The road to Emmaus - a sermon given at St John's Catholic Church, Bath 30-04-17
Acts 2: 14, 22-33
Luke 24: 13-35
Thank you, David, for your welcome. It is good to be here. And thank you for all your care for our students. This is my second visit.
I studied medicine at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. There, the faith of my childhood was tested and challenged. I came under the influence of the Dean, Don Cupitt – I sang in chapel. “Think for yourself” he said. I did. So I started my adult faith journey with God, but I could not accept then, aged 18, the Gospel. (Incidentally, some years later, listening to Don Cupitt’s sermon when he began to say that God was only internal to us, I remember thinking that that was not right! God for me has always been outside us, and now within too, by the seal of the Holy Spirit -Ephesians 1: 13-14 ). I trained as a surgeon. Aged 30 I returned to the faith of my roots, and recommitted, as an adult decision, to the Gospel. I believed again in Jesus Christ, Son of God, my saviour. It was great relief.
Some years later, I was ordained, after training alongside my work. Bishop Jim Thompson said to me “Nigel you are one man – a husband father, doctor and priest – go and do it”. So I worked in self -supporting ministry (similar to the “worker priests” in France) in A&E, Dorothy House Hospice, Bristol University Medical School and now here in the University of Bath, as chaplain. I have been alongside many people in times of crisis, or dying. It is so humbling. When life’s chips are down there is a great unity in our seeking – Jesus – the hope that we have. It is simpler somehow – denominations do not matter.
Our Archbishop, visiting Bath, began many of his replies to questions with “As Christians we believe that God raised Jesus from the dead, therefore…..”. Peter, here, in today’s reading from Acts says that “God raised this man Jesus to life and we are all witnesses to that”.
Luke’s account of the conversation on the road to Emmaus is one if my favourites.
Let us go back to that time.
Jesus is the world changer. From creation to world end (when Jesus returns) that first Easter is the “world changing event”. I sometimes think about the dominant features of the three festivals:
• Christmas: Carols and candles, heaven touching earth, The Son of God conceived in the BVM, and born. God the father’s gift
• Pentecost: The Holy Spirit came to us on earth as Jesus promised. And He must have done. Only by Him are we here today!
• Easter: Jesus pays the penalty for our sinfulness, overcomes death, and opens the way back to our God. This is Jesus’s gift to us, and the fulcrum point” in the world’s time line.
Luke records, as early as Chapter 9 of his gospel, how Jesus “resolutely set out for Jerusalem”. Jesus had only just sent out the twelve (Luke 9: 1-3). In chapter 10 he sends out the 72.
We have learnt about the last supper.
Luke has recorded the agony of Jesus – as he contemplates being forsaken by his Father (so that we would never be (Romans 8:38-39)). And then we read about the events of that weekend.
And we are now placed for this walk just after that weekend. For me the weekend between Good Friday to Easter day always feels different. It is as if we have a spiritual empathy with the separation of God the Father and Son.
So, as we imagine, in real time, we can sense the unfolding excitement. The disciples are in a roller-coaster of emotions. From hope, to sadness, desolation, lostness, and then a new question. Cleopas and his companion must have set off to walk back to Emmaus as the rumours were starting. “What has happened? Where is Jesus? Can it be true? We have to go before the light fades. We cannot walk home in the dark…”. And so they chat as they walk. Jesus joins them. Maybe there were many others on the road. Or maybe they just did not clock him in their grief. It is important for this meeting that they do not recognise him at this point. So maybe that was God ordained. Note that Jesus did not join them and say "hello, I’m back!”
Instead he enquires. And then his amazing question: “what things?” (vs 19). Here is our saviour. He has just overcome death, and saved human kind. He has just greeted Mary by her first name. And now this question - one of the greatest understatements. And it has the effect of helping the two disciples formulate their question. He then says – I believe in love and gentleness – “how foolish” they are, and goes on to explain. And they see. Then the demonstration of their faith behaviour – they insist that he stays. It is now dark and too dangerous to travel on alone. He does.
There are three points:
• When they do recognise him, they look back and realise what has happened. In retrospect they remember the feeling, “were not our hearts burning within us”. I imagine the Holy Spirit reaching deep into their souls
• He was recognised when he took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it
• The news is so good, that they go back and tell others, and so hear too that, yes, he has appeared to Simon Peter”
And so today:
I believe that this student generation has new questions about God and faith. It is as if they do not carry the religious baggage of our generations. I think also that they look at the divisions in the adult church they are growing into, as new adults, with their own question, “What is going on here?”
And we can apply those three points:
• Any dialogue is good. We learn about our faith together. And when we understand and believe more deeply (John often records that the disciples (i.e. already followers) saw and put their trust in him (eg John 2: 11)), we feel our hearts burning within us.
• The joy of faith and hope is such that we tell others, and so help each other
• And Jesus is recognised in the breaking of bread. This is his gift. He calls for unity (John 17: 21).
I live for the day, in this world or the next, when we can break bread together.
With love and respect,
Revd Prebendary Nigel Rawlinson, University Chaplain, University of Bath.