Sermon delivered by the Rev Sydney Maitland
I suppose that the conversation must have been rather like the post-mortem on a disappointing outcome to a sports competition or political campaign. Their side had lost – or rather, the events did not lead to the outcome that they had expected.
They were definitely crest-fallen, wondering what to do next. Perhaps Emmaus was their home and these followers of Jesus had their families and occupations there. And so they trudged along, looking for nothing, expecting nothing, hoping for nothing.
And this was the point that Jesus drew near to them. They were not part of the 12 (now 11), but they had evidently been close enough to the centre of things to know what had been going on. Hence those rumours of strange things in the early morning.
In a sense these two disciples are like many outside the church or even on its fringes. They may not be involved intimately but they knew people who were. Even if they did not see the events themselves, they knew people who had, and they heard about them afterwards. They quite liked the company of believers, but thought that at times they could be a little – well, literal, of not actually extreme.
Whereas Thomas had honest questions which could be answered quite quickly, these were more on the sidelines. They would hold to their opinions, and not take everything at face value.
In this sense the disciples walking to Emmaus were far more representative of many around the church than the many who take inspiration from the doubts of Thomas.
There was another aspect however in which they were closer to us than many may think. It was the rumours. Strange tales of things in the early morning light. Empty tombs, excitable descriptions by people normally quite steady and solid in their accounts. Not too much emotionalism there.
These questions are very modern. Did it happen – was it really as it has been described – has there been some exaggeration in the telling and did the process of the telling not itself grow arms and legs?
In short, just what did happen and just how reliable are the reports?
And it was at this point that Jesus had drawn close to them, inviting them to tell Him their story – and the story of their distress and confusion. What things were these that they brought to Him? What they seen and understood? How had they meditated on them?
And so the unrecognized traveler explained the scriptures and showed how they were to be read and understood and received. He gave them a study that went beyond the word to the meaning, and beyond the text to the poetry within it. The scriptures came to life in His hands and He showed them dimensions within them that they could never have penetrated on their own. But it was now all so clear and obvious: why had they never seen it before?
That was the ministry of the word, as they walked along. Then they pressed Jesus to join them overnight and in their evening meal. Now what had fed their minds would also feed their hearts and senses. They would see the bread broken, and in a flash of recognition they would see Jesus. A moment of recognition and that was enough.
The rumour was true, Jesus was alive, and had appeared to them as well. Now there was no longer room for honest doubt, intellectual appraisal, debating the issue on its merits. They had seen and understood and received. That had been enough.
In a similar way, as Peter addressed the crowds on the Day of Pentecost, the people who may have seen something, and heard a little more were now confronted not just with what had happened but what it meant. His words had struck home and they were now helpless. They could not go on as before, so what had to be done?
And this was where Peter had given them simple but direct instruction. Repent. Be Baptized: be washed and cleansed. Receive the forgiveness of the Lord, and receive the Holy Spirit in your lives.
They could no longer sit on the fence – whether in their moral standing or their intellectual assents or their sense of social or cultural being. They would have to commit, and allow their lives to be changed and re-directed. But they could no longer be spectators or by-standers. They would now be involved, directly and personally.
In his general letter to the church, Peter again points to the life-changing and life-affirming nature of the gospel.
They had been rescued from futility by the blood of Christ, and through Him they had come to trust in God. They had entered a new realm where they could know God and lay their lives before Him in complete honesty of who and what they were, and in trust that God would lead them in directions.
Their new lives were to be ones of mutual love founded on the truth of who and what Jesus was. This was the foundation of all that they shared and which bound them together. They were no longer spectators but full members. They were not following rumours of things in the dawn but were living a new set of truths that had existed for ever but had been revealed to them.
For us also the lesson is that we are also held together by Jesus – not just the church or the gospel or the liturgy or music. It is a living Lord who calls us to Him and into ever deeper and more fruitful commitment.
But the other aspect is that Jesus does indeed draw close to us and in the moments when we are most vulnerable and in need of His mercy.
He meets us in order to open our eyes and to open our hearts. That is how we find that special kind of excitement and wonder as the scriptures become for us a source of complete wonder and delight: For in Him was life and the life was the light of men.