I wonder where comes to mind when you think of the great pilgrimage sites - you know, those places that many Christians long to go to in the hope and expectation that they will discover God afresh when they arrive: Jerusalem, Rome, Santiago, Holy Island, Iona, Canterbury, perhaps, or maybe even Walsingham? Well, one place you probably wouldn’t think of is Emmaus, for, in the words of that great 1980s rock song, to walk the road to Emmaus really was to walk the ‘road to nowhere.’
Emmaus was a place of no significance whatsoever; politically, civically, religiously. Emmaus was not a place where you went in the firm hope and expectation of encountering God. Emmaus was boring, it was bland, and it was banal. It was a place that seemed to have been left behind; a place that had no real sense of identity and offered little in the way of hope or beauty. Can you think of somewhere you just dread having to visit – somewhere which is at the very end of your ‘road to nowhere?’ If you can, you have found your imaginary Emmaus.
And yet, it is on the ‘road to nowhere’ that Jesus, wondrously, pitches up and walks alongside Cleopas and his unnamed friend. And this is interesting for who on earth might you think was Cleopas, and who was he walking with? The message seems to be clear: Jesus is perfectly able to pitch up and walk alongside us, each and every one of us, whoever we are, even when we might feel that ‘we’re on a road to nowhere.’ All we need do is to be open to the possibility. In fact, I would go further and say that sometimes all we need to do is stop trying too hard to find God and simply let him find us.
Now please don’t get me wrong: I love the great cathedrals and parish churches. I love our parish churches. I am also sad that I will not be able to get to Santiago, as planned, this year. But one of the messages from today’s gospel reading is surely this:
‘Do not despair when you can’t see the road ahead, and when all feels uncertain, and when you can’t sense God walking alongside you, for God really is perfectly capable of meeting us when we think and believe ‘We’re on the Road to Nowhere.’
God, you see, cannot be contained. God cannot be locked away in those special places we so like to visit – although He is surely there too – God is in the words of a song we sing at Great Horwood School - ‘everywhere;’ that is why I will begin the words for the Liturgy of the Eucharist by saying ‘the Lord is Here,’ and you will respond, and let’s this week do it with real gusto, ‘His Spirit is with us.’ You see, we are not actually ‘on the road to nowhere.’ We might not have a particularly good road map or strategy for the way ahead. We might even feel lost and anxious, but the reality – the divine reality – is simply this - that ‘The Lord is with us,’ and even in these strangest of times, he desires nothing more than to walk with us and feed us through both word and sacrament.
One of our challenges as the COVID church is, I think, to have the open-mindedness to simply let God be God, walking with us and feeding us, wherever we are and however we feel, for one thing is sure:
We are not walking ‘the road to nowhere.’
We are walking the road, instead, to somewhere. All is not lost, God is walking with us, for us, and alongside us, feeding us through word and sacrament. Amen.