The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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Online      26th April 2020
Then their eyes were opened
Handley Stevens

Luke 24. 13 - 35

Then their eyes were opened, they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight (Luke 24.31)
We don’t know very much about the two disciples who were on their way to Emmaus when Jesus caught up with them.  Some of us have always imagined, unthinkingly, that they were both male, but it is more likely that Cleopas’ companion was his wife Mary, one of the women who stood with Jesus’ mother near the cross (John 19.25).  Probably they were going back home to Emmaus after celebrating the Passover in Jerusalem. Their holiday, which had begun with high hopes for Jesus whom they had recognised as ‘a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people’ (Luke 24. 19), had turned into a nightmare as he was hastily tried and crucified.  And now, after the Festival was over, their visit had ended in yet more distress and confusion as the tomb was found to be empty. No wonder they were talking about it as they made their sad way home. No wonder they were astonished to be questioned by a stranger who didn’t seem to know what had been going on.  But then, once they had shared with him their faith and their hope, as well as their distress, they listen spellbound as he draws on the scriptures to show that the events of the past few days were the necessary culmination of the consistent narrative of God’s dealings with his chosen people, reaching right back to Moses and on down through more than a thousand years of history and prophecy.  Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked?
Sadly we have no detailed record of what the stranger said, and there is no specific prediction in the Old Testament that the Messiah must reach his promised glory through a humiliating death of the kind which Jesus suffered.  Yet the Old Testament tells of God’s unswerving love for Israel, as they lurch from one disaster to another, yet survive clinging to the promise of a glorious future when their children will be gathered from the four corners of the earth, and the nations will stream towards Jerusalem bringing tributes with them.  Sometimes the people of Israel were the victims of tyrannical foreign powers, sometimes disaster and humiliation was the consequence of their own sin or folly; sometimes Israel was called upon, like the Servant figure in Isaiah’s prophecies, to suffer vicariously for the sins of others, so that God’s salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.  It would seem that pain and suffering is part of the price we all pay, the price our loving God pays for the exercise of that freedom without which love itself would be meaningless.  
When they reach Emmaus, Cleopas and Mary press their travelling companion to join them for supper, and it is when he breaks the bread that their eyes are opened, they recognise him, and he vanishes from their sight.  Sadly we cannot break the bread of our communion together just now, but there are other ways in which we can show our love for one another even at a distance – perhaps a letter or a phone call, a little gift or the offer of a helping hand.  As we look forward in faith and hope to the joyful day when we can once again break bread together, we pray that the risen Christ, who falls into conversation with us in the strange hiatus of our social isolation, may open our hearts and minds to what the scriptures teach us about the love of God and our own responsibility to care both for one another and for the wonderful but fragile planet God has entrusted to our care.    

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