Easter 3: Luke 24:13-35: ‘We’re on a road to nowhere,’ - The Talking Heads, 1985
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.
Easter Day – John 20:1-18
There is simply no getting away from it, today is nothing like our normal experience of Easter Day.
One of the highlights of my time here in the Winslow Benefice was Easter Day 2018. I arrived at St Laurence at about 9.05am and people were queuing to get into the building. I had to skedaddle around the back and in through the vestry! I then went to St James’ for the 11 o’clock service to be met at the gate by a very large gathering of people. Well, this year is so very different: I am here in the Vicarage garden and you are elsewhere in your homes, participating via a computer screen. For me, today is a bittersweet experience. I will always rejoice in the resurrection, but I would love to be in church singing with you, praying with you, communing with you. And, I am sure that you would like to be with me. Not because you find me irresistible (although you might!), but because you find the story of Jesus’ resurrection compelling, a source of great hope and great joy.
So, how can today be experienced well? How can you fully participate in the joy of the resurrection and derive great hope from it? I can really think of only one way and that is by taking to heart and absorbing some of the detail of the gospel as we have heard it. I wonder if today you can imaginatively come alongside Mary Magdalene and just go to the tomb, without any expectation that something truly miraculous is about to occur? And I wonder if you can do so bringing all your pain, anxiety, worry and fear?
Can you, just for a second or two, even on this resurrection day, allow your tears – either literal or metaphorical – to rise up within you and to acknowledge your sense of loss and self-isolation, for on this particular resurrection day, surely we are all feeling a little bit lost and isolated? Please, just for a second or two, allow yourselves to feel all at sea. Allow yourselves to feel confused, sad and angry at the loss you may well be feeling; the loss of not being able to come to church and the loss of not being able to see your loved ones. Allow yourselves to feel alone; self-isolated. Please just do it.
And then pause and allow yourselves to hear God calling you miraculously by name - allow yourself to hear God saying to you ‘I have done this all for you and I will never leave you’. Allow yourselves to believe that all is not lost - far from it - and that there will be a time when we get to see our loved ones, our friends and families, and that as a church we will regather (just as the early church did at Pentecost) and eat bread and drink wine together.
The apostles were scattered left, right and centre on that first Easter morn, just as we are today. The apostles were genuinely afraid - they were dispersed and isolated, but through the power of the resurrection, they were affirmed, called by name, brought back into Holy Communion with each other, and so will we be. The resurrection assures us of the love of God and his abiding presence as God with us and God for us. The resurrection is the game changer - hang on to that today. The resurrection assures us of God’s presence with us in the here and now and for all time. The resurrection doesn’t necessarily make our lives easier, nor does it wipe away disease and pain and the sense of isolation or loss. To believe that the resurrection does this would be to render it a psychological ploy, a divine act of hallucination. And it would be to trivialise the majesty of the cross and glory of the Risen Jesus. The resurrection, instead, reminds us that we live within a bigger story and a grander narrative than whatever it is the world is throwing in our way right now. The resurrection is our source of strength and our grounds for hope.
The hymn writer Edmond Burdy got it absolutely right when he wrote:
‘No more we doubt thee, glorious Prince of Life; life is naught without thee; aid us in our strife.
Make us more than conquerors through thy deathless love;
bring us safe through Jordan to thy home above.’
Because of the resurrection, we need not fear, even though we live in what for many, perhaps even most of us, is the worst of times, because through the resurrection, the deathless of love of God has been revealed. Through the resurrection, we have been graced with strength for today and hope for tomorrow.
So today, in solidarity with Mary Magdalene, please do take time to stop at the tomb and acknowledge your sense of bewilderment, anxiety, loss and pain, and then allow yourselves to hear Jesus gently calling you by name, assuring you of his love, gracing you with his presence, sustaining you with his strength and, finally, giving you every reason to hope,
Some thoughts on Good Friday
“It’s way too morbid,” a family member once said to me as their reason for not going to church on
Good Friday. Whatever our motivations and feelings about this day, virtually all of us are not going
to church this year.
If morbidity were the main thrust of our Good Friday services, it would be understandable that if
our churches were still open this year, fewer would be wanting to attend. Too much extra pain and
sufferering in ordinary life; no need for more in church.
It is true that there is an especial focus on the details of the suffering and death of Jesus on this day.
For centuries the Church has ascribed the words of the prophet Jeremiah to Christ on the Cross: O
all you who pass by, pay attention and see: if there be any sorrow like my sorrow. (Lam. 1:12). In
fact, the prophets, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, seem to dwell even more on the
Passion than those who were actually present or knew people who were! The writer of Psalm 22, for
example, has the details of the evangelists: They tear holes in my hands and feet...they divide my
clothing among them (vv 17, 19), but goes further: Like water I am poured out, disjointed are all my
bones. My heart has become like wax, it is melted within my breast (v. 15).
Jesus Himself historically welcomed this meditation and reflection on His suffering but steered its
motivation. Pausing on the road to Calvary, he tells the women of Jerusalem to weep not for me, but
for yourselves and for your children (Lk 23:28). The Lord did not tell them not to cry, not to be
moved by His suffering, but nevertheless to see the purpose of this suffering. Surely he has borne
our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted (Is.
53:4). He takes our suffering upon Himself, draws the poison out of us and into Him, in as much as
we look at Him, trust Him, dedicate ourselves to Him.
Pondering upon the Passion today is not to be morbid; neither is it hopelessly wallowing in the guilt
of our sins. It is an invitation to recall the limitless extent of God’s love for us. Love of us caused
God to rend the heavens and come down amongst us in the flesh (Is. 64:1) so that He, when lifted
up from the earth, will draw all men to Himself (Jn 12:32). Good Friday is a time to remind
ourselves that God loves us with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3); He loves us to the end (Jn 13:1).
So, if the churches had been open today, I believe that more people than usual would have come.
Even in the darkness from the sixth to the ninth hour (Cf Mat. 27:45) of that first Good Friday,
when all appeared to be over, it was God, Holy and Mighty, the Holy and Immortal One (Good
Friday Reproaches/Improperia) who turned the darkness into Resurrection light. In this troubling
time our Saviour assures that we will win through, that victory will be ours. In the world you have
tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world (Jn 16:33).
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