Sermon 30th April - Third Sunday of Easter: Luke 24, 13-35: The Walk to Emmaus
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
Sermon - Easter: John 20, 1-18
I would like to start by suggesting that all of us need a guiding story by which to live our lives.
Sometimes we call such stories ‘world views.’ Throughout history some people have felt that the answer to ultimate questions, questions such as the nature of salvation, are to be found in the isms: Marxism, Capitalism, Hedonism, Individualism, Stoicism, Liberalism, Conservatism and so forth. The reality is however that all of these so called isms, or ideologies, have failed, by degree to satisfy. In the ‘isms’ there are always winners and losers, that’s just the nature of things. In fact many of these isms depend on winners and losers to sustain themselves.
But, the world view we call Christianity is different. Its different because its not about a system or abstract set of theories but instead its about a person. Its about a person called Jesus. Its about a person who defeated death by rising again. But the amazing thing about the resurrection was that it was done not for Jesus’ own sake but for ours; yours and mine. The resurrection isn’t about Jesus getting one over on the authorities, political and religious, that contrived to put him to death but about Jesus offering an invitation; an invitation to share in all that is good, together with one another, in relationship. Jesus was put to death by the toxicity of the isms but what he wants us to know is that sin, evil and death never have the last word. Instead the last word belongs to Jesus and the last word is life; eternal life.
Eternal, or resurrection, life isn’t just about what happens to us the other side of this life, although it is also about this, but it is about being affirmed, upheld, honoured, cherished in the here and now. It is about all of us having the same experience as Peter and the other disciple, probably John, as they discover that all is not as it seems when they discover the empty tomb. It is about discovering a reality that sets us off running with true excitement. And, its about standing in solidarity with the ultimate outsider Mary Magdalene and hearing Jesus whisper our own names and affirming us as beloved children of God. The resurrection is about relationship, relationship with God, relationship with the Alpha and Omega, relationship with the mystery of the greatest reality. The resurrection is about the supremacy of the complete over the partial, and about a person, Jesus, over a system. The resurrection is about hope and it is the greatest love story ever told. It is a story worth believing in because it is a story that makes all the difference in the world. It makes a difference to how we regard the world and how we experience the world. It is a story capable of sustaining us when pain, suffering and disappointment seem to have the upper hand and, it is a story that is capable of bringing us home. It is a story that I am pleased to believe and have faith in. It is not just a world view or yet another ism but a story of faith, hope and above all love. Why not simply make it your story and let it guide you home?
Good Friday Meditations
Good Friday meditations
This Good Friday I am going to break Luke’s account of Jesus ‘Good Friday’ into two sections. I am going to start by reading Luke 22, 39-71 after which I will lead us into a reflection which will involve asking a series of questions for you to reflect on in a few minutes silence. I will then read Luke 23, 26-49 which will again be followed by a reflection and series of meditative questions. The questions are designed to lead us into a place where we dare hope that in our Good Friday Eucharist we will be able to share bread and wine not only with Jesus but also with the entire company of heaven, which of course includes one of the criminals crucified alongside Jesus.
Let us begin by praying together the words our Saviour taught us; saying ‘Our Father who art……...’
Luke 22, 39- 71
Its extraordinary isn’t it that Jesus first response, knowing his destiny, is to express concern for others. He urges his disciples to ‘pray,’ that they ‘may not come into the time of trial.’ He only hen prays for himself, ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done.’
In the first few verses we heard from this reading we are given a real insight into the sort of man Jesus is; we obtain a real glimpse into his humanity. His first concern, even knowing what is about to happen to him, is for his friends, who he urges to pray. Only after expressing concern for them does he turn to himself. And, what of his prayer? It is so honest, ‘Father if you are willing take this cup from me.’ Jesus, does not welcome, or even worse, idolise the suffering that he must incur, instead he names it for what it is: pain and suffering. Jesus is no false martyr or even religious stoic for he knows that the pain he is going to endure on the Cross is going to be indescribably horrific. Yet, he also knows something very important: his life has a purpose beyond death. It is this knowledge this hope, this faith, this love that allows him to say ‘yet not my will but yours be done.’
How strong is our hope and faith?
In the face of pain and suffering, undeserved pain and suffering, what is our first response?
These are real Good Friday questions and ones that I would invite you to reflect on in silence for a short time.
Part of the real tragedy for Jesus is, of course, that he is also going to be let down in the worst of ways by his friends. One of them, Judas, betrays him and another Peter denies him. Judas’ problem is greed – he wants his thirty pieces of silver. He is prepared to mortgage his future for money. Peter’s problem is fear. Slowly but surely he starts to understand where all of this is leading and, he is truly frightened. Peter who has so often appeared to be something of a hero, and up and at them character crumbles in the face of fear. How do we relate to Judas and Peter? It is of course easy to judge them negatively because in some ways we would all like to believe that we would have been more resilient and faithful. But would we?
Good Friday it seems to me keeps piling on the questions. So here are two more:
To what extent our are lives motivated by greed? &
To what extent do we allow fear to hold us back from saying what we truly believe?
Let’s pause to reflect for a couple of minutes.
Just when we thought it could get any worse for Jesus we find that it does. Having been betrayed and denied he is then mocked. Mocked by a small group of hired hands who for a few pathetic minutes believe that they have the ascendency over Jesus. He is powerless, his captors believe that they are powerful. And the problem with power is that it is seductive. Power, even false power, tempts us to see others as less than fully human. It isn’t just Jesus captors who regard themselves as superior to Jesus for their only real authority lies in the hands of the assembly of elders and the political superiors. When religion and politics become toxic the results are normally catastrophic. Justice ceases to exist. Care, compassion and love evaporate. The world becomes a hollowed out place. Sadly, bad religion and bad politics continue to effect so many in the world today. So let us in a period of silent prayer hold before God all of those for who life is simply awful.
Luke 23, 26-49
Just imagine for a short period that you were a first hand witness to a crucifixion. What must it have been like to have been there? What would you expect to see and hear? Just shut your eyes for a short period and imagine what a crucifixion must be like.
If we turn to the crucifixion what we see is the most amazing encounter between Jesus and the two criminals who are also suffering in the most appalling fashion. One of the criminals joins in the scoffing. Luke stresses that he was ‘deriding’ Jesus: ‘Are you not the Messiah, save yourself,’ followed crucially by the words ‘and us.’ This criminal is a true criminal because his only real interest is himself. He couldn’t really care about either the other supposed criminal, or Jesus. If he is to have any form of faith he wants it entirely on his own terms. ‘Save us, ‘ for this criminal doesn’t really means ‘save us,’ it means ‘save me.’
The other criminal of course sticks up for Jesus and, in response, Jesus says the most remarkable thing: ‘Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.’ With me! What Jesus offers from the cross is a form of relational and corporate salvation. The first criminal wants simply to be let off the hook and permitted to live an atomised individualistic life, the second criminal is offered an eternal relationship with Jesus and all others who dine with him in paradise.
So here is another Good Friday question:
What manner of salvation is it that you are hoping for? An individual one, or a corporate and relational one?
In a few minutes we are going to move into the Eucharist where we all invited to share in Jesus’ body and blood together, in relationship with each other. We come to the Eucharist as sinners, criminals even.
So my final question is which criminal do you most identify with, the one who derided Jesus or the one, who even in the midst of his own agony, aligned himself with Jesus? This is perhaps the ultimate Good Friday question.
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