First Reading Acts 2:14a. 36-41
On the Day of Pentecost Peter reassures a crowd in Jerusalem that the disciples are not drunk but filled with the Holy Spirit. He then issues some direct orders.
Second Reading 1 Peter 1:17-23
We know that we are ransomed by the blood of Christ, and that affects our behaviour towards each other.
Gospel Luke 24:13-35
Jesus walks with two of his disciples, listening to their concerns, challenging and teaching them and their hearts burn within them, but they only recognise the Lord at table when he breaks the bread.
HOMILY “Then their eyes were opened, and they recognised him.” (Luke 24: 31)
I have been told this story of a monastery, where every 10 years the monks can break their vow of silence to speak two words. Ten years go by and it is one monk’s first chance. He thinks for a second before saying, “Food bad.” Ten years later, he says, “Bed hard.” It is the big day, a decade later. He gives the head monk a long stare and says, “I quit.” “I’m not surprised,” the head monk says. “You’ve been complaining for the past 30 years.”
Friends, I am rather fed up with lockdown and I would love to say, “I quit.” Now I know in my heart why this time of social distancing is so important, staying at home is the best for everyone, and I understand the medical reasons for lock down, but it’s the social interaction I miss, and I know this is not for ever – mindful of the words of Psalm 30, verse 5: “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” The problem is that I am a social person whose family is right at the centre of my life; I miss my wider family and friends and I miss all of you, my family of faith – for that is who we are at St Mary’s Church. Not spending time with you, not being able to physically walk alongside you in your time of struggle, bereavement and loss this past 6 weeks has been so difficult! And I am blessed to share the Vicarage with two incredible people, one of whom has developed vocabulary and talks for half an hour before she wakes up, all day long and for at least half an hour after she has fallen asleep! Heavens – I kind of miss silence too! What about you, how are you coping, or not with this strange time we are living through? Have you wanted to shout out loud, “I quit?”
As I reflect upon how social isolation is making me feel – that sense of loss – I am reminded of the two disciples on Easter afternoon, who walk back to Emmaus, potentially to their old life, completely distraught by what they have experienced. They were socially distanced for their own good! They feared their association with Jesus could lead to persecution, their own suffering, even death. Remember they saw Jesus die on the cross and where his body was laid, and now the women have said he is alive again – but really? It is all too much to take in, for they had looked to Jesus to change things, to transform lives! So, they decide to head back to the familiar and safe life of Emmaus as they long for how things were before. Many of us have probably felt something similar in the face of this Covid-19 lockdown, a longing for things to get back to normal, whatever that new normal may be. You too maybe want to quit. But there is more!
These two bereaved disciples trudge the road home when a stranger appears and walks with them. We know who it is, but they are kept from recognising him – perhaps they are caught up in their sense of bereavement, like Mary Magdalene in the garden. Jesus, aware of the heavy emotional burden they are carrying, asks them what is wrong, and they relate the story of his death and even news of his resurrection – but do they yet believe? So, the Lord responds, “Oh, how foolish you are and how slow to believe.” As he speaks their hearts burn within them. He uses the Old Testament scriptures to explain the truth about himself, just as he had done so many times before. Yes, in their minds they feel separated physically from the Lord of Life and isolated from others, but they need not because spiritually God is at work in their lives, just as Jesus is at work in ours today also. Although this mysterious and yet compelling stranger goes to walk on, they invite him to stay with them for a meal. It is only at supper that the penny drops, and they see the Lord is present with them. Jesus is made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
Just hours earlier they had decided to quit, to give up because it all seemed too hard – like the monk speaking his mind at last! But in the midst of their anguish and fear, even disbelief, Jesus meets them and walks with them, challenges them and strengthens them for the real journey of a lifetime – that of being his disciples, and as they walked with him they learnt more along the way. Jesus longs to do the same for us today. That is why we hope to run an Emmaus Course this May, June and July, initially online, so we can commit ourselves anew to journey with the Lord and with one another as we unpack the scriptures and strengthen our faith for the challenges ahead, the post-lockdown world and the new normal. We are so blessed in Thorpe that there are many from our church family and local community who are working around the clock to meet the needs of other people, some NHS staff and carers but many just volunteers, working in all manner of situations. We give thanks for them, their faithfulness and their commitment to the wider common good. And we all have different roles to play – including staying at home and staying safe. The truth is that unlike the monk, who waits 30 years to quit, we cannot, and we must not give up now. This journey we are on is costly in various ways, but it is also temporary. It is the new norm, for now, but not for ever.
So, Jesus walks with us as we pilgrimage in faith today – in our own homes yes but divided never! On one level we may individually feel quite alone at this time; but as the Church we are one, at unity in and through the Lord – never ever actually alone. And spiritually today he calls each one of us to his altar, to gather in witness as he is spiritually present among us. How awesome that is! One day soon, we will all be physically reunited around the altar in St Mary’s and I too long for that time. Until then, as we journey through the days and weeks to come, as disciples and pilgrims, may we remember those two disciples on the road to Emmaus. May we recognise the risen Lord Jesus is our Messiah who walks with us and continues to meet with us spiritually in the broken bread. Amen - Alleluia!
1 Just like the disciples on the road, especially in times of despair, when we want to quit, Jesus walks with us.
2 The disciples got things wrong and it is hard to admit mistakes. Jesus teaches them the truth – and their hearts burn within them as he opens the scriptures to them.
3 This time of challenge and social isolation will not last for ever. We will be reunited.
4 We too can be assured of the spiritual presence of Jesus as we participate in our Mass and witness the breaking of the bread – so we are one people, although dispersed, one church, one body - with him, the Lord of life and hope.