SERMON

Luke 24:13-35                            The Third Sunday of Easter                         26 April 2020

                                                           The Walk to Emmaus

Two forlorn followers of Jesus, Cleopas and one other, were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, a distance of about seven miles. It was the afternoon of Easter Day and they were discussing the events which had been happening in Jerusalem. As they were talking to each other Jesus himself joined them, though they did not recognise him. Jesus asked them what they were talking about and they explained that they were talking of how Jesus, the one who was going to bring salvation to Israel, had been crucified three days earlier and of how earlier that Easter Day some of the women had gone to the tomb, but could not find his body. The women said that they had a vision of angels telling them that he was alive, whilst others who went to the tomb found it as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.

What is interesting is that when Jesus joined these two followers, at first they did not recognise him (v16). By the time we get to the end of the story (v35), they explain to the disciples that they had seen and recognised the risen Jesus. What made the difference? The reason this is important is that the resurrected Jesus, the Living Lord, can impact on our lives today.

When we read of the resurrection appearances, those to whom Jesus appeared were often in a negative mood at the time. They were downcast, sad, or dispirited. When Jesus appeared to the two followers on the Emmaus Road ‘they stood still, looking sad’ (v17). Similarly, the disciples in the upper room were afraid and living behind closed doors. When Thomas was told by some that they had seen the risen Lord, he doubted and did not believe. Yet it was in those down periods that the risen Christ appeared to them. This can still be true for us today in those dark periods of our lives, our times of pain, fear, perhaps some kind of loss, perhaps those times when we are at a low ebb. But God never abandons us and it is at times like these that we may have an encounter with the risen Jesus. We never walk alone.

The two followers of Jesus walked several miles with Jesus on the Emmaus Road without recognising him. They were not unique in their slowness, for example Mary Magdalene, when she first met the risen Jesus mistook him for the gardener. We too are often slow to realise that the presence of the risen Lord is with us every step of the way and can impact on every part of our lives. The resurrection is not just something that happened two thousand years ago, it is not just history, but a truth that affects our lives now. Gerard Hughes says ‘The power of his resurrection gives us hope in a situation where before we felt it was hopeless, gives us courage to face a task when before we wanted to run away, gives us the ability and strength to be open and vulnerable when before we could think of nothing but our own protection and security’.

For those two followers of Jesus on the Emmaus Road, a change in their lives from despair to elation took place. There are two things which are mentioned that made the difference.

First, whilst walking with them Jesus said to them ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory? Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures’ v26-27.  When later they returned to Jerusalem they met the disciples and were talking to them when Jesus appeared and said to them ‘These are the words that I spoke to you while I was still with you – that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled’ v44.  We too learn about Jesus through reading our Bible and realise that the Old Testament finds its fulfilment in Jesus the Messiah in the New Testament.

Second, they recognised who Jesus was when he broke bread with them ‘When he was at table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognised him’ v30-31. I find it interesting that even though these two followers of Jesus were not in the group of twelve disciples, so they were not at the Last Supper, still they recognised Jesus in the breaking of bread. It would be the breaking of bread which would become a central sacramental act of the Christian Church, Jesus said ‘do this in remembrance of me’. The Liturgy of the Word and The Liturgy of the Sacrament are two principal features of The Service of the Eucharist.

Tom Wright says ‘Scripture and sacrament, word and meal, are joined tightly together, here as elsewhere. Take scripture away, and the sacrament becomes a piece of magic. Take the sacrament away, and scripture becomes an intellectual or emotional exercise, detached from real life. Put them together, and you have the centre of Christian living as Luke understood it’.

The result – the two followers of Jesus could not keep the good news that they had seen the risen Jesus, that he was alive, to themselves ‘Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been known to them in the breaking of bread’ v35. William Barclay wrote ‘The Christian message is never fully ours until we have shared it with someone else’.

The Walk to Emmaus reminds me of another walk. At the FA Cup Semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest played on 15 April 1989 at Hillsborough, there was a tragic accident in which many of the crowd were crushed, 96 people died and 766 were injured.  It was the worst stadium related accident in British history and as a result many crowd safety features have since been incorporated into football stadia.

A year later, on an Easter Sunday afternoon, there was a memorial service for those who died. By this time Liverpool FC had adopted as their anthem the song ‘You’ll never walk alone’.  Originally the song was in the Rogers and Hammerstein Musical ‘Carousel’ (1945), but in 1963 the Liverpudlian Merseybeat group Gerry and the Pacemakers recorded it and made it acceptable for another generation. In the 1960’s the DJ at Liverpool’s Football ground at Anfield played the ‘Top Ten’ albums in their order before the match, and as ‘You’ll never walk alone’ fell down the charts, the time came when it was the last one to be played before the match started.  But the Liverpool Kop choir picked it up and continued to sing it and so it became Liverpool football club’s song.

At the Memorial Service at Anfield football ground on that Easter Sunday afternoon, this song was sung by the Liverpool crowd with great passion and fervour:

When you walk through a storm,

hold your head up high,

and don’t be afraid of the dark.

At the end of a storm is a golden sky

and the sweet silver song of a lark

 

Walk on through the wind,

walk on through the rain,

though your dreams be tossed and blown.

Walk on, walk on,

with hope in your heart

and you’ll never walk alone,

you’ll never walk alone.’

That is the great Christian message. Despite the uncertainties of the present time, we are a people of hope. We have a sure and certain hope, a living hope of the victory over death because of the resurrection of Jesus.  And as we live our daily lives we never walk alone, we walk on with hope in our heart because Jesus is alive, he has conquered death, he is with us every step of the way.   So we rejoice in that Resurrection assurance and really can:

Walk on, walk on,

with hope in your heart

and you’ll never walk alone,

you’ll never walk alone.’

 As Peter said : ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead’.

1Peter 1:3

                                ‘Alleluia, Christ is Risen’. ‘He is Risen indeed, Alleluia’      

                                                                                                                                              Colin Wood