Reflection by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 26 April 2020.
• First Reading: Acts 2: 14a, 36-31 (God has made Him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified)
• Epistle: 1 Peter 1: 17-23 (You have been born anew)
• Gospel: Luke 24: 13-35 (Jesus recognized in the breaking of bread)
I think that it was Leo Tolstoy who said that those who were happy were generally happy together while those who were miserable were miserable in their own way.
For each person the story of victory and defeat, or success and failure, acceptance and rejection, expectancy and despair will be different and all will cope with these things in their own way.
For the disciples on the road to Emmaus, the story was of Jesus was one of unbelievable hope followed by unspeakable destruction.
And then to add to their confusion were the rumours of strange things and an empty tomb. What to make of it? Was it true and what would be the outcome? How were they going to resolve these contradictions?
This was the condition of trauma in which Jesus found the two unnamed disciples. He opened the conversation with them and then the story of their grief and confusion poured out. There was no stopping them once they started, and Jesus gave them the space to let it all come forth.
These were His disciples and He knew them but still He held back. The first thing was to allow them to share their pain and confusion, without comment or judgment and certainly not with any kind of condemnation.
Only when this was done was Jesus going to tell them something about Himself – and this was done by referring to the scriptures. This would be their common ground and while for some the scriptures are a matter of deep dispute and even speculation, for Jesus and the disciples they were the Word of God.
They pointed to Jesus and He was indeed their fulfilment. The law, the history, the prophecies and wisdom of Israel all pointed to Him and He was the One to fulfil them.
But the second thing is that He was opening the scriptures to them in a new way. Academic study and various forms of ‘criticism’ may be useful but they are cannot take the place of the heart and the mind that was and is in them and behind them.
In sharing these things, the disciples found a new kind of electricity flowing. It was not just that what Jesus was saying was true, but that it was urgent, life-giving, life-changing.
It was the difference between learning and loving the scriptures, between reading them and allowing them to read themselves within the heart.
Only when this was done and they had come to their destination did Jesus reveal Himself in the blessing and breaking of the bread.
In our day, the scriptures are regarded as ‘containing’ the Word of God, as if the church had contrived aspects and had given them currency by putting them into the mouths of New Testament characters. There are academic routines to support this approach but as a result the scriptures have been reduced so as to support particular cultural and indeed political points of view.
They are reduced to the works of human minds and hands, open to manipulation in this cause or that.
Yet despite these seeds of doubt and confusion, there is still that electricity in the scriptures which bring us as a community of faith to worship and yes, to the breaking of bread.
For it is the same Lord whom we meet as we share the scriptures and as we break the bread together. The Lord revealed in scripture is the same Lord of the communion and the two cannot meaningfully be separated.
The word that appeals to the mind and the heart is the same Word made Flesh and given for us: taken, blessed, broken and given forth.
In a time of confusion and anxiety about how our society and economy and culture and politics will develop there remains the reality of these two points of reference for the believing and worshipping community.
Jesus also draws close to us and invites us to tell Him our stories, hopes, disappointments, successes and failures. The plans that have now been disrupted, the relationships that did not develop or which developed wrongly.
If Jesus’ ministry could end up in the ignominy of the cross, and yet God could raise Him up from the grave, then there is no reason why He will not also give new energy and vision to His disciples who look to Him, especially from a place of confusion and disappointment.