john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Luke 24:
    Emmaus Road: When you think you're walking away....

    Good Shepherd Morning Communion 06/04/2008

    Acts 2.14a,36-41, Luke 24.13-35

    When you think you're walking away ... he's there beside you all the time [opening up the scriptures].

    I love all the stories of Jesus appearing to his disciples after his resurrection. I especially love this story of the men on the Emmaus Road. If I had to choose just one bible story to carry with me through life I think it might be this one. Because it describes two men on a journey and Jesus walking with them. And I like to think of life as a journey, and I'm comforted by the thought that if it is a journey then Jesus may be here walking with me.

    That's a comfort because despite my best intentions I don't often find it easy to walk in the way of Christ, to love my neighbour as myself for instance, or to really believe the good news. None of us finds these things easy. Despite our best intentions to live the Christian life, all too often we find ourselves doing just the opposite - we find ourselves walking away. Just like the two men on the road out of Jerusalem, walking away from the events which saw their friend Jesus betrayed and executed, and their faith in him shattered.

    You can imagine that these friends were walking away thinking that that was the end of that chapter in their lives: their faith shattered on the cross, it was time to turn around and look somewhere else for their hopes and dreams.

    You can imagine that, probably because you've had times in your life - maybe you're having one of those times now - when you've been walking away. I know I have.

    I remember at 18 years old walking away from the church where I'd been to many services as a schoolboy, walking away shattered because I'd just been to the funeral there, of a friend who had been to the same school at the same time as me; Peter Scott who had died in a car accident, so young. Like everyone brought up in a church school we had some sort of faith - or understanding of a compassionate, loving God at work in the world - but when you lose someone so unexpectedly early, in such terrible circumstances, you tend to lose that simple faith, you tend to walk away, disillusioned.

    But when you think you're walking away ... he's there beside you all the time [opening up the scriptures].

    That was what happened to the two friends walking away from Jerusalem towards the village called Emmaus. They didn't know it at the time when that companion joined them on the road and started telling them why the terrible events that they'd just witnessed weren't after all the disaster they'd thought, that instead they were the fulfilment of all that the prophets had foretold:
    'Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?' [their companion asked them]. Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
    The two friends didn't know it at the time but that companion who joined them on the road, they later realised that it was Jesus.
    Then their eyes were opened, and they recognised him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, 'Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?'
    The road I took walking away from that church after Peter Scott's funeral was a longer, twistier one, but when I look back now on the journey I took at the age of 18 I realise that what felt and looked like an ending at the time - the end of Scotty's life, the shattering of our simple faith - was actually a new beginning. Because I left that church with a heavy heart and a head full of questions. And what I found was that over the coming months those questions stayed with me, questions about life and death and God and eternity, and that over time I found people and places which started helping me to work out the answers.

    In my trips to town for instance I discovered that there was such a thing as a Christian bookshop - it was the old Scripture Union shop on Slater Street then - and I'd spend ages in there digging around for things to read which seemed to speak to me about the route my journey might be taking.

    In my membership of a church youth club I discovered that things I'd been hearing for years but not really understanding, started to make sense to me: the words of hymns, conversations with leaders and friends and the church minister, people who opened up the scriptures to my understanding.

    Looking back now I think I can recall times when my heart burned, when all of a sudden I understood something which had been hidden from me before, when all of a sudden I felt something I thought I'd never feel on that terrible day when I first walked away.

    Looking back now I can see it happened in my life: that when you think you're walking away ... he's there beside you all the time [opening up the scriptures].

    I think it's happened a few times: I think I walked away again in my twenties when I became unemployed and felt for quite some time that Christianity wasn't really working any more ... but then I started to meet people who showed me and taught me that God gives dignity and worth and well-being even to people at the lowest ebb - particularly to people at the lowest ebb - like me and the many I knew on the dole in the 1980s.

    I think I walked away again when I saw how much my Nan suffered in the last days of her life ... but eventually, grappling with the questions, I came to see that God had been showing me another side of her in those days, one who loved life and fought death, which is why she struggled so much, but who also loved God and at the end, rested in him.

    When you think you're walking away ... he's there beside you all the time [opening up the scriptures].

    Lately I've been listening a lot to the songs of Sydney Carter. He's the man who wrote The Lord of the Dance. He also wrote a few songs which describe life as a journey, a journey where God comes along beside us: One More Step Along the World I Go being the most famous. Travel is a key word for Carter. He once said that
    Everything is travelling: there is no way out of it. But there are different ways of doing it. You can travel inertly like a stone which is hurled into the air. You can travel reluctantly like a dog which drags against the lead. You can embrace the necessity of travelling: you can leap and dance along.

    The Kingdom of heaven (if you like) or God: it lies ahead of us, yet it travels in us, too. ... We are pulled in two directions, and we have a choice. We are privileged or condemned to be free. We can drag or dance along.
    Sydney Carter reminds us that the word 'Travel' comes from the medieval French travaillier, meaning to work, to labour with difficulty. 'Travaillier means to work in modern French, and this meaning has survived in English also, in the word 'travail', to labour with pain, in childbirth especially.'

    The journey which the two friends took from Jerusalem to Emmaus turned out to be hard work - trying to come to terms with their loss, trying to make sense of the things which their new-found companion was explaining to them on the way.

    The journeys which we all take can be hard work too - trying to find a way forward after a big bereavement or a change of health or home or family situation.

    But we must try to embrace these journeys as hard work well worth doing. We must try to remember that when we walk we walk in the Kingdom of Heaven. And most of all we must hold on to the hope we can have because we've heard about the men on the Emmaus Road and understood their story: that when you think you're walking away ... he's there beside you all the time [opening up the scriptures].

    What is Jesus saying to you on your journey today?

    Sydney Carter quotes from the out-of-print classic Green Print for Song (Galliard / Stainer & Bell 1974), see blog, Monday, March 31, 2008