Easter 3 – 10 April 2005

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In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

The season of Easter is a great season. It’s a good season to be in touch with things that are happening. Things that have been called out because of Easter. I was just wondering last night, at it’s worst, at it’s very worst, Australia is a suburban land where most of the people spend their time watching reality TV shows and then endless re-runs of those shows. And yet in the last couple of day all of that has been displaced. You must have been aware that in the last couple of days all the regular TV programming has gone out of the window. It all went out the window on Friday and it all went out the window last night. Those endless re-runs and reality TV was replaced by something live. And what it was replaced with in both cases was church services, live church services. I just thought that was quite interesting. Being post Easter, one was about a funeral and one was about a marriage. There’s something about that that delights something within.

The readings today have that sense as well. There’s something in that reading from the Gospel, the road to Emmaus, that delights something within. It’s a post-Easter story. It’s so immediate after Easter. And yet it seems so modern. It seems so Anglican. Easter has just happened. And what to we actually get in the story – we get Cleopas and his friend going away from it, walking away from it. It’s finished, and off they go. It almost it the reverse of Palm Sunday. If you go back to the energy of Palm Sunday, what we did was we sought to orient ourselves toward Jerusalem . Today’s story is about walking away from Jerusalem . Easter is so easy to just leave behind. Perhaps the reason it was left behind, the reason that there wasn’t that staying with it, as it says in verse 16, “There eyes were kept from recognizing him” – they were there, they knew what happened, and yet, their eyes were kept from recognizing him, the “him” being the risen Lord.

When we talk about seeing and what our eyes enable us to do, there’s two things, I think, that they’re suggesting. One is understanding. We use our eyes so much in reading and looking in order to understand. As someone said, the eyes are also the windows to the heart. If our eyes fail to see, then maybe our heart fails to have that light shed upon it. And I thought, following Easter, it is very easy to try and find and make understanding out of it. And really Easter was about experience. Perhaps what we need to do is to look and the movement from experience to understanding. Rather than stepping aside from the experience, leaving it behind and talking about it on the way to Emmaus, I think what this story is about, it’s more about, it tells us that in the experience, that’s where out eyes will be opened. And I don’t think you can move from understanding to experience if you discover what Easter is all about and then think, Oh great, I can now step into the risen Lord. I don’t think it can work that way round at all. I think it’s got to go the other way around. And that’s why it’s so hard, because most if not all of us have got places in the heart that we so desperately seek to avoid. We don’t want to go there. It’s the place where we are damaged. It’s the place where our emotions give us away. And it’s also the place in which we were abused. All of that is in the heart. None of it is up here. We can rationalize it, we can work it all out, we can overcome it, we can avoid it.

And so we tend to stay away from that place of the heart. The readings that take us towards the Gospel, though are urging us to go there. In the reading from Acts, we heard that they were cut to the heart. In the reading from Peter: “Love one another deeply from the heart.” It’s the place where we can perhaps discover the experience of Easter. “Were not our hearts burning within in us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us…and the eyes were opened.”

We can go back and experience Easter from our heart. We did experience it. Whether we than avoided it and turned away from it and took off to Emmaus to leave Jerusalem behind is another question. But even those as they walk, they took the experience with them. And when the meal was shared and bread was broken, they actually were able to back in touch with that burning in their heart. They stayed there. And the result of that was that they turned around that same hour and went back to Jerusalem . They went back to Easter.

