A few years ago now, Haselbury school used to do a pilgrimage – the whole school starting at Haselbury Church, walking through the apple orchards and finishing at St Martins where we would have a drink, a guided tour, a song and a prayer before heading back across the fields. It was always around this time of year and with the Orchards bursting with blossom, it was incredibly beautiful. One time I was standing with a parent in the Church while the children were drawing; he was looking at one of the carved panels that depicts the encounter of Mary with the angel at the tomb and he asked me ‘where did the resurrection take place?’ Perfectly reasonable question but one I couldn’t answer in the way he wanted – that if the resurrection was an event, then it must have happened at a particular time and place. Like the day Liverpool beat Milan in the Champions league final in 2005. I wonder how you would have answered him?
Putting aside for the moment that there is no single telling of the resurrection event in the four Gospels, I wonder if that is the point? If the resurrection was just a one-off event, then interesting as it may be, it is hard to see why it would make much difference to us today and therein lies the challenge we face in living and telling the story of our faith – to tell in a way that fires up ourselves and others that what we celebrate at Easter (or Christmas or Pentecost or every Sunday as we gather around a table and celebrate Holy Communion) are not just events long ago, but rather testimonies of how God’s insistence bursts into our lives and our world in the most surprising ways. Not in ways necessarily safe, reassuring, or spectacular but always transforming. And remember God doesn’t impose; rather God insists. Just like love.
Let’s look at today’s Gospel – the story of the two disciples travelling on the road to Emmaus; if you ask where is Emmaus, it would be hard to give a concrete answer, as there are at least 4 places with the name Emmaus. The place is not important – Emmaus can be anywhere; it is not a shrine but rather an example of an event that can and does happen everywhere.
Two disciples are on the road on the very day that the women had been to the tomb to discover it empty – so this is an Easter story. They were leaving the city and they were sad with their hopes dashed. Maybe too they were afraid given the events that they had all seen. As they are talking together, they are joined by a third person, Jesus. We know that it is Jesus but they do not as they do not recognise him. He asks them what has happened. He, who has been betrayed, abandoned, tortured, killed by crucifixion, asks ‘what are you discussing’? They tell him, of everything of the events around Jesus of Nazareth, of his trial and crucifixion; even of how the women had been to the tomb and found it empty and of their vision of angels who said that he was alive.
Jesus listened and heard them say how ‘we had hoped’. Those are words that we can all recognise; we had hoped for that better job; we had hoped that an illness would get better; we hoped that a relationship would get better…..we all know times when things do not turn out in the way we had hoped and we feel at the very end of our tether. How hard it is to recognise the presence of Christ with us in those times, when God seems so absent.
The stranger (Jesus) begins to reply and tells them of all that has happened and of how it had to unfold in the way it did according to the Scriptures. There is no great clamour of angels, no effort at vindication; no finger pointing or putting down, as the two disciples are led into a deep understanding of what had happened. Maybe we wish they had taken notes so we would all be the wiser – but then we would be discussing the texts, what they had recorded, whereas what is key is the presence of Jesus with them which helped them understand and quite literally change direction
and head back to their friends in the city with a song in their hearts and a spring in their step. We all know that feeling too; times when our hearts burned.
Christ helps them understand how God works through history and through him, through suffering and glory; through death and resurrection; all so much more than the very human tragedy from which they were running. So their hearts burned as the scriptures were revealed to them and at the moment of recognition when the stranger, now guest, broke bread in their presence at the end of the journey. Despair transformed to hope once more and they returned to share all they had experienced with their friends. No angels, no great dramatic scene, but the quiet voice of Christ, ever present, ever insistent, illuminating and transforming through small things like breaking bread and sharing a meal.
Back to the question ‘where did the resurrection happen’? The resurrection is happening, here now, in you and me, in the beauty of the orchards and in the acts of love and friendship between people in these times. Keep walking, keep honouring the stranger, open your heart look out and listen for Christ in Scripture and in silence and in prayer and invite him to stay a while with you; let God’s insistence transform your despair into joy, your fears into hopes.
Revd Jonathan Morris