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23rd April 2023


Passage: Luke 24;13-36


“How despicably I have acted!” cried Elizabeth Bennett. “I, who have prided myself on my discernment! I, who have valued myself on my abilities! How humiliating is this discovery!” Elizabeth (the heroine of Pride and Prejudice) has just read a letter completely overturning her judgement of Mr Darcy as a bad man and Mr Wickham as a good one. She cannot believe how mistaken she has been. Admittedly, Mr Darcy had been proud and distant, as opposed to Mr Wickham who knew exactly how to charm. But, looking back, Elizabeth saw all the signs that Wickham had not been a truthful man, and that Mr Darcy had been an honourable man. She had simply not been able to read those signs.

It happens to us all. Why could not I have seen the signs that this potential partner was a bad one? Why could not I have seen through the advertising blurb that the house or the car was a bad investment? Why could not I have seen behind the spin that a political crisis was looming? Why did I not take the symptoms of illness more seriously? And now, in our Gospel story, here are two of Jesus’ followers asking themselves, “why did we not recognise Jesus when he was walking right beside us? And why did we never understand what our own scriptures were telling us about him?” Hindsight is a wonderful thing. It just tends, by its nature, to come a little too late.

Elizabeth attributes her misunderstanding to vanity- Mr Darcy had ignored her while Wickham flattered her. Hurt vanity does cloud one’s judgment. We can also be misled by what other people teach us; by greed, loneliness, despair; by pride-not wanting to admit that we might be wrong. But, when we do come to see things in a new light, there is no point in beating ourselves up. For life, by its very nature, is a pilgrimage of discovery in which none of us ever see the full picture. &&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

So, who were these two people walking to Emmaus? Allowing for a slight difference in spelling, the man Cleophas had a wife called Mary, named as one of the women standing near the cross when Jesus was crucified. It is likely that she was the second person in this story. They were going home together.
We don’t know much about them, but we already have two clues as to why they failed to recognise Jesus or to understand his ministry. First, as a friend of Jesus, if Mary had watched as he was crucified, dying slowly and in agony, she would surely have been suffering from what we now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. You do not quickly get over an experience like that. And, as I said on Easter Sunday, when you have seen the very worst, you can be left incapable of recognising the best.

Second, Cleophas and Mary had clearly been taught their holy Scriptures, as children were in their culture. And the Jewish scriptures (which we call the Old Testament in our Bible) taught that they were God’s chosen people, and that God would send a Messiah, a Saviour to fulfil his purpose for them.
But their history as a nation had been troubled and oppressive. They were looking for a political leader who would bring them political power and security. Mary and Cleophas had believed that Jesus was this Messiah, but if he had now been executed by the Romans, all was lost. So, pain and despair were combining to block their eyes and ears; hearts and minds.

Then Jesus demonstrated truth in their scriptures that, being people of God meant a new way of living and thinking; that God wanted to create a people dedicated to His service. And given the evil in the world, this dedication to God and to goodness will involve suffering. This is what the Messiah must do, taking upon himself the whole vocation of God’s people. The cross had not been a tragedy but the start of a victory. As Mary and Cleophas listen, their hearts start to “burn within them.” They are coming to see things differently and it is only a matter of time before they recognise Jesus.

A life in which we never know the whole truth is--undeniably- a challenging one. But, as we never can know the whole truth,(because life is life) I would say that our problems begin when we think we should know the whole truth and that we do.
Religion set in stone is dangerous. Totalitarian dictators are dangerous. People who pride themselves on never changing their mind are dangerous. People who are so focussed on their own set agenda that they never stop to think are dangerous. I sometimes wonder how many times Jesus might have been walking right beside me and I did not notice him? How many truths might he have told me, only I was not listening? And how much more confident a Christian I might be if I had noticed, and I had listened?

And I thought how Covid posed a serious threat to our church life and worship, but it has been said more than once that it also proved a blessing in that everything about our worship had to be re-examined and so continues to be re-examined.
The forthcoming Ministerial Vacancy might be seen as a threat to church life and mission but again, it might be a blessing, in that everything about this church’s life will need to be re-examined. Nothing will remain set in stone, meaning that opportunities may arise to recognise Christ walking beside you; opportunities to engage together in exploring our scriptures, our vocation, our faith history; opportunities to know and love each other even more.

A life and a faith in which we can never know the whole truth does lead us into many mistakes. But as we invite Jesus Christ to walk beside us day by day; as we make a firm commitment to the kingdom of God, we are promised that there will always be new light ready to shine into our lives. And that this light will always, always, be more powerful than the darkness created by ignorance or hurt vanity or false pride or personal greed or despair. Even Elizabeth Bennet got herself back on the right track in the end and, as for Jesus’ disciples, they went on to change the world in his name. &&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

The story of the road to Emmaus must have been told within the first Christian community many, many times. That was still the main way of preserving good stories: keep repeating them. And life and faith did not become a whole lot easier all at once for the first Christians. There was still a lot of persecution and pain, as both Romans and Jews looked on them with deep suspicion. There was still a lot of misunderstanding and disagreement as the Christian church became increasingly multi-cultural and each culture struggled to get its head round the other’s beliefs.
How many times do you think this story would have been told as a reminder to stop, look, listen and ask, “is Jesus walking beside us now? Is he trying to tell us important truths?” Have we stopped looking? Have we stopped listening?

And so, they would stop, and they would pray together; and they would talk humbly together; and they would listen together; and they would indeed start to see things more clearly. By the time St John wrote his letters to the Christian church (probably the latest we have in the Bible), he had come to the conclusion that, if life and faith could only be grounded in love for God and love for one another, we would be walking with Jesus Christ and living in his light, day in, day out.

Looking back then, I guess each of our lives and the life of the whole Christian church have seen mistakes, misunderstandings and wrong-turnings because we can never see the full picture. But as Christ continues to walk beside us and offers truth of where we have been and where we are going, this must be your hope and mine as we all face an uncertain future.
I can say nothing better now than St Richard of Chichester, as he prayed, Lord Jesus Christ, most merciful redeemer, friend and brother, may I know you more clearly, love you more dearly and follow you more nearly, day by day.