The man Jesus came to show us what it looks like to live – which includes dying

Peter Seal, 26 April 2020

Acts 2: 14a, 36–41; Luke 24: 13–35

We’re on the road to Emmaus with Jesus. We’re pilgrims on a journey.

(Some unexpected good news: the builders at St Paul’s hope to start work again at the end of this week. They’re developing a careful plan so that they can do this safely.)

As pilgrims in the midst of the world pandemic of Covid-19, perhaps more than anything else we are people who pray – each of us, of course, in our own personalised way. I find that I’m being challenged to a prayer which involves much patient waiting, a prayer which seeks simply to hold before God all that’s happening, offering all I see, hear, feel, fear and hope. It’s a prayer which involves trying to be alongside all that’s going on, and especially those wonderful people working on so many frontlines to care for and to serve us. We are deeply united in our gratitude to them.

In our praying we’re being challenged to live in the moment of each day; the holy, sacred sacrament of the present moment. I pray, ‘Lord, today is what I’ve got. Thank you. May I know your presence.’

It seems that the way ahead lies in science and the development of an effective vaccine. It seems to be science which holds the key to a safe future – that new future for which we all long. Sometimes people think that faith and science are at odds with one another. These days convince us that they belong together, they need one another. Science and faith are companions. They need to, as it were, ‘hold hands’ on the Emmaus road, the difficult road we’re all travelling during these weeks. Together, faith and science help us to unravel and then sustain the mysteries of what our human existence is all about.

The other morning I woke up thinking, ‘The man Jesus came to show us what it looks like to live – which includes dying’.

Michael read for us from the Acts of the Apostles. This passage comes immediately after the story of the Day of Pentecost, the day when the Holy Spirit came to people from every nation. Pentecost has an eternal meaning: God everywhere, God for everyone.

Peter is standing with the eleven. He raises his voice and says to the crowd, ‘Let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God made Jesus both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified’. We’re in the great season of Easter, celebrating the new life Jesus brings beyond death. As we watch the news, it’s this faith message that we need to be ringing in the depths of our being; especially in our worst fears. There is life beyond this life. In God’s eternal loving purposes nothing is lost; no, nothing. In God’s ever-present love the hood of grief will be drawn back.

It’s this faith message that we need to be ringing in the depths of our being; especially in our worst fears. There is life beyond this life.

That Pentecost Day the crowd were on the receiving end of the oratory power of the apostle Peter’s preaching. We’re told, ‘They were cut to the heart’. They asked in response, ‘What should we do?’ And a great number of them were baptised. Here we see the power of God’s Holy Spirit at work. This Pentecost picture gives us an insight into how the Christian faith was born.

And then the Emmaus road – a truly wonderful, easily accessible Easter story, in which the risen Lord Jesus makes himself known to Cleopas and his companion. A fascinating and at times robust conversation takes place. Cleopas and his companion are walking together on the road towards the village of Emmaus. Perhaps that’s where one of them lived. A stranger catches up with them. And then something really important in our understanding of the resurrection: there’s something about Jesus’ appearance which means that they do not immediately recognise him. Whatever his resurrection body was like, it was both similar to but also very different from his pre-crucifixion body.

Jesus says, ‘What are you discussing?’ Cleopas and his friend can’t believe their ears. How can this man not have heard about what happened to Jesus of Nazareth? Their response is saying in effect, ‘Which planet do you come from?’

And then Jesus speaks to them and they find themselves listening intently. He’s the very best of teachers. He reviews their own scriptures, what we call the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible. He focuses on the theme of the Messiah who suffers.

And then, the meal at Emmaus. Remember, they still don’t know it’s Jesus. So the stranger takes bread, blesses it, breaks it and shares it … so simple; so, so, simple; so life-changing. We’re told, ‘Then their eyes were opened’. Bingo!!! It’s Jesus. Then what happens? He vanishes.

The first Emmaus road, our own personal Emmaus road, our shared Emmaus road – we are pilgrims on a journey, and the truth is: the man Jesus came to show us what it looks like to live – which includes our dying.

In summary: first, the Holy Scriptures – the Hebrew Bible and what we call the New Testament. Like Cleopas and his companion, sometimes, perhaps just occasionally, when we read our Bibles or we hear the Bible expounded, ‘Our hearts burn within us’.

Secondly, the supper table at Emmaus, the altar table of the Eucharist, which means ‘the great thanksgiving’. Bread and wine become, for us, the life-force of the risen Lord Jesus Christ.

In these days we are separated but not alone. Our Holy Communion has to be spiritual rather than embodied; but we will be together again in the fullness of our humanity. Meanwhile, dear friends in Christ, may we sense that God is very close to us during this coming week. Keep safe. God bless. Amen.

View the sermon here
(9: 25)