Sunday, 8 April 2012

Eyes Opened Wide - on the Road to Emmaus

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.

We were coming towards the end of our Good Friday sequence of services that had led us from the Garden of Gethsemane to the foot of the cross.  Here, on the walk of witness and at St Mary’s Church we had simply drawn on the biblical text.  It was as I was reading those words aloud and then waiting in silence for the next reader to approach the microphone, that one name caught my eye.

Mary, the wife of Clopas.

No one knows who the two on the Road to Emmaus were.

But one of them is named.  Richard Bauckham, in a fascinating book, Jesus and the Eye Witnesses suggests that people whose name is given and whose story is not known in the Gospels may well have been the people whose personal memories shaped the telling of the Gospel story of Jesus.  The Eye-Witnesses who, he suggests, were honoured by the early church and referred to right at the outset in Luke’s Gospel.

The one who is named is Cleopas.

Could it be the same person?

Some traditions have it that the two on the Road to Emmaus were husband and wife.  An intriguing thought I want to hold on to for a moment.

Each month we support a local charity through our communion collections and at coffee on a Sunday morning.  We occasionally invite a representative of the charity to speak.  In March we supported the work of Cheltneham Youth for Christ and invited the Director of CYFC to speak.  So it was that Paul Bennett preached on 18th March.

He was very apologetic to me personally for stealing my thunder.  As his sermon unfolded I felt I wanted him to retract his apology.  I, for one, found it challenging and full of insight.  One thing in particular caught my attention.

He preached on the Road to Emmaus story and apologised lest he was jumping the gun and anticipating my Easter sermon.  I didn’t let on about my custom of preaching on that theme each Sunday evening.  I waited to hear what he would have to say, thinking, as you do, I will have heard it all before.

Not a bit of it.  He made two observations that really set my mind thinking.

First, he told a story that, I guess could only happen in a Sat Nav age.  He described how a car drew up to the pavement near Boots Corner, mum and dad were in the front seats, an agitated teenager in the back.  Can you tell us how to get to the Hanger roundabout?  Was the question asked as the window was wound down.

Now, as it happened Paul knew where the Hanger Roundabout was.  He asked whether anyone else knew.  Ian Wallington knew instantly, Richard Newton as well and Sheila Grimes.  They all knew their London.  It’s a major junction not far from Twickenham.  The family had tickets for a U2 concert and their Sat Nav had led them astray.

As the window was wound up and the family set off forlornly for the M4 Paul didn’t like to imagine the conversation going on in the car.

He then went on to reflect how much we make of life as ‘a journey’ and how much we make of our Christian faith as ‘a journey’.  But he suggested that most people go on a journey in order to get somewhere.  It’s not enough to say we are all on the journey, but we also need to feel we are going towards our destination and we’ll get there.

An interesting and challenging thought.

So where are we heading for in our journey?

That brings me back to the other of Paul’s observations.

He suggested that anyone who knew their Bibles and in particular their Old Testament well would immediately spot an allusion towards the end of the story of the two on the Road to Emmaus.

It comes in verse 31.

“Then their eyes were opened, and they recognised him.”

When I set about the task of taking the lid off the Old Testament and reading it through the eyes of Jesus I started out on the Road to Emmaus, and as we have read through the Law, the Prophets and now the Writings I have found myself coming back to it.  The conversations between the two friends and the unrecognised Christ are for me the key to a Christian reading of the Hebrew Scriptures.

So I thought I ought to know the allusion.

But I couldn’t for the life of me think what it was.

And the Paul explained it.  It goes right back to the beginning of the Bible and to Genesis chapter 3.  It is that moment in the Garden of Eden when The Man and the Woman have both eaten of the forbidden fruit.  Genesis 3:7

“Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew they were naked.”

This suggested Paul is what the story of the Road to Emmaus is about.  It amounts to the reversal of the calamity that is the fall.  The tragedy of the fall is reversed in the encounter with Christ.  Where once ‘eyes were opened, and they knew they were naked’, now ‘eyes are opened and the recognise the risen, living Christ.

This, suggested Paul, is what it’s all about.  One story arrives at devastation, the other story arrives at a glorious, liberating meeting with the risen Christ that transforms and renews the whole of life.  That’s the destination for the journey we are invited to take.