So what do we do with Easter? Will we try to open our eyes by understanding it? Or will we dare to allow our experience, our feelings speak to us and from there move towards understanding. We might begin by just asking ourselves – re-read the story and see where that story as an experience holds you. How easy is it to relate to the directions and the movement in the story? Is there a sense that, yes, I have walked away from it, I’m getting on with it? Or is there a sense that Easter is still an encounter that you hold and that is working with you just as you work with it? You can’t help as you go through that story to end up as we put ourselves in it, with a picture of church, of community. There’s a lot of other things in there – the Christ figure happens to be a stranger. He’s not the one you know and love. She’s not the one you know and love. The Christ figure is the stranger. Sometimes if you’re walking down the road with someone and you’re deep in conversation and there’s an interruption – I hate those interruptions, they’re annoying! And yet, how many of those interruptions carry something of life to us when we do allow them to come in? Who are the strangers that I shut out? What is my experience in terms of community? This community and every other community that you’re a part of? Are you walking away from them, trying to understand? Doing that lovely spiritual thing where the rest of the world looks crap so I’ll just go and become holy myself. Is that the walk? Is that the walk away from Jerusalem, where it all looks a bit messy, the tomb’s empty, the body’s gone and everyone’s a bit scared, so come on, we’ll just go our own way. Or do I find myself still walking toward Jerusalem ? Is that desire still there? When I do sit down and break bread with others what do I see? What is revealed to me? If I don’t sit down and break bread with others, why have I chosen to walk that path? If I don’t sit down and break bread with others will my eyes ever be opened? Do I chose darkness?

It’s a lovely movement in that story. They did walk away, and they stopped and there’s a dialogue. Then they ate and they actually in eating had to encourage the stranger to stay. And then they turned around and went back to Easter rather than away from it.

I think the starting point for all of that is in the heart. I think the opening and shutting of the eyes that we read about today are the eyes that will bring light into our hearts, not the eyes that will enable us to read books and discover that, well, there’s debate about where Emmaus was and you see that Cleopas was actually a relative of Jesus. None of that is going to help, I don’t think. There’s light in all of that, but only when we first of all grasped it with our hearts. That means the fear of going into where your heart is, that place that holds all those past experiences of Easter. The humiliation of the past, the pain and damage of the past, the broken things of the past.

The way that Peter puts it is, now that you have purified your souls by the obedience to the truth, so that you have genuine mutual love, love another deeply from the heart. The purifying of our souls by the obedience to the truth in modern terms is, get off the bus of avoidance that is going to Emmaus. Get off the bus of denial that is going to Emmaus. Stay. Stop. Stay. Break bread. Allow the experience, the truth of your heart, to be revealed. For from that place, genuine mutual love is born. For those that need a translation: genuine mutual love isn’t Anglican “Oh, isn’t that nice” type love. It’s not “love everybody because you’re suppose to love”. It’s not, “Oh, I have to look good and be good” type love. It’s quite different. It’s genuine mutual love. You can actually be grotty and have genuine mutual love. You can look quite daggy and have it as well.

It’s the part of you and the part of each of us – and it’s there, the good news is – otherwise, Easter would have been unnecessary and also it’d make no sense. If it wasn’t there – it is there. It’s just the eyes that need to be open to find it. It’s there and we probably, there would be very few who haven’t experienced it. Albeit, my guess is that most of us have only glimpsed it. We’ve had momentary experiences of genuine mutual love that enables us to freely love all. You know those moments, there’s a look of bewilderment, the moments are there. We just need to sit and be still and go back and reclaim them and find them. But if we look forward, with that purified soul, and if we can turn around and bring ourselves back to Jerusalem, through the experience of Easter, through the experience of our life, then that is to be revealed in us. An opportunity. A promise for you and for your children, and for all. Even for those who are far away.

I want to finish with a prayer, it’s prayer of St Anselm’s. And it’s so is a prayer that comes out of the energy of the Gospel reading that we’ve had:

Lord Jesus Christ, let me seek you by desiring you and let me desire you by seeking you. Let me find you by loving you and love you in finding you. I confess, Lord, with thanksgiving, that you have made me in your image so that I can remember you, think of you and love you. But that image is so worn and blotted out by faults and darkened by the smoke of sin, that it cannot do that for which it was made unless you renew and refashion it. Lord, I am not trying to make my way to your height, for my understanding is in no way equal to that. But I do desire to understand a little of your truth, which my heart already believes and loves. I do not seek to understand so that I can believe, but I believe so that I may understand. And what is more, I believe that unless I do believe, I shall not understand. Amen.