Text: Luke 24:13-35
When I was a boy, and my father was in the army, I had to go to boarding school in Malvern, in Worcestershire. Some of you may know it; the views from the hills there are beautiful. It was a very ordered place. Everything at school happened at set times. The headmaster had been in the army and everything was run with military precision. We had very little free time and on Sundays, at least in the winter, the whole school would go on a compulsory walk up the Malvern Hills. When I started at the school I was only eight, and I only had little legs. Proportionally I’ve only got little legs now but they were even littler then.We’d set off from the school, and within about five minutes I’ll be lagging at the back. You see I didn’t want to be there, at school or on the walk. After a bit, I’d be lagging so far behind that everyone would stop and wait for me, and I’d Hurry to catch them up, because I wanted a rest too. But of course, it was me they were waiting for. As soon as I’d caught up with then we be off again, and I wouldn’t get a rest at all. If I was really unlucky it would be raining too, and I’d trudge along in misery, wishing I was somewhere else. Anywhere else.
But something change as I got older. It was partly that my legs got a bit longer, but my attitude changed too. As I got older I began to see the beauty in the countryside and I was generally happier than when I first started there. What didn’t change were the walks. The school hadn’t moved. The Malvern Hills hadn’t moved. But the way I saw the experience has changed profoundly.
I was thinking about those walks this week as I looked at today’s passage on the road to Emmaus. How long and weary must that journey have seemed when the two disappointed followers of Jesus set off to Emmaus on that Easter morning. How much shorter it must’ve seen as they returned the same way, in excitement, a few hours later.The story starts with two heartbroken people trudging their way home from Jerusalem. They are disciples of Jesus but not one of the twelve. They meet a stranger who we know is Jesus, but who they are somehow prevented from recognising. He asks them what they’re talking about. “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who doesn’t know the things that have been happening where these last few days”, they reply to the one person who knows exactly what had happened there that week“What things” says JesusSo, they tell him.
“This man was a prophet and was considered by God and all the people to be powerful in everything he said and did. Our chief priests and rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death and he was crucified. We had hoped that he would be the one who was going to set Israel free.” And they can go on to talk about how the women have found the tomb empty, and seen an angel who had told them that Jesus was alive.“How foolish you are, how slow to believe everything the prophets said”, says Jesus. “Was not it is necessary for the messiah to suffer these things and then to enter his glory”, and Jesus explains to them what was said about him, beginning with the books of Moses and the writings of all the prophets. How much did how much quicker did that second half of the long walk take as the disciples listened to Jesus.
As they get near Emmaus Jesus looks as if he is going on. It was the custom. He doesn’t want to look as if he is imposing. The disciples invite him to eat with them. That was the custom of hospitality. And it is when Jesus takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it and gives it to them that their eyes are opened and they see him for who he is. And at that moment he disappears. And they rush back the way they have come to tell the other disciples; the Lord is risen indeed.
So, what are we to make of this familiar story?
I love the way Jesus says” How foolish you are, how slow you are to believe”. Isn’t that true of all of us? Couldn’t that be said of each one of us? It’s certainly true of me. “How foolish you are, James. How slow you are to get the point, to understand. How easily distracted you are. How ready you are to look down at the problem, rather than to look up to me for the answer. How reluctant you are to spend time with me, or to trust the bible in all you do”
And yet. And yet Jesus says it with tender love and compassion. Because God’s love for me, and for you, is the same as it was for the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. And its new every morning. Jesus hadn’t appeared to those disciples to tell them off for their lack of faith. He came to build them up. He came not to condemn but to bring life. We don’t precisely know what he said to them on that walk. We can hazard a guess but we don’t know sure, and yet they said afterwards, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us when he spoke to us and opened the scriptures.
Don’t doubt for a second that God is there when we are hurting and confused. When we say, like those disciples; “I had hoped” as some crisis overtakes us. “I had hoped the news would be better.”” I had hoped I’d get the job”, “I had hoped my money had lasted longer this week” I had hoped but my hopes were dashed. I had hoped, because Jesus is there when our hopes are dashed.
And how does Jesus meet us when we despair? He meets us in scripture, as he did here. “And Jesus explained to them what was said about himself in all the scriptures, beginning with the books of Moses and all the prophets” He meets us as we read it ourselves and as we hear it read in church, as it speaks to us with an authority that no other book has.
And he meets us in the breaking of bread, as he did with the disciples here. He meets us not just in the breaking of bread at communion, but in fellowship with each other. He meets us in the conversations we have with each other. He meets us in the coffee and biscuits after the service.
We could have been given a story of one man, one disciple, who met Jesus on the road. But we didn’t; it’s two. Look at the way they share their excitement with each other. “Didn’t our hearts burn within us. Didn’t we share the same experience” It wouldn’t be the same story with one excited disciple hurrying back to Jerusalem, down the same path he’d trudged up a little while before, desperate to tell somebody what he’d seen, perhaps even doubting he’d seen it at all. That’s why this fellowship at Kings Road is such a joy, because it is a fellowship.
This isn’t something we make happen. This is all God. We see this in the story. The disciples’ eyes were kept from seeing it was Jesus. It wasn’t that they should have seen it was Jesus but somehow they didn’t recognise him. Jesus didn’t say, “Not only are you foolish, but you didn’t even recognise me!” In the same way their eyes are opened when Jesus breaks the bread. God’s spirit and power are at work in that moment. As they are at every moment, whether we see it or not. And that power is seen at its most powerful in the fact that Jesus is brought back to life on Easter morning.
Look up not down. Look up to the solution to all our problems, not down to the problem itself. Look up not down.