Sunday 3rd April 2016
The Second Sunday of Easter
Holy Trinity, Cuckfield
BCP Evensong
Luke 24.13-35

Christ is Risen:

Hindsight is a wonderful comfort which is often reinforced by our almost limitless ability to re-write the past; retrospective justification and the altering of history to suit our purposes might be frowned upon by purists but they are both necessary for our survival. If we were as sharply aware today of a bad act as we were the moment after we committed it, our brains would be crowded to overflowing with what we had done wrong. In a literal, rather than a metaphorical sense, time really does heal. But it also has the much more creative effect of giving a shape, an architecture, to our enterprises much more satisfying than the jumble we create every day.

Thus, Saint Paul writing about the events of the days after the Resurrection in 1 Corinthians 11, adopts a theological calm, peppered with the relevant factual, eyewitness information, about events which changed the world. Paul was in absolutely no doubt what happened on Easter day and for some weeks afterwards; he had the testimony, he had the witnesses and he had the post Pentecostal perception of how to understand these events in a theological and salvific context.

Not so the mournful couple who set out on Sunday morning, the first day of the Jewish week, from bloodied Jerusalem towards their home in Emmaus. There they were, trudging along, despondently going over the events of Good Friday yet again, the story of betrayal, cowardice, torture and death; the story of a glorious enterprise failed; the story of Jesus, yet another rebel against the establishment, getting his come-uppance; the story of Priestly cunning and Roman brutality; the story which encapsulated within it all the worst of individual, political and religious behaviour. And, just before leaving, they had heard that the body had gone missing, a profoundly distressing circumstance which prevented proper closure, perhaps compensated for, or perhaps complicated by, the appearance of angels who said that Jesus was alive. We have 2000 years of Resurrection consciousness; they had none.

And then these two despondents were joined by a stranger who soon got himself into the conversation and, after hearing their side of the story, proceeded, in a most remarkable way, to put a very different interpretation on events. Starting with Moses, the stranger went through "all of Scripture" explaining the origins and then the fulfilment of the Messianic promise. And then, when they were approaching the village of Emmaus, conscious that there was nothing to eat in the house after their absence, they must have gone to buy basic supplies once they had asked the stranger to eat with them. And then, when they sat down to eat, the stranger broke bread and gave it to them; and they recognised him in the breaking of the bread before he disappeared.

Consciously or not - it's impossible to say - what happens in this passage of Luke is what happens every time the Eucharist is celebrated. We begin with The Word of Scripture and we then proceed with the breaking and the distribution of the bread; and then we, hopefully, go out with joy to tell what has happened. Thus, the momentous days, beginning on Palm Sunday, encompassing the death and Resurrection of Jesus, end with a Eucharistic celebration.

And it seems to me, because of this way which Luke has of telling the story, that we need to think about Word and Sacrament in the context of the Resurrection.

Thinking first about Scripture, of course it is necessary to understand, literally, what the text says; you can't draw any conclusions from a text without understanding its literal meaning first, but we must go much further in our exploration because Scripture isn't like a physics textbook that gives us all proven answers, it is a living, Spirit-breathing treasury which asks us questions, not only about our faith but about ourselves, it poses problems, it surprises us, it makes us enter into dialogue with ourselves and with God; or, at least, it should do that if we leave ourselves open to it. In this respect the Reformation shift from clerical monopoly to personal commitment in interpreting the Scriptures is appropriate for a witnessing people as long as we apply ourselves honestly and leave ourselves open to the Spirit. One of our problems today is that we have great difficulties combining intellectual rigour with emotional openness.

As to our understanding of the Eucharist, we have spent far too long arguing about the mechanics, arguing about how Jesus is with us in the Sacrament. Every time I mention the true presence of Jesus in the Eucharist I always get the standard response that so-and-so does not believe in transubstantiation to which my reply is that I don't either but, I add, perhaps a little mischievously, at least I know what it is! But we are not faced with a choice between believing that the Eucharist is either a two-dimensional re-enactment, like children in a history play or, on the other hand, a transformation of bread and wine into the flesh and blood of Jesus himself performed by a specially reserved person called a priest. Come on now, the Holy Spirit isn't daft enough to confine us to these two highly contrasting choices. In a mysterious way which we can, necessarily, never fully understand, the Holy Spirit enables Jesus to be with us in a very special way which transcends the generality that God is everywhere. In re-living Jesus' last meal before he died we, as the body of Christ, are fed. There have been arguments almost since the beginning of the Church, about the role of the President at the Eucharist, initially breaking the bread and later undertaking a ritual known as Consecration, but the most important thing to remember is that our nourishment in Jesus is empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Every Sunday at least, we are like the travellers on the road, hearing the Word and taking part in the Sacrament; and surely these activities will be given greater richness if we remember that they took place on the very day of the Resurrection.

Christ is risen!