Next week I will begin Confirmation Classes and I intend, God willing, to make the subjects of the classes the subjects of my sermons week by week. I am doing this because we all need a refresher course in our faith from time to time.
Actually, that’s not really accurate. I’ll say it again. We need to be reminded, every moment of every day, what our Christian faith is, and what it means in our lives. This is what church is about and why we come to church. When anyone asks you why you go to church you can say, “I go to church to be reminded what it means to be a Christian and to help me make my faith real in my life.”
And if they ask for more, you could say, “The grace of God, given to me in word, sacrament and the community of the church, gives me the strength and power to love God with all my heart and soul and mind and strength and to love my neighbours as I love myself.”
St Luke wrote his gospel so that his friend Theophilus would understand the Christian faith. It is a teaching gospel and today’s passage, the Road to Emmaus, was recorded to show us how to learn to be Christians. This absolutely Biblical approach is the foundation of our Anglican tradition.
First of all, faith is a journey, just like salvation. In this life we will never know and understand everything, but we are going from Jerusalem, the place of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, to Emmaus, an ordinary village like any other place in the world, such as Enmore.
There were two of them travelling, for from the beginning of time, God said, “It is not good for humans to be alone.” There’s no such thing as a solitary Christian, you can’t love your neighbours if you never speak to them. Jesus is always with us, of course, but we must have companions like ourselves. The two on the road were talking and discussing the things that had happened in Jerusalem. We must have someone to talk to about our faith and to discuss with what our faith means.
Now those two needed a teacher, someone to help them understand, someone to begin with Moses and all the prophets, to interpret to them the things about Jesus in all the scriptures.
The two disciples knew their Scriptures, which would have meant Moses and the prophets. The gospels had not yet been written and St Paul had not yet started on his journey of faith to Damascus and beyond. The point is that those two knew the traditions of their faith very well. They were expecting a Messiah, they had hoped that Jesus was the one to redeem Israel. They knew the events of the crucifixion and resurrection, but they needed someone to interpret those events. They needed someone to open the scriptures.
One their journey they came to the village to which they were going and they begged the mysterious stranger to stay with them for the night. Why? Well, hospitality is a sacred duty. Jesus himself taught that when we welcome strangers we welcome Christ himself. Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because the people wanted to abuse and humiliate their guests. To accept and welcome strangers is a good way to make new friends and to build community. Simple.
And they shared a meal. Everyone needs to eat and drink, even if it’s a crust of bread and a cup of water. Jesus said that a cup of water, given in love, will bring a blessing on the giver. Indeed, it will bless the receiver as well.
Now we come to the point of the story. “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.”
They knew him in the breaking of the bread. “To break bread together” is another way of saying, “they shared a meal.” There are few things as comfortable or pleasant as sharing a meal with guests. When we eating and drink together we are equal. We are all simply human. Good or bad, rich or poor, Jew or Greek, male or female, all are equal in their need to eat and drink. Whatever our sexuality or marital status, our beliefs or the colour of our skin or the language we speak, sharing food and drink brings us together. Abuse of hospitality, by the guest or by the host is the most fearsome of sins.
When we are sharing a meal, we are at our most human, we are vulnerable, we are relaxed and open to each other.
And this is the point of the story when the two disciples recognised Jesus. He vanished from their sight. This was not to abandon them, but to say, yes, you’ve got it right, my work here is done.
And that same hour, in the dark, they got up and returned to Jerusalem to share the good news. The others knew about Christ’s resurrection and his appearance to Simon, but the disciples from Emmaus told them how to live as companions of the living Christ.
And this is what the church teaches us. We are companions on our journey. We break bread together. In the bread of communion we know the risen Lord, we are given a foretaste of the joys of heaven and we are taught to share all our food with glad and generous hearts, here and at home and in the homes of friends and strangers. This is how we make Christ known.