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How does God speak to us?

Sermon for Easter 3 Year A

The Road to Emmaus - Rev Canon Charles Royden

How does God speak to us? meet with us? How do we encounter the risen Jesus?

This is the issue which the Gospel writer Luke deals with today.

He is writing to Christians who lived towards the end of the first century. He was writing to Christians who had never had the reassurance of actually seeing Jesus in the flesh and he was writing to Christians who encountered opposition to their faith and who needed reassurance.I have pulled out of this passage four things to mention about the manner of this encounter with Jesus which have meaning and importance for us today. Four things

1. God encounters us in the ordinary and the mundane.

The first thing to notice is that this encounter with the risen Lord does not take place in a temple or a special religious place. It takes place on the road. They are travelling along and it is while they are on a hot dusty road that Jesus comes alongside them. They don’t even recognise that it is Jesus speaking to them, it is very unremarkable, in ordinary circumstances. Cleopas never saw any extraordinary appearances of the risen Christ such as when he appeared in a room with locked doors. He never had the opportunity which Thomas had to place his hand on Jesus wounds.

Sometimes people ask me why I became a priest and left being a policeman and when I answer I am always aware that I am something of a disappointment. They expect to hear some story like the Apostle Paul being thrown from his horse and seeing an angel in a flashing light, obviously they would expect a blue flashing light in my case. My own journey was just a question of thinking about it over many years and eventually thinking that I ought to do something about it and see what those charged with discerning vocation thought about it.

However truthfully most of us do not have blinding flashes of light. We might have moments of the awareness of God’s presence and grace but for most of the time it is a great spiritual truth that we are on a journey through life, a pilgrimage in which we discern God’s presence most clearly only looking back.

It is encouraging that today we read about the presence of the risen Jesus revealing himself not in a great spectacular vision with flashes of light but as a companion on a journey, not in a special religious place but on a seven mile, a journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus.

2. God encounters us in times of need

These disciples were despondent. They had lost their so called Messiah to jealous Jewish leaders and the bottom had dropped out of their world. It is very hard for us to put ourselves in their shoes because looking back we can see what God was doing - looking back again. For them their great hope had been squashed as Jesus was murdered before their eyes. It was hard to believe that God was in control !

Look at those simple words which Cleopas utters ‘We had hoped….’
Those words can be used in so many circumstances.

  • We had hoped mum would get better
  • We hoped that the results of the tests would be negative
  • We hoped we could have children
  • I hoped my marriage would survive

The list goes on

It was such at a time of great loss that Cleopas and his companion found Jesus walking along with them.

It is often said that suffering is one of the great obstacles to faith. It is true that suffering represents one of the hardest questions for the Christian, it is a problem which defies easy answers and any attempt to brush it away is foolish. However it is not true that suffering necessarily drives us away from God. Indeed to those with faith it is at exactly the time when we are most in need that we are able to discern the voice of God. I am not prepared to have an argument with folks about that I simply speak from years of being alongside people in all sorts of difficult circumstances and whether they feel a sense of assurance or whether they scream at God about the injustice of what is taking place, nevertheless they know God to be with them suffering too in the circumstances in which they find themselves.

3. God encounters us in Scripture

Jesus is quite stern with Cleopas because he feels that there is in the pages of the scriptures of the Old Testament teaching which will lead the disciples to faith. We don’t know what scriptures Jesus used but we are told this. He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

Now we are fortunate to have the Gospels and Epistles of the New Testament which record the very words of Jesus. Nevertheless Jesus sees even the Old Testament teachings to be important for understanding what God is doing in this world. Scripture is important and through scripture that we hear the voice of God. We call scripture the Word of God.

4. God encounters us in the Eucharist

We are told that when they reached the end of their journey Cleopas invited Jesus in and he shared a meal with them. There is a lovely detail in the story, Jesus obviously said ‘goodbye’ and they said ‘come on in and eat and stay with us’ and Jesus politely says ‘I couldn’t possibly impose’ and they implore him so he remains.

When they eat we are told that Jesus ‘took’, ‘blessed’, ‘broke’ and ‘gave’ bread. These are very particular actions which are clearly intended to be Eucharistic. These are almost exactly the words that Luke used to describe Jesus’ actions at the Last Supper (22:19). Luke is telling us that it was during the taking of the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion that Jesus becomes present with his followers.
We are told ‘Their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.’  This recalls the first meal in the book of Genesis--the one where Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit.  In that case, ‘their eyes were opened’ and they knew that they were naked.  In this instance, ‘their eyes were opened’ and they recognized Jesus. We are being told that this meal of Jesus, this eucharist reverses a sin as old as time. From creation and the crime of Eden, humanity has dwelt in sin, until now when new creation takes place. This is the meal of new creation.

Each time we gather to celebrate the great deed God has done in Jesus with joy and gratitude, Jesus is as present to us as he was in the upper room and to the Emmaus travellers. This is why we have the prayer for Christian healing in the context of a Holy Communion.

Conclusion

Healing Services are not just for people who are receiving treatment. Each one of us knows the up and downs of the pilgrimage of life and on that journey we invite Jesus to share in our conversation as did the two disciples. When we feel defeated or inadequate or discouraged then it is to Jesus that we turn to seek encouragement or guidance. Luke is saying that Jesus is not just a historical reality but a living presence. With us in our own hurts and failures and also with us when we struggle to help others, when we try to comfort others who are weighed down by doubt or guilt or a broken spirit.

The awareness of who Jesus was had been increasing throughout their time with Jesus as the scriptures were opened to them. Their hearts had been burning as Jesus was opening the scriptures to them on the journey. So the story becomes a testimony to the power of the Word of God and the sacrament to the Christian community. Luke is telling his readers and us to read the scriptures, share in God’s sacrament and we will feed on the grace and strength of God

The poet John Betjeman called it "the most tremendous tale of all,

" that "God was man in Palestine
and lives today in Bread and Wine."