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Road to Emmaus – sermon Easter 3 2020
When I was confirmed at the age of 12, a lovely lady in my church called Eileen gave me a framed picture of the famous Holman Hunt painting of Jesus standing holding an old fashioned lantern outside an overgrown door with his free hand held up as if to knock. Of course, this painting, called the Light of the World, is a depiction of the verse in the book of Revelation that says ‘Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.’
Although it’s a rather old fashioned image and Jesus looks decidedly Western, it’s an image that has remained with me and still gives me comfort and I’m sure is familiar to you as well.
It is a reminder that God never forces his presence on us but waits, to be invited into our lives.
Just like that famous painting, the story of the disciples on the Road to Emmaus is one that stays with us. Of all the stories in Luke’s gospel, this is one that we always remember. It is beautifully written and structured and hearing it read again is like hearing a favourite song or seeing a favourite family photo. Luke is painting a picture for us to savour, a picture of what the Christian life is like.
It has all the elements of the Christian walk, the image of a journey is a helpful one, we journey through our lives encountering different people and different challenges along the way. There is a reason why people over the centuries and from a number of religions have found pilgrimage to be a way to connect with God. The story of the road to Emmaus is a story of pilgrimage.
The travellers have a time when they are sad, they are downhearted, full of bitter disappointment, their hopes have been dashed. Then they encounter a stranger who encourages them to share their story, and so they pour their hearts out to this stranger, telling him everything that’s happened to them. Then the stranger teaches them, reveals to them what the scriptures are about, helps them to understand. The travellers then invite the stranger into their home, they want to spend more time with him. Then of course they have a meal and the moment the bread is broken, their eyes are opened and Jesus disappears. Without hesitation, they seem to leave the meal unfinished and head straight back to Jerusalem which for them now is a place of salvation rather than a place to hide from to share what they have heard with their friends. Their perspective is completely changed, their eyes have been opened to see a new future.
All of us who are Christians have experienced this journey. We repeat aspects of it throughout our lives.
There are three things I want to draw from this Emmaus story today. The first is that Jesus wants us to share with him what is happening. As we travel through this pandemic, I’ve been feeling Jesus coming alongside us saying ‘tell me what has been happening’. Sharing our difficulties and our sadness with God helps us to know that we are not alone. As the old hymn goes, ‘what a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and grief to bear, what a privilege to carry, everything to God in prayer’.
The second thing is that we should turn to scripture, we should let God teach us through his word. All of the bible points to Jesus and shows us why he came. When was the last time you read some of your bible? Has your heart ever burned within you? Ask God to speak to you by his Spirit through his word.
The third thing is that Jesus always waits to be invited. In the story, the stranger made as if to carry on, but on the urging of Cleopas and his companion, Jesus stayed. We say those words when we pray compline: ‘Abide with us Lord Jesus, for the night is at hand and the day is now past.’ God delights in responding when we call on him and is only too ready to come and abide with us. James writes in his letter ‘draw near to God and he will draw near to you’. We call on God to stay with us, abide with us, we share with God all that is happening and we find our hearts burning within us once again.
Jesus says: ‘Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.’