Tuesday 10 July
Bishop Kevin Doran from Elphin Diocese shared from the story of the Road to Emmaus at #Sligo18. Here's a summary of what he had to say:
My experience of coming to New Wine is that I’m among friends and people who understand faith. We’re looking at the account in Luke 24 of the Road to Emmaus. If I am going to share some thoughts with you on the Gospel, it is important to hear the Word of God first. My words are of little importance unless they flow out of God’s Word. Then I’ll look at what might this have to say to us about our own journeys.
Reading from Luke 24: 13 - 35
They were talking about everything that had happened
The two disciples embarked on this journey with fear and negativity. Their hearts were downcast. Before they left Jerusalem, the word was circulating that Jesus was alive but they were not able to comprehend that. What strikes me is that they were not actually going anywhere. The main reason was not where they were going but what they were trying to get away from.
It can be true that that we try to run away from things. But we also tend to respond and react to things rather than being on a journey. On the road these two disciples were trying to figure out what they were gong to do.
And as they walked along, Jesus Himself drew near and walked alongside them. The important thing is that Jesus drew near to them on their journey and asked, “What were you talking about...?” In our society everybody minds their own business but here, there was a reason behind Jesus’ question. He doesn’t jump in to answer their questions, instead He offers them an invitation to share what is going on, what’s on their hearts and minds. There is a lesson there for us. Sometimes for the truth of the Gospel to be heard, we first have to take time to listen to people, to hear their pain and struggle. There is a respectful encounter and it is a very good model for our ministry.
After Jesus has listened, He unpacks the scriptures for them and explains why the Christ had to die. But as they draw near the village, Jesus continued on as if He were going further. He doesn’t impose His presence on the disciples. What would have happened if the disciples had not invited Him to stay? In our own journeys, there are moments when we can choose to invite the Lord in and there are other moments when He is waiting to be invited and we allow Him to walk away. In our society, so many people see the presence of Jesus as an imposition but Jesus never imposes Himself.
There is a story told about a teacher in in the hedge schools. He arrived in a village and looked for a place where he could have his school. Knocking on one door he asks for a room. They didn’t really want to have him staying but they invited him for a meal and eventually gave him the option to stay. After a while, things were going well and he asked for another room and reluctantly they allowed him. Eventually 12 months later, the family was living in the attic but they were happy because he had transformed their lives.
The disciples' invitation for Jesus to stay was life-changing
We have an opportunity to invite Jesus into our lives (in the spiritual sense) or in the social sense by inviting in those who are made in His image.
There is a Caravaggio painting in the National Gallery of that supper at Emmaus.
Jesus is sitting in the back and the two disciples are sitting on either side of Him. The waiter is earwigging on the conversation. Perhaps the waiter is us... an invitation for us to enter into what is going on the table.
What I find interesting is the gestures: one man has his arms outstretched and he seems to still be stuck at the crucifixion. The other one is half up out of his chair. He has seen Jesus break bread and he has moved from Good Friday to Easter Sunday. As church, some of the time, we are stuck at the cross and we haven’t reached the resurrection. At other times, we want to live the resurrection but we are unwilling to go through the struggle and suffering of the cross.
We need to be willing to stand as a community and be witnesses to Jesus, who died AND was raised to life!
They recognised Him and then He disappeared from their sight. Emmaus is about 11km from Jerusalem (a decent half day’s walk). They had arrived at Emmaus and had gone into the inn (at the end of the day). Having sat with Jesus, they now got up and headed straight back to Jerusalem - to return to the community of believers. To some extent here there is the physical journey and then there is the spiritual journey. The physical journey is the same but the spiritual journey on the way back is very different!
Quo Vadis - where are you going?
I was on a pilgrimage in Rome with a group of young people and we were travelling along the Via Appia Antica, an ancient road that has seen a lot of history - soldiers, slaves, disciples and pilgrims. We asked the young people the question, “Where are you going? Quo Vardis?”
Physical distance tends to dominate in our lives with questions like: How soon? How long? How much? How big? How fast? How high? They are all quantitative questions and all to do with the physical journey. It can be stressful (causing heartburn).
So often the demands of the world in which we live get in the way of the important things. The challenge is to grasp the nettle and say that some of that stuff has to make space for our spiritual journey. If we succeed in making space for the spiritual, we will do other things better but it can be hard to convince ourselves.
In 1979, Pope John Paul II warned, “Ireland is being asked to prefer the kingdoms of the world and their splendour to the Kingdom of God. Satan, the Tempter, the Adversary of Christ, will use all his might and all his deceptions to win Ireland for the way of the world. What a victory he would gain, what a blow he would inflict on the Body of Christ, if he could seduce Irish men and women away from Christ.”
In many ways that defeat has already happened, but we are the people of the resurrection. While we may look around us and see the signs of destruction in our society, the real destruction comes when we stop believing in Jesus and stop living as His witnesses in the world. Sometimes it may seem as if we are witnesses in the wilderness.
Emmaus was a half-day’s journey from Jerusalem but spiritually speaking the two disciples journeyed much further than that spiritually and they returned to their community with hearts on fire having encountered the risen Lord Jesus.
Our society has bought into a vision that it is coming from nowhere and going nowhere. A welsh philosopher called Alistair McIntyre talks about how the vision of who were are as people and the vision of the world in which we live, once drew its meaning from God but at a particular point, we became arrogant and said, “It is not God who gives meaning to life. We are the source of our own meaning.” McIntyre suggests that when you talk about morality, which is the question of how we get from what we are to what we are called to be, it is like a bridge that is firmly based on two pillars - a vision of our human nature and a sense of what we are called to be in Christ.
Contemporary philosophy has taken away the sense of human nature and of what we are called to be.... this leads to walking across a bridge that is coming from nowhere and going nowhere.
If we don’t have our roots in something more solid that ourselves, then we become like tumble weed. We will have no idea where we are going.
There is a difference between the comfort blanket of religion and the journey of faith.
If (when?) you meet Jesus on the road today... what will you tell Him?
The prophet Jeremiah says, “Stand at the crossroads and look: ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is and walk in it and you will find rest for your souls.”
Hope is rooted in the person of Jesus. I meet people all the time who are on the journey. There are probably not as many of them as I would like. One of the problems is that you can take membership of the church for granted and maybe in the smaller Christian traditions, the decision to belong is more obvious and meaningful.
We can get impatient and discouraged if we don’t see change happening. I like to think that the faith I have now is more mature and battle-tested now but the further we go on the journey, the more we need to be aware of our own smallness and the greatness and mercy of God. When you come to the end of the journey you have to let go of yourself. The less of yourself that you hold onto as you go along, the less baggage there will be to let go of at the end of this life!