Can you remember how you heard that the late Queen Elizabeth had died? Did someone tell you the news? Nowadays we rely on the media for such things, but word of mouth is still extremely important: we want to share news with others, so that they can both know and understand what has happened.

Today’s Gospel reading presents us with such a situation. Two disciples of Jesus are walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus and are discussing the events of the past few days. As they walk along the road, a stranger asks them what they are talking about. They explain:

“Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” (Lk 24: 19-24)

These few verses encapsulate the story of Jesus’ Passion, Death, and Resurrection. They are familiar to us, but it is possible to imagine that for the people experiencing these events quite how strange they would have been. The disciples hoped that Jesus was ‘the one to redeem Israel’ (Lk 24:21), They hoped that Our Lord was the Messiah. Jesus listens to them and then explains what had happened by showing them how the events they have described were foretold in Scripture. 

When the Church reads the Old Testament it does so in a particular way. There are prophecies of suffering and death, which are understood as pointing to Jesus. Thus, on Good Friday, we read the following phrases in Isaiah as prefiguring the Passion:

he bore the sin of many’ ‘with his stripes we are healed’ ‘He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is lead to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth.’ ‘he makes himself an offering for sin’. (Isa 53:12, 5, 7, 10)

They point to Christ, they find their fulfilment and truest meaning in Him, who is the Way and the Truth. As Our Lord says,

Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ (Lk 24:26)

In other words through Our Lord’s suffering, and death, and resurrection we behold God’s glory, the glory of the divine life of love, poured out on the world to heal it and to save it. We see both what God is and how He loves us, to the extent of giving His only Son to die for us, to heal the wound of sin, to restore our humanity, so that we may share eternal life with Him. As a foretaste of this heavenly joy Jesus takes bread, blesses it, and gives it to them. Christ, who as both priest and victim offered Himself upon the altar of the Cross, as a willing, spotless pure and sinless victim, now feeds His people with himself so that they may share His risen life — so that they may be given a foretaste of the heavenly glory and the divine life of love. That is why we day by day and week by week we too come to be fed by Him, so that we too may share, having first heard the Scriptures explained to us.

On Good Friday we read from Chapters 52-53 of the Prophet Isaiah which tells how the Suffering Servant will be mistreated, suffer and die, taking the sins of the people upon Himself. Along with this the story of Abraham and Isaac in Genesis, various verses in the Psalms, and the prophecies of Ezekiel and Jeremiah are the main texts that the Church has used to make sense of Our Lord’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection. 

The journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus is seven miles, long enough for such an extended examination of Scripture. As they approach the village the disciples invite the stranger to stay with them. They offer hospitality, which Jesus accepts. 

When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight.’ (Lk 24:30-31)

What Luke describes looks to us very much like a Eucharist, and it has been preceded by the reading and explanation of Scripture, just as we continue to do. We should not be surprised by this, as for nearly two thousand years this has been what the Church is for: explaining, giving thanks, and sharing our experience of the Risen Lord. 

Cleopas and his companion experience the reality of the Resurrection, and once they have walked back to Jerusalem, they share what happened with the Apostles. In a similar way, the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles shares testimony regarding Jesus’ Rising from the dead. It is taken from Luke’s account of Peter’s sermon on Pentecost. At its core is a discussion of verses from the Psalms which point to the reality of the Resurrection as something which is foretold in Scripture. The same understanding underlies the second reading from the First Letter of Peter. For a hundred thousand successive Sundays, Christians have celebrated the Eucharist together because Jesus told us to do this. Today is the day when Christ rose from the dead. Every Sunday is something of a mini Easter, because Christians gather to celebrate Jesus’ Resurrection, just like the disciples in the Gospel passage.

We take our time over our celebration of Easter to allow the reality of what we commemorate to sink in. Something this wonderful, this world-changing, needs to be pondered, and shared, which is why we have gathered today. We do what the disciples did. We are filled with joy at Our Lord’s Resurrection from the dead. Through it we are changed, transformed, and filled with love, and empowered to change the world, so that it may be filled with God’s love. We share the Good News, so that the joy of Easter may be a reality in the lives of others, and they may join us in singing the praises of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. To whom be ascribed all, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen.

Pilgrims of Emmaus on the Road – James Tissot (Brooklyn Museum)

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