Sermon: 3rd Sunday of Easter, Year A
Text: Luke 24:13-35
In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I have not had the opportunity, quite regrettably really, to travel the world extensively, to visit exotic places and encounter strange cultures. In a strange reversal of how things really ought to be, rather than it being me who took off to foreign parts, it has been my Mother who has been to the Caribbean, to the Far East and to India – blowing what remains of my inheritance no doubt.
And yet, whether we have a passport filled to the brim with customs stamps or whether we have remained in Elson all our lives, we are still engaged on a journey – a journey travelling in hope and prayer to a destination beyond compare.
This morning’s Gospel is the metaphorical journey of life expressed in the post-resurrection narrative. It has much to teach us about our own spiritual journeys and the ways in which the risen Christ is revealed to us.
St. Luke places his narratives within the realm of the known: we are told of the exact journey: Jerusalem to Emmaus which would be as recognisable to early hearers as a journey from Fareham to Gosport. We are told the name of one of the travellers: Cleopas; not an apostle, but perhaps one the 72, one of the many who stood on the periphery of the early Christian Church. One of us, perhaps?
They fail to recognise the risen Christ. Was it because it was just so unexpected? Were they so wrapped up in their grief? But Christ is always alongside us would we but know it? How often do we think we are travelling a lonely road, abandoned by all; and yet Christ has been there all along, beside us, guiding us, comforting us and leading us to green pastures.
When Cleopas and friend are asked to explain the top news story of the last few days, they show their appreciation of Christ, but not his true nature: they describe him as “a great prophet”, but fail to spot his Divinity. By ourselves, through our own intellect, our own philosophy, our own science, we cannot truly grasp Jesus Christ: God is beyond us. We need him to reveal himself to us: just as Jesus explains the Scriptures to his comrades.
Which texts does Jesus explain for his companions? We are not told, but Luke suggests that it does not matter.
Later, Jesus Christ reveals himself as he breaks the bread with his friends: a mirror of the last supper and a reminder of the Mass. Which text does he use? What Eucharistic Prayer does he employ, and does he use inclusive language? It does not matter. These are trivial, human-scale issues compared to the glorious self-revelation completed in the inn at Emmaus.
Jesus Christ is revealed to us this morning in two complimentary ways: in the exploration of Scripture and in the breaking of the bread: without these two there can be no Mass this morning – Common Worship comprises of the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Sacrament, each balanced and linked by the sharing of the peace.
The story of the Road to Emmaus is therefore one of the models for our thanksgiving this morning. As Jesus Christ reveals himself in the Holy Scriptures, he reveals himself in the Holy Sacrament. As he walks and explains the foretelling of Christ’s passion in the scriptures and then reveals the glory of the resurrection in broken bread and wine outpoured.
The Eucharistic feast is therefore central to our lives as Christians, and we all come to this place to witness the living Christ made known on this altar in, to paraphrase St Francis of Assisi, the hands of a priest, hiding under and ordinary piece of bread.
The crucial importance of the mass in our Christian journey (further than Jerusalem to Emmaus) leads me to think of those who are preparing to enter into this mystical relationship through the sacrament of Confirmation.
As you are probably aware, the Parish Mass on Whit Sunday – Pentecost – will be celebrated by Bishop Kenneth, which is a great honour for us. The Bishop is our focus of unity, and so the 10am Mass will be the only mass of the day, and one that I hope will be fully supported by all the congregations here at St Thomas’: standing room only is what we want to see – a visible statement of our faith and dedication, to God, to this church and to this parish. There will be room, I assure you, and I call on all of you to make that effort to show the Bishop our allegiance to him, and our visible declaration of Jesus as Lord.
At this special mass he will also confirm those who have been prepared for it, from across the deanery and especially from this parish.
Confirmation is a true sacrament: the laying on of hands by the Bishop is an outward visible sign of the inward spiritual grace which is manifested by the Holy Spirit, and which was revealed on the road to Emmaus.
Confirmation is an important step to make, it has required commitment and a willingness to become open to God, as well as come round the vicarage and drink my coffee!
As you can see, Confirmation is not something just for the children of the church – it is an essential sacrament for all in this Church so if you come to this altar rail with any frequency, and receive a blessing, then come and talk to myself and we can speak of confirmation; we can speak of a full and complete welcome into the body of Christ which is the Church. It isn’t hard, there isn’t an exam, nothing to write up, and as I hope both the adult group and young person’s group will agree, it can be a few weeks of fun as well! Do not simply sit there and not participate in one of the most important sacraments of our salvation: get confirmed, receive the Holy Spirit, receive the Bread of Life. Some journeys in life may appear a little daunting: Oh it’s such a long way down the road to Emmaus, I’m a little too tired or otherwise busy, I’ve left it too late to set off now, or I’m a little self-conscious about what others might think of me when they see me on the road. Some journeys in life may have been halted or diverted at some point, or things in your life may have happened which make you think you’ll never get to the Emmaus Arms. The journey down the Emmaus Road is the journey to the sacramental encounter with Christ. It is a journey we all continue to travel down, and Christ walks alongside us, every step, revealing the scriptures to us, making our hearts burn within us, giving us a glimpse of resurrection joy.
So, in our run up to Pentecost, I ask you to hold in your prayers the Christian journey of all to be confirmed: <names>, and possibly also from other churches in the deanery, and pray also for yourselves. For their Confirmation takes each and every one of us back to our own Confirmation – our own personal declaration of faith, and entry into this sacramental union with Christ.
We all travel down the highway of life, passing through points which are unfamiliar, sometimes even a little threatening, we often take detours which are can be difficult or arduous; but with Christ walking alongside us, walking as he walked alongside Cleopas and his companion, our ultimate destination, at least, is known; and we will know him, at our journeys end, in the breaking of the bread.