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On the road to Emmaus, at last

Last week I wrote that the RCL never allows us to hear Luke’s story of the two disciples meeting the risen Christ on the road to Emmaus. How embarrassing! I hadn’t checked well enough, and now we have it before us this very Sunday. One thing I did get right, though: the lectionary doesn’t give us this story where it belongs in Year C, the year of Luke, for some unknown reason, but shoves in into Year A when Matthew’s gospel is featured.
Anyway, moving right along, we now get to enjoy this rich narrative. Luke’s account of this story has five outstanding features, as I read it, any one of which might form the basis for a sermon.
1. There is something both familiar and unrecognisable about the risen Jesus, maybe because he is now in the transformed state of being Paul refers to as “the spiritual body”.
2. Jesus is referred to as a prophet in Israel’s understanding of his previous role: speaking and acting as God’s agent. Yet at the same time there were hints of something more – his unique status as Messiah, “the one who would redeem Israel”. This identifies the theme of liberation from oppression as an ongoing component of the gospel.
3. The story of the empty tomb is not enough to create resurrection faith. It must be interpreted in the light of a reading of Israel’s scriptures that explains how the Messiah’s suffering and death is an integral part of his mission, rather than its defeat. Resurrection faith requires two interacting elements: the brute fact of the Church’s initial and ongoing experience of Jesus being risen from the dead; and a scriptural framework of understanding to explain that brute fact.
4. Hospitality is a key factor in the two disciples’ experience of Jesus’ risen presence, as it had been in his earlier ministry to Israel. We come to appreciate God’s generous welcome to us – that leads us to become hospitable to others- and in that openness to friend and stranger we meet with Jesus once again, and so the process rolls on throughout time.
5. Jesus “was known to them in the breaking of the bread”: The eucharistic overtones are unmistakable. So we too enter into the great mystery of his presence among us in our gathering to give thanks to God, week by week, in the sacramental meal he sets before us.

Well, I said it was full of riches. You can listen to my recorded comments from three years ago right here…

Christ is Risen!
Howard Pilgrim

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