We have just heard a story, only found in St Luke’s Gospel, that was written for people in the late first century for people who had never met Jesus in the flesh. People just like us. It describes how the Risen Jesus appeared to two people shortly after his crucifixion.
These two people have lost their faith – the person they believed to be the Messiah is dead, along with their hopes in him. ‘Their faces were downcast” is St Luke’s gentle description of their feelings.
On their journey back home from Jerusalem, they meet a stranger who walks along the road with them. Unprompted, it seems, he quizzes them about why they are feeling so low. Then two things happen: he takes them through texts in the Jewish Bible that predicted how the Messiah would be a Suffering Servant of God rather than the political or military saviour they expected; and as the evening closes in he has a meal with them. The upshot of this is they come to realise that the person they met and who broke bread with them was Jesus raised from the dead.
The ‘breaking of the bread’ was the title first century Christians gave to what we call Mass or the Eucharist. And the verbs used by St Luke to describe the actions of the stranger at the meal – he ‘took’ the bread, ‘said’ the blessing, ‘broke’ the bread and ‘gave’ it to them – were to explain that when people heard these same words being used at Mass, along with reading passages of the Bible that applied to Jesus, the same Lord who met those first disciples was present in the celebration of Mass.
There are three little details in this story that I find consoling at this time of pandemic and I wish to share with you in the hope you might find one or more of them helpful.
The first is that this stranger approached the two people while they were in despair. He took the initiative and approached them, not the other way around. He went to them not when everything was perfect in their lives but when they were at a low ebb. They had lost their faith and were rootless. Accepting them as they were, Jesus reached out to them. Does he not also reach out to us in the same way – not when we are at our best but our worst, when we need him most?
They second detail is that these two people – probably a husband and wife – were on a journey, a four miles long journey from Jerusalem back to their home village, Emmaus. On that journey they did not know at first that Jesus was walking with them. It can be the same with us. We can too easily forget that on our long journey of life when we feel alone, fearful or in trouble, the same Lord – unknown to us – is
The third little detail in the story, and the one I love the most, is that when the stranger was about to leave the two people – ‘he made as if to go on’. In response, the disciples ‘pressed him to stay with them’. ‘It’s nearly evening’, they said, ‘and the day’s almost over. So he went in to stay with them.’
When we are feeling lost or abandoned, like these two disciples, our hopes gone and we are anxious, worried and fearful, when we have lost our faith, that plea of the disciples to ‘Stay with us, Lord, for it is evening and the day is almost over’’ is one to make our own. It is a simple yet profound prayer straight from the heart. They said it when they were engulfed in darkness. When the evening or darkness of life is upon us – possibly for many of us during this time of lock-down ,and our hopes for the future, possibly, are ebbing away, here is a prayer for each one of us: “Stay with me, Lord; stay with me as you stayed with those disciples, for the night is closing in”. This is a prayer of resurrection and hope, a prayer to keep going despite how we may feel, or how we feel about God.
Holy Name, Jesmond
26 April 2020
For our human family, that God will help us to be liberated from the coronavirus pandemic, grow in our awareness of the needs of one another, and build trust and cooperation amongst all peoples.
For government leaders, that God will guide them in developing safe and prudent methods for the easing of the lock-down when the pandemic eases.
For all who serve in the NHS and Care Homes, that God will renew their strength, guide them in their work, and protect them and their families from harm.
For Kieran Corcoran and Linda Middleton all who are ill, and for all with Covid-19, that God’s healing love will relieve their pain, strengthen their minds and bodies, and restore them to health.
For all who have lost their jobs, those fearful of losing their employment, and those struggling to keep their businesses afloat, that God will help them to find the resources they need and new opportunities for the future.
For all of us in isolation or in quarantine, that the Lord may stay close to our side and renew us in fortitude and hope.
For Jan Browne, May Hannon O’Boyle, Margaret Totton and Sheila O’Mahony who have died, for their families, and for the families of all who have been killed by the coronavirus, that the Lord who wept at the death of his friend Lazarus may console them in their grief.