Sermon for Sunday, 23 April 2023 – Easter 3 – On the road with Jesus

By Revd George Mwaura

[Bible readings: 1 Peter 1: 17–23 and Luke 24: 13–35]

Willie Nelson, the famous country musician sings about being on the road all the time. His music, like many other genres, often carries the themes of love and loss, of pain and suffering, of shattered dreams and courageous perseverance. My sermon this morning is not about country music, even though I absolutely love it; it’s about life as we experience it. And a good image of this is that classic tune we just heard where Willie Nelson romanticises being on the road again and again. But you and I know that being on the road, enjoying yourself, and making money at the same time, is not the experience of most people; far from it!

For some people, like the millions of Ukrainians displaced by the senseless war in their country, the Rohingya people made stateless by their own government and those destabilised by climate change, hunger and war in Ethiopia and Sudan, being on the road is not a choice: it’s an act of desperation, chaos, anger and helplessness!

Being on the road is a good metaphor to describe the experience of Cleopas and his companion in our Gospel lesson. Cleopas and other disciples had dared to believe that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. And to be fair, there had been convincing evidence. Not only did he show power in his preaching and healing, but his ministry among the poor and oppressed was positively prophetic. Yes; there was growing evidence that this might just be the Messiah. And then, it happened: they crucified him, plunging his disciples into unbelievable darkness and shattering their dreams. They took him to Golgotha, a place of humiliation and hung him like a common criminal.

No wonder Cleopas and other followers were petrified; too shocked even for grief. Their hope was dead. There were rumours whispered from women that his tomb was empty; but rumours were, well, just rumours-– especially coming from women in first-century Palestine!

In their depressed state of mind, Cleophas and his companion headed out of town, downcast and defeated-– wanting only to put some distance between them and the city that crucified prophets. This is the scene as we enter the Gospel drama on the road to Emmaus. It’s a hugely profound story and this beautiful text has inspired poets, artists and musicians. The hymn, Abide with Me, is based upon this story. Did you know that? There are three things to note from this story, and if you indulge me, I’ll share them with you.

First, Emmaus is every person’s town. Christine and I visited the Emmaus of the Gospel story several years ago-– it’s just an ordinary dusty town seven miles west of Jerusalem. But you know, Emmaus, could have been any place, just as long as it was seven miles from frustration, confusion, grief and despair. I know I speak for most people when I say we’ve all been to Emmaus at some point in our lives.

Emmaus is wherever we go to sort out our feelings and to summon the courage and desire to keep going. Emmaus is wherever we go to reclaim our sanity when our world has been shattered to pieces. Emmaus may happen when those close to us betray us; when we lose our jobs and security or when an illness strikes those dear to us and they hover between life and death and all we can do is hold their hand.

We may travel to Emmaus when we advance in age which forces us to leave our lifetime possessions and passions behind and accept the limitations of help from others or life in a care home. We may even head for Emmaus when our involvement in a struggle to right some wrong ends up in utter defeat. Yes, I guess we’ve all been to Emmaus.

The second truth to be gleaned from this story, and I pray that it will be engraved permanently in your minds, is about the friend who joins us on the road. That’s what happened to Cleopas and his companion. They were walking along in dejection and defeat, when suddenly, they became aware of a third person. Please note the fact that they didn’t know who he was. Now, you might ask me: ‘So, what’s so important about that George; that’s the very definition of a stranger?’ Well, it’s hugely significant because Jesus often comes to us anonymously. He joins us on our journeys and many times we don’t even recognise him.

He comes to us through a friend who will sit and listen when we need to pour our heart out; a neighbour who calls around to cut your grass or do your shopping when you are unwell; a church member who prays with you when you face testing times. He comes through a family member who keeps on loving us even when we are selfish or mean. He comes through a friend who won’t let us off the hook, but demands that we just don’t talk the talk but also walk the walk in our Christian witness. People, be attentive to those you journey with, for all you know; they could be angels, it could be Christ himself!

The final thing I want you to note this morning about this story is the courtesy of the stranger on the road. The passage tells us: As they drew near the village to which they were going, Jesus appeared to be going further, but they begged him to stay with them as the day was almost spent. The point is this: Jesus does not force himself upon us. He will come outside, knock and wait; but it’s our duty to open the door and invite him in. That’s what he did with Cleopas and his friend; he waited for them to invite him to supper.

And here we see the greatest and the most critical gift God has given us-– the gift of free will. I wonder if, in the years that followed, Cleophas and his companion ever reflected upon what might have happened had they not invited Jesus to come in for supper. I’ve thought about it many times myself: where would I be, had I not invited Jesus into my life when I felt that insistent knocking on the door of my heart? What shenanigans, labours and adventures would be occupying me now? I wonder… .

What about you? Have you heard that gentle but persistent knock of Christ on the door of your heart? Has Christ called you in some specific way to minister to this congregation at Cornerstone and you’ve been procrastinating? You see, the choice is ours. Jesus won’t force himself upon us. We must invite him in.  We may think we will never get to Emmaus and even when we get there, we may still be doubtful, frustrated, and directionless. But along the way, and certainly at the end of the road, the stranger who is our friend and saviour, will meet us and things will become much clearer. To paraphrase the apostle Paul: Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.

May the spirit of Easter go with you as you travel on the Emmaus roads of your lives.