out proof texts to argue a point-of-view, but showing how it all comes together in him. And more than that, showing them where they found a place within that story – “opening the scriptures to us,” they would later say; making room for us within his story.
And now it is time to part company. But it is getting late. If we are hungry, and tired, he must be too. As we reach the door to a house, we are invited in. However fragile their beliefs, there is openness here. The man accepts the invitation; and so shall we. Companionship – literally, the sharing of bread around the table. And as the man reaches out to take the bread, his wrists extend from within his sleeves. The pink rawness of newly-healed skin, not yet darkened by the sun.
And in this familiar action, our eyes are opened. The dramatic testimony of others – even women known well to them – was not enough. Neither was the most helpful Bible exposition ever given, even if it was deeply engaging. But in a simple act of hospitality shown towards a stranger, received with gratitude towards God and reciprocal service, a moment of revelation breaks in. Just a moment, mind you; and then he vanished from their sight. But a moment of revelation is all that is needed; is enough to respond to.
They thought that they had arrived at their destination for the night; but in response they get up and set out back to the very place they had walked away from, with new hope. Will we go too?
Some thoughts to ponder:
Are we learning to be a listener? If yes, what has proven helpful in this? Who might we ask, ‘What are you discussing?’
Are we open to change our plans for others? Are we learning to accept invitations? Who is open to us?
What is Jesus showing you? Where have your eyes been opened, perhaps through testimony, or teaching, or studying the Bible, or fellowship with others, or through simple everyday activities given a new light?
What are you going to do in response?