Rev Deborah preached this sermon on Sunday 30 April.
Cleopas and his friend are leaving Jerusalem. It is late afternoon and the worst of the afternoon’s heat is just beginning to subside. They are talking, nineteen to the dozen all about what has happened. As they leave the city walls behind, they look around themselves furtively, as if they think that they might be followed.
They head west heading for Emmaus, where they plan to stop for the night. They seem dejected and agitated. They talk about the prophet Jesus, the one who came from Nazareth and caused such a stir in the city and they try to make sense of what happened, to come to terms with their own feelings of loss and abandonment.
They had been his followers – not part of the inner group, but part of the larger crowd of people who had been drawn to him. They had heard him speak with power and authority. They spoke directly to the heart, but at the same time made sense of everything. For them it was just to be with him. There was something about him – especially his words- which were magnetic. Once they had penetrated beneath the skin, touched the soul, there was no turning back.
But now he was dead. He has been brutally executed. But, like so many of his followers, they had not actually witnessed this. It had all become too dangerous. They had made for the shadows. As they thought that they all might be rounded up.
They had heard the story – everyone had. He had been betrayed by one of his own followers, convicted by some kangaroo court of Pharisees meeting in the dead of the night, taken before the Roman governor, turned on by the crowd, stripped, beaten, and crucified. And it had all happened with such astonishing speed.
And so they walked and talked. Everything that had felt so full of hope was now plunged into grief and despair. And those big players like Peter and James, who had promised so much and who had seemed so reliable, so wise – they had disintegrated, they had abandoned him. In the end he had died alone – well almost alone. John and Mary and some of the other women were there – but they couldn’t stop it.
But then, neither could he. That was the painful part about it all. They thought he could.
They felt lost. They didn’t know where life was going now they couldn’t follow him. They felt stupid. They had placed such trust and hope in him and they had been wrong.
Still half a dozen miles to walk. Jerusalem is behind them. They stumble on ahead. The path before them is uneven. The shadows that fall behind them are imperceptibly lengthening. They turn the story over again trying to make sense of it.
Then, as if from nowhere there is the steady tread of another pair of feet falling in beside them. Another person, a stranger. They look at him, half startled that they didn’t notice his approach, but also glad of some company, someone who would take them out of themselves. He smiles at them but they don’t recognise him. They don’t know who he is. For a moment no one says anything and a silence rests between them.
The stranger speaks, ‘what are you discussing with each other as you walk along?’
And in the most innocent and most inviting of questions, has the effect of stopping them dead in their tracks.
Cleopas replies, ‘are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’
And the story comes pouring out again. The stranger smiles as if weighing up everything that has been said. Cleopas and his friend are unexpectedly unburdened. They feel better for having told it out aloud. The stranger speaks again. ‘You fools’, he smiles, ‘so slow of heart to believe what the prophets have said.’ As they carry on walking, he starts to talk about the scriptures, but in a new way. He takes the old stories but sees them in a different way.
He begins with the things long ago. He travels back into the very beginnings of their faith in order to plot a new course to the present.