As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. (Luke 24.28-35)
In a moment we will make our Communion. Most of us will have done so many times before. And while it is never a trivial thing to do, it will have become inevitably a habitual one. So it is good to be taken back in time for a moment by Luke to that simple meal of bread and wine on the Road to Emmaus when for a brief moment the veil was pulled back and Jesus’s presence was revealed.
And what a response there was. The disciple Cleopas is seriously disillusioned. He had been expecting so much – the salvation of Israel. And then had come the Crucifixion. He is disillusioned even though –staggeringly – has heard about the Resurrection; but it was a tale told by women. Enough said. But not enough said, because while it is somewhat speculative to match up the names we find in the New Testament and create characters out of them, it is just possible that Cleopas’ companion on the road – who we notice has slipped into backgournd and holds silence as a woman would have then – is his wife, and is Mary of Clopas, who was at the foot of the Cross. And a scholar as serious as N T Wright is willing too to consider indentifying Luke’s Mary of Clopas at the foot of the Cross with the Mary mother of James who is the equivalent character in John, who is also seen as one of the Maries who visited the empty tomb. When Cleopas speaks of “some women of our group” finding the tomb empty, he might be meaning his wife and her friends! No wonder he was in a quandary.
And then the Spirit moves. We have seen how as the New Testament starts, the Spirit too starts to move, slowly drawing more and more people into the story of new life. Pentecost is nearly here when the fire will fully break out and run, and now key disciples like Cleopas are finally being inspired to recognise just who Jesus really was. They had looked and looked – but now they see.
Do you remember that I spoke earlier about the DNA of God, his self-giving love. What is happening to Cleopas is what Jesus called being born again when he spoke to Nicodemus. Using the metaphor of DNA, the fabric of his spiritual being is being remade with a new strand of DNA in it, the DNA of God himself, the likeness of Christ. Here is how St Paul puts it in his classic account in Romans chapter 8:
“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you. … For you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.”
How it happens is a mystery. But that it happens, that we are born again as God’s Spirit and our Spirit come together in a new way, is plain to see in St Paul’s account of the early church and in our Christian lives today. It is a gift we acknowledge in baptism and confirmation, and it is a gift that we find awoken in us at those key times when we for ourselves start to let go of the controlling self-interest of our old natural selves and live in self-giving love like God.
Later on we will come to consider just what that means for our attitude to and use of money. But frankly, any teaching about that is whistling in the wind if our hearts have not first burned within us within the love of God, so that we actually want and will that we should live as generously as we can in the likeness of our generous God. Without that, any teaching is just hectoring, and giving is just a financial transaction to meet a need. With it, our giving is a thing of beauty and love, a genuine gift.
Which would you rather: live in world where everyone just ignored their neighbour and kept what they had for themselves? A world where everyone actively tried to make as much for themselves as they could even if it beggared their neighbour? Or a world where everyone gave to each other so that no-one was left in need?
I once made it into a game at a Conservative ladies’ tea. They were good at it! First, I asked them to look at their teaspoon and hold it tight. It was theirs. No-one was having it. How many teaspoons did each person have, I asked. Just one, of course. Then I invited them to snatch the teaspoon of their neighbour to the left. They did it with gusto: erveryone grabbed a spoon and everyone had a spoon grabbed. How many spoons did they each have? Still one. And then I invited them with due penitence and charm to return their spoon to its rightful owner. And still each had one spoon. So which world would they rather live in: icy isolation, grab as grab can, or making every day a gift-day like Christmas. The answer was obvious. And I hope it is for you too.
We have to choose. We have to choose with all our heart to let the Spirit of God touch our heart and show us Jesus and make us more like him. Or the spoons will go awry. But when we do choose, we are grafted by God into the Vine of Christ, we sense his Spirit renewing our life and know his gifts empowering and equipping us to live that new life, all the way back into the city, all through our lives.
As the music plays, can you once again renew your choice, your choice for God? And if you will, use the water in the font or bowl to renew the sign of your baptism, your baptism into the new life of Christ? And as we break the bread of Communion today and drink the wine, may you know the richness of that life deep within you, by the power of the Spirit of the living God.
Word document of all four talks: http://wp.me/aoSLL-3oT