In many churches a constant sermon theme is, or it used to be, the idea of conversion. – Not necessarily in some Anglican churches, where they’re just pleased to see you! I myself ’came forward’ at the age of 17, in a Methodist church. Today, in some Anglican churches the attitude is more like: ‘Well, Conversion to the Lord Jesus might come – but do keep coming, won’t you? Something might happen!’ Now, there’s some truth in this – I do believe you have to belong before you can believe. I belong, and I believe now differently to some years ago. My faith grows as I belong to the Church. So I suppose, unlike Paul on the Damascus Road, my own conversion is a more of a journey than an event.
That’s why I have always loved the Emmaus story. I am just not the sort ofperson who can pin my conversion down to 3pm on Saturday 12 June 1986 –though I know some who can. Conversion for me is a continual journey. A continual turning.
Luke’s gospel is full of journeys. John prepares the way for the Lord who is to come (Lk 1:76) and cries out to level his ways (Lk 3:4); Mary hurries towards the mountains to visit Elisabeth (Lk 1:39); Jesus, who is God’s way (Lk 20:21), walks alongside human beings, and after the resurrection Jesus continues the journey together with the disciples (Lk 24:32) The whole reason for the existence of the Church lies in this journey of salvation (Acts 16:17) that leads to God (Acts 18:2). The early Church was called The Way: and We are all called to live the Way, and to show it to all, so that everyone may leave his/her own way (Acts 14:16) and walk with the Lord, who walks alongside those who belong to him.
Today’s reading: Back from Emmaus, the two disciples explained what had happened as they journeyed on the road, and how they had recognised the Lord when he broke bread. We don’t always realise but We all meet God in events. It is always Jesus who walks beside us on the road, and then reveals himself. Human history is where God acts, the history of salvation happens in all human situations. Then, suddenly, the Lord himself stood among them and said: “Peace be with you!”. Jesus returns to those who belong to him. He stands in their midst, himself, complete, as before, even though in a different manner. Jesus shows himself in his glorious bodily form to show that the resurrection is something that really happened.
But it startles and frightens the disciples. The disciples needed to experience the bodily reality of the resurrection of Jesus so they could carry out their future mission of witnessing and preaching the good news. At first, they did not think it was Jesus: they thought they were seeing a spirit! But Jesus asks them:
Why are you alarmed? Why are these doubts coming up in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It’s me!. Touch me, and you will know: a ghost does not have flesh and bones, like I have.
Jesus will continue to show his hands and feet – in the flesh and bones of every believer.
Then Jesus opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. All scripture leads to Jesus. The Bible is fulfilled in Christ. In Jesus Scripture acquires its full meaning. In his name the message about repentance and the forgiveness of sins must be preached to all nations beginning in Jerusalem v (Acts 2:2). The radical salvation of humankind lies in freeing hearts of stone and in receiving a new heart, believing that God guides history. There will be many journeys to accomplish this, but Jesus guides the journey of those who belong to him.
Two thousand years later, We are all still on that journey of service. Gradually the disciples’ journeys got further away from Jerusalem – Paul went to the heart of the pagan world and reaches Rome. Because the message of Salvation is for all, especially sinners for whose conversion there is great joy in heaven, (Lk 15:7.10) we must all journey, carrying within ourselves the word of salvation; we walk in faith, trusting in God who keeps his promises; we walk in the joy of Him who makes us blessed, not through any merit of ours.
Jesus is our model of how to journey. When Jesus met people, he offered and he waited – waited for the seed of the word, and of faith, to grow. When the apostles abandoned him, when Peter denied him, when the sinful woman loved him, when the Pharisees were closed to him, Jesus was neither scandalised nor perturbed. He knew that what he had said and suggested to them would not be lost. Never forget that the resurrection is hidden in our wounds, in our weaknesses, so that we have to rely on Him, live in him. In serving our neighbour, who may be like a sepulchre of death and mud, who might be for us a cursed cross, we will find new life. Because the Risen Christ will assume the semblance of your neighbour: a gardener, a traveller, a spirit, a person on the bank of a lake.
That flash of realisation comes to us all. But it may not come immediately, as it did to Paul on the Damascus Road,, but through years of journeying with Christ, who as he did on the journey to Emmaus, explains Scripture to us as we journey together, and who we recognise suddenly, in the Breaking of Bread.