Today at St John’s we kept Godparents Sunday – a new initiative of the Church of England last year, though the Orthodox Church has always done it as far as I know. The gospel reading was the account of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus after the resurrection. Mother Anne-Marie gave the talk at our main service and it was interactive, as we had all the children in, so isn’t easily reproducible here. I, however, also gave a short homily at our early mass and spoke about the road to Emmaus – here’s what I said.
Many years ago we had a friend who – although in a well-paid job – was not particularly good at handling her finances. At regular intervals she would get a letter from the bank informing her that she was over her limit and asking how she intended to correct the situation. These letters always depressed her greatly – and to ease her depression she always resorted to the same solution – she would go out shopping and have a spending spree. It made her feel better even though it just made things worse in the long run.
We all have our own way of dealing with crises in our lives, with stressful or difficult situations. Some people overeat, others stop eating. Some go down to the pub, while others might go for a long walk. Some people go shopping and others seek refuge in familiar routines. Some might talk things over with a friend, others just withdraw and do nothing at all but sit around and think. When life just feels too much like hard going, when what we have to cope with just seems too much to bear, what do we do, where do we go to escape?
The two disciples on the road to Emmaus had been through a difficult time. Why they were going to Emmaus we do not know. Where they simply running away, wanting to get away from it all? Did one of them come from Emmaus – perhaps they were heading home, seeking some comfort from returning to a familiar place. Perhaps they knew someone who lived there and they wanted to talk to someone? We will never know. But for some reason they were heading to Emmaus as they sought to come to terms with the dreadful events of the previous few days.
Whatever the reason for their journey, Emmaus is symbolic of the place we flee to when we are trying to escape from the pressures and stresses of life. Whether it’s shopping to help us cope with the overdraft, overeating to cope with stress at work, shutting ourselves in our bedroom to hide away from the rest of the family – we all have places – and not necessarily just physical places but also things we do, to help us escape. We have our own Emmaus – whatever we do or wherever we go to make ourselves forget. Emmaus is where we escape to from the depression of reality, from the things that stress us.
It is on the road to Emmaus – on the escape journey of these two disciples – that they encounter the risen Jesus. And it is on our road to our Emmaus, whatever that might be, that the risen Lord meets us – in the ordinary places and experiences of our lives, and in the places that we retreat to when life feels too much for us. And we are here, in Church, this morning, because at some time in our life the risen Lord met us. And he will continue to meet us, as we journey through this often difficult life, when we are in need. And yet, the story warns us, the Lord may come to us in unfamiliar guise, when we least expect him. And that encounter with the risen Lord inevitably means change – an “about-face” as it did for those two disciples on their road to Emmaus, as they faced up to their encounter with the risen Jesus, turned around and went back to Jerusalem ready to face the challenges that they had been fleeing from.
Those two disciples on the Emmaus road are representative of all of us, and of the response that we are all called to make as we come face to face with the risen Jesus. He explained the Scriptures to the them, and as they looked back after the event they said “Did not our hearts burn within us?”. Through the reading and study of the Scriptures so too we find that, to use the words of John Wesley, “our hearts are strangely warmed”, and it’s why Bible reading should be a part of our daily routine. The two disciples recognised Jesus in the breaking of the bread, and so too we recognize him as we break bread together every time we celebrate holy communion.
And they turned round and rushed back to Jerusalem to share the news. We too need to share that enthusiasm – in a very real sense – for the word “enthusiasm” actually means “to be filled with God.” The risen Lord is always with us, and for Christians Easter is eternal.