The road to Emmaus is a well-known, and well loved, story. It is a story that has significance for the church far beyond its basic meaning. It has pastoral, liturgical and sacramental significance. It is a story that describes how the church should fulfil its core responsibilities.
Let’s start by considering the emotional, or spiritual, condition of the two men Jesus walks alongside: they were sad. Now all of us are going to be sad at various times during our lives. Sometimes we are going to be more than sad for our sadness can grow into full blown depression or anxiety, leaving us incapable of seeing or experiencing the good. Yet, even when we are sad we can, through this story, cling on to the fact that Jesus continues to walk with us, gently holding our hands and tending to the state of our hearts. So, this is a pastoral story and one which we must inhabit for part of our mandate as Christians is to walk alongside the sad, depressed, anxious and lonely. As far as this church is concerned this is integral to one of our three H’s: healing.
The story of the Walk to Emmaus has also deeply informed the liturgical and sacramental nature of the church. Liturgy and sacraments are the stuff of worship. So the story, if we think about it, combines two aspects vital for the life of the church: its pastoral mandate and the necessity to worship. It is though worship that we begin to understand more about God. It is though worship that God reveals himself, makes himself known, to us. And he does so in two ways:
First through the word. In this story Jesus explains that he and he alone is the fulfilment of the Scriptures. Jesus explains that he is the fulfilment of the prophets, but he does so after hearing what his disciples have to say. He listens to them before responding. This act of speaking to God and allowing him to listen and explain himself is of course called prayer! Prayer and the reading and studying of Scripture are therefore vital components of an active Christian life. They are disciplines that should be practised both in church as well as alone and in small groups – we should remember that in the first part of the story Jesus is talking to just two disciples.
In the second part of the story Jesus ‘took bread, blessed and broke it,’ in other words he celebrated the Eucharist. We are told that through this simple act of Eucharistic celebration ‘their eyes were opened.’ So, the story encourages us to examine our attitude to the Eucharist. Is it something we just do, or do we expect to really encounter Jesus in the Eucharist. I hope in the Eucharist we are open to the possibility of encountering the real presence of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.
So there we have it a story that informs and shapes the life of the Church. A story that we are invited to enter into in the here and now so that we may be nurtured, healed even, through word and sacrament and released to help alleviate the sadness of the world. Amen.
Rev. Andrew Lightbown