I’ve always felt that the opening chapters of Genesis set the scene for the whole Bible and contain in microcosm the message of the whole Bible.  They are a wonderful prologue to the whole thing.

I reject the view that they contain as it were ‘scientific’ accounts that explain ‘how’ the world began.  In Genesis 1-11 I believe there is every indication we are in the realm of poetry and story telling that has to do with the truths of human existence.  These stories are larger than life stories about the beginnings of things that contain timeless truths for every generation.

As such those stories touch real, human stories and help us to understand what’s going on in them.

The accounts of the resurrection are different. They have the feel to me of narratives that are written by people who have experienced the remarkable transformation of resurrection and have found that the encounter with the risen Christ has renewed their whole lives and given them renewed hope and confidence in God and a renewed sense of purpose and direction as human beings travelling the journey of life.  They are written in order to help those who were not eye-witnesses to get it and to believe that the resurrection of Christ is the life-changing thing that will make the world of difference to us all.

What’s interesting is the way those larger-than-life stories about beginnings can then speak into the real-life situation these people find themselves in.

Those larger than life stories of Genesis 2 and 3 are about the Man and the Woman.   They speak into every man’s and every woman’s experience, not least Cleopas and his wife.

The Man and the Woman are set in a world of God’s making.  Cleopas and his wife were convinced of that.  It is a world to delight in where The Man and the Woman are simply a part of creation to play their part in it.  But in that age-old story the Man and the Woman are not content simply to be a part of the world of God’s creation, they want to take their own destiny into their own hands.

That is the human instinct down through the ages – the key to having your own destiny in your own hands is knowledge – that’s what’s driven humanity.  The knowledge of good … and of evil.

How devastatingly dangerous that is God knows, which is why in that age old story God wants to protect humanity from the journeying that will result from that knowledge.

Knowledge is attractive.  It is an attractive thought that we each hold our own destiny in our own hands.

There is that whisper in the ear – surely God wants you to go down that route.  God  knows that when you take your own destiny in your own hands and gain this remarkable knowledge of good and of evil you will be like God.

That’s attractive.  And it is the story of humanity.  Humanity’s quest is to take their destiny into your own hands and through knowledge of good and of evil become the GOD of all the world, in charge in mastery over it all.

Cleopas and, dare we say, wife Mary are in that position.  As the stranger joins them ‘their eyes were kept from recognizing him’ (verse 16).  The description they give of all the events in Jerusalem of the last few days suggests that actually in following Jesus they were doing just as the Man and the Woman had been doing in that story.

They hadn’t got it.  They had been following Jesus for very human reasons.  They had supposed he was the one to overthrow the Romans and enable them to take their own destiny in their own hands.  As far as they were concerned Jesus had given them knowledge that excited them and they thought they could use to take control themselves.  “We had supposed he was the one to set Israel free” 9verse 21)

No wonder Jesus was exasperated.  Oh how foolish you are and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared.”

What Jesus then does is to go right the way back to the beginning “The beginning with the books of the Torah and with all the prophets, he gives them a way of reading those Hebrew Scriptures that makes sense of all he had come to do and of all he had come to say, that makes sense of everything about himself.

Already this was beginning to be a life-changing experience.  This really was an eye-OPENING experience for them.  Their hearts were burning as he talked to them on the road, while he was OPENING up the scriptures to them.

Then it is as they eat that their eyes are opened.  They recognise him.  They see him for who he is.

Now it is not that they are going to take their own destiny into their own hands.  But Christ has opened up a way for them to follow so that the destiny of humanity is once more in God’s hands.

And what of us?

Our humanity so often gets the better of us.  We want to take our destiny into our own hands.  And we buy into a way of life that puts humanity in the place of God.

Resurrection opens up for us something entirely different – we are to become as Christ, embracing a suffering world in order to share in the glory of God’s resurrection victory.  We know where we are going – it is the way Christ Jesus has opened up for us.  It is the way of resurrection and of life eternal.

And we are called to be the Christ figure willing to enter into the journeys other people are making so that they too can find the way.

That’s exactly how Paul described his task in Youth for Christ. It’s all about coming alongside people in the journey they are making and  being Christ for them so that they can discover the destination the risen Christ opens up for them in the life eternal, a life that begins here and now and nothing, not even death, can defeat.

No comments:

Post a Comment