Sunday, May 4, 2014

where can you meet Jesus?

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

After it is all over, when Jesus has left them, the two disciples who encountered him on the road to Emmaus say to each other: Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?' Every time I read about this wonderful and mysterious journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus, I find myself wishing that something like this could happen to me – wouldn't it be great if Christ himself would come up to me at a time of doubt and confusion and fill me with joy and strength?

Part of the mystery of the story lies in the fact that we don't really know where Emmaus is. Oh, if you were to take one of those guided tours of the Holy Land I am sure the tour-guide would take you somewhere and tell you with absolutely certainty that this was the actual place where those two disciples broke bread with the Lord. But the truth is, we don't really know. Scholars speculate, as is their job, and come up with candidates, but there is no consensus. It doesn't really matter. The only thing that matters is that it was seven miles from Jerusalem, close enough to walk to in an evening before it got too dark.

We also don't know who the disciples were. We are given the name of one, Cleopas, but no other details. The name Cleopas does occur again in John's gospel, but that is an artefact of translation. In the original Greek the two names are different. Again, scholars have speculated but come to no conclusions. It seems likely the pair were close disciples. From their words to Christ at the beginning of the journey they seem to have a very good knowledge of what was going on; and at the end of the story we learn that they have immediate access to the remaining Apostles, so clearly they are well known to them. And of course Jesus appears to them on their journey. Perhaps they were amongst the 70 who were sent out? One list of the 70 that I came across includes a Cleopas, but that doesn't prove it is this one. But they must have been important members of the group of early Christians, even if they were not among the inner-most circle.

And they are despondent. The detail in the story 'on the same day' tells us that this is Easter Day, the day of the Resurrection. But instead of being joyful, they are full of confusion and despair. Their reaction to the women saying that Jesus has risen is to get out of Jerusalem as soon as they can. And listen to their summary to our Lord of all that has happened - 'Jesus was a prophet,' they tell him, 'mighty in word and deed; but our leaders crucified him. We had hoped he might be the redeemer. Some of the women say he has risen from the dead, but when some of the others went to look they saw nothing.'

And Jesus begins to speak to them; he explains to them from the Scriptures why it was that things had to be this way. Their journey to Emmaus becomes far more than one from Jerusalem to an outlying village; it becomes a journey from fear and doubt to joy and hope, a journey from confusion to faith and belief. As the two later say, their hearts beging to burn within them. So much so that when the time comes for them to part with this stranger, they don't want him to leave. 'Stay with us,' they urge. 'It is late, the day is almost over.' They don't know who he is, but they don't want the one who has filled them with such hope to leave them. And it is not until the breaking of the bread that they realise who he is.

And what happens next? Well, after Jesus is gone, they are so excited by the encounter that they rush back to Jerusalem – despite the lateness of the hour, so late that not long before they were telling the 'stranger' that it was too late to journey further. They travel the seven miles back to the city in the dark and find the eleven apostles gathered together – no doubt in the upper room we hear of in John's gospel, where they gathered together for fear of the Jews – and are greeted with the news that Simon Peter has also seen the Risen Lord and they excitedly share the story of their encounter.

I love that story. As I said in beginning, I wish that I could have an encounter like the Risen Christ as Cleopas and his friend did, especially when things aren't going well, or when I'm filled with fears and doubts. And then I realise that I can. Any time I wish I can pick up a copy of the Scriptures and encounter the living Christ in God's word; and in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist I can, like they, recognise him in the breaking of the bread. He was the one who said he was the bread come down from heaven, that his body was real food and his blood real drink, who blessed the bread and broke it at the Last Supper, and gave it to his disciples saying 'This is my Body.' Cleopas and his friend left Jerusalem that day because they thought Jesus was dead, that he had left them, that it was all over. Jesus opened the scriptures to them and revealed himself in the breaking of the bread so that they might know that it was not over, and that he would never leave them. Just as he will never leave us as we each day and each moment walk our own road to Emmaus with our Lord walking by our side and I pray your heart will burn within you, like theirs, all your days. Amen

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