Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 23 April 2023.
• First Reading: Acts 2: 14, 36-41 (Peter’s address to the crowd at Pentecost – what shall we do? Repent and be baptized)
• Epistle: 1 Peter 1: 17-23 (You were redeemed … with the precious blood of Christ – through Him you believe in God)
• Gospel: Luke 24: 13-35 (Disciples on the road to Emmaus)
We might be living in confusing and perplexing times – culturally, politically, morally. Not quite knowing what is going to come next, and how our existing institutions are expected to cope with new circumstances.
Are we at peace or at war? How to fund the health and education and social services which year by year demand more and more resourcing?
What is the real basis for our morality and are there different moralities for different parts of the community?
And so on and so on.
Now spare a thought for those disciples of Jesus – evidently not numbered among the 11, but still committed enough. On a roller coaster of thoughts and emotions.
One moment elated and expecting the Kingdom of God to be declared with a fanfare and a clap of thunder. Then devastated at the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus.
And now the rumours. Strange tales – empty tombs, angels, claps of thunder and earthquakes – and, well, WHERE IS HE?
Utter confusion, hope but not daring to hope. How to make sense of it all?
And so they pour their hearts out to the stranger who seems oddly disconnected from events. Where had he been for the last 96 hours? Parkhead? Ibrox? Firhill?
But he was insistent. He wanted their own story, without imposing his own. He wanted it fresh, and so it came out, in no particular order but the main points were there.
Then He set to work. The story was there to be told but in His order to telling. The scriptures were there and yes, they were all the Word of God, with or without the refinements of form and textual and redaction criticism.
And so the real basis for the incarnation of Jesus, His ministry, His death and its meaning could come out in a clear and logical order.
They had heard Him speak but a personal tutorial on the Messiah which set their hearts on fire as they devoured what He had to say, and they were eager for more.
They had heard Him speak but this was something quite different. It was detailed and it was authoritative. The academic rabbis never did anything like this.
And so the time wore on as they completed their journey. Please join us – it is getting late.
THEN it all fell into place. That taking and blessing of bread, that giving it forth – and He was gone.
He had done enough. Yes, it was for real. Yes, He was alive. Yes, death was defeated – as well as the Chief Priests, the Pharisees, and the Romans.
And so they rushed back to Jerusalem, bursting into the Upper Room. Evidently outpacing Jesus who had other business at Emmaus.
YES! They had seen and heard and above all they understood.
Now Jesus was more than a story or a rumour. Now He was more real than anything else on earth. Now He was more than all the treatises of academics of the dramas of playwrights. More than the songs of musicians or the speculations of philosophers.
And more than that, they had met Him, spoken with Him, seen Him bless and break bread. For them the matter was beyond dispute or speculation.
The meeting on the road may have lasted an hour or more, but that moment of recognition was all in an instant of revelation.
For many down the centuries, there was the teaching of the church and sometimes it was institutionally oppressive.
But sometimes the teaching also looked and sounded authentic.
Sometimes it looked all contrived, even conventional.
Sometimes it was clouded by other memories, not to mention the ribald skepticism of the social and cultural critics. The academics who were so much better informed than the people without their learning and qualifications – not to mention the books to their credit.
And yet, and yet. There is still that something of a living faith that peeps through all the barrage of skepticism. There is still that quality of goodness and kindness, that comes without agenda or hidden motive.
There is still that sense of the otherness of faith, that sense of the other that never really goes away, that feeling of the numinous present in the silence and yet resounding in glorious music.
Present in the wonder of special relationships, not the family or romantic kind – more the kind that look into the soul without judging but with an overwhelming kind of disinterested love.
Jesus said that blessed were those who believed without seeing. He was speaking of all generations after His. Those generations that also found glory in believing and praying and worship.
Where loving fellow believers was as natural as breathing and where loving the neighbour as encountered in need was a joy and not a burden.
Jesus is alive all right. We meet Him daily as we allow Him to draw close to us on our own walk to Emmaus.