The readings are Acts 2:14a,36-41, 1 Peter 1:17-23 and Luke 24:13-35.
You hear the word 'journey' a lot these days, don't you? And if I'm honest, I think it's getting a bit over-worked. You only have to switch on one of the many, many, “reality celebrity strictly come x-factoring on ice” type programmes to be told, usually in very serious tones, about the journey each contestant has been on, overcoming major adversities, hail, wind, fire and broken nails to reach the next all important round.
But it isn't just Simon Cowell who's obsessed with it. As I moved from my previous job in the bank, through the discernment process for this role & eventually into college, I had to discuss my 'journey' at great lengths – that was fine, expected even, but the word itself was somewhat undermined by my particular bank changing their slogan just as I was going to “For The Journey” - the kind of nonsensical stuff that comes out of advertising offices these days!
And yet...and yet...when used correctly, it conveys a real sense of what it is to be a disciple of Christ – to be a Christian. The story of the Emmaus road is a great case in point. Two blokes on a journey, chewing the fat over the events of the last few days, bump into a stranger who just happens to be the very man they are discussing. I wonder, did Jesus slow down so they caught up, or overtake them as they walked? What did he think, how did he feel, as they told him their version of the events that had just unfolded - his capture & crucifixion, the confusing words of the women, the mystery of the empty tomb.
Then, as they press on along the dusty path, the heat of the day fading, Jesus takes them on another journey – this time through the history of the Jewish people, showing how their scriptures pointed to the necessity of the death he subjected himself to for their, and our, sake. Then they come to Emmaus, and Jesus says his goodbyes, appearing to be moving on; allowing them the chance to offer him hospitality, to welcome the stranger. He accepts their invitation – as Jesus always accepts an invitation to be with us – and as they sit around the table he reaches forward and picks up the bread, his hands running along the crusted outside as he holds it out to them. Then he breaks it, and as the crumbs tumble all is revealed and they see him standing before them, the risen Lord, the king of kings present in the room. And then he is gone from their sight, but they realise he has set their hearts on fire – so much so, that the first thing they want to do is run off to find people to tell!
So, I find myself asking where I am on the journey, this long & winding road of Christian discipleship? Because, believe me, just because I've got this around my neck I'm still very much a traveller on the road.
It's a good question, isn't it?
Some of us are just setting out, taking the first tentative steps to who-knows-where. This can be an exciting, scary place. We hope we are going somewhere, but we're couldn't tell you where it is. We probably know a bit about Jesus, or at least want to, but have more questions than answers – if we're lucky we have a companion or two alongside us, but we could really do with somebody to walk with us & explain things a bit more.
Some of us are further down the road – we've had some explanation, spent some time investigating this man and who knows, maybe actually experiencing his presence. And now it's time to make a decision – do I welcome the stranger in, or let him continue walking. Do I commit fully to this life of discipleship, or do I pretend it isn't important & go in another direction. Do I dare make myself vulnerable to the way of the cross and break bread with the risen Christ?
And for others, we regularly share in the broken bread, the body of Christ given for us & for our salvation – now we have to choose whether to stay seated at the table or run out into the world & tell people what we have experienced, to let Christ set our hearts on fire with love for him & go and help others meet him, experience him, be set ablaze as well.
You see, at no point in this journey are we encouraged to sit still. Yes, there is a point of rest, and the provision of the bread of life to sustain us, but then we race back to find others to tell about our experience. Achieving a place at the table is not the end goal – Christ meets us there, but then wants us to go back & share him with others, and bring them along with us.
We are focusing over the next few weeks on the Mission and Ministry development groups for the three churches in our parish. This isn't just an exercise to find a few volunteers to put on safari suits and pith helmets and hack through jungles to find unruly natives to convert – though the way some people describe 21st century Britain, and especially our region, you'd think a machete & something to protect your head would be standard issue for those braving this dangerous task. Its about shaping our approach to being the body of Christ in this place, and allowing the Holy Spirit to show us how he wants us to deal with each other, and with the community we are called to live in and serve, using the gifts and talents the Father has given us. As we move towards May 25th, when we nominate those people who will join together to help all of us best carry out this valuable, essential work for the kingdom of God, honestly reflecting on our place on the journey is of huge importance.
This doesn't mean saying “I'm no good at x, y, z so I can't do it,” searching for excuses like Moses did when God appeared to him in the burning bush. It means time spent with those who know us best, in prayer and conversation, to try and truly discern how best we can help such a group.
The challenge, what I'm really asking, is if we can be honest with ourselves, with others, and with God, about where we are on the road - and be prepared to listen to what God is saying about it. We are all travelling this road together, and Christ challenges us in this passage of scripture to walk this road with him.
And, as we help each other on the journey, I have to ask – am I looking, really looking for Christ as Dick breaks the bread. When was the last time I felt my heart blazing with his holy fire as I walked back to my seat, the taste of his blood still in my mouth? Are such things even possible?
They are, they can be, even for us here today.
“You will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit,” said Peter, “for the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”
The promise is for all who are far away. The promise is for you. Amen