Luke’s story of what happened on the Road to Emmaus [S.Luke 24: 13-55 the gospel for the 3rd Sunday of Easter] means more to me than any other biblical passage. So much so that I have asked for it to be read at my funeral – if I am allowed one! And it was the gospel proclaimed at my induction in Peckham in London when I was made so very welcome as their parish priest (I love cake!).
What exactly captures my spiritual imagination in that passage? Why does it speak to me? Why does it sum up the essence and source of my faith? Well first of all it is about a journey and at times like this it is quite natural to look back and reflect on our own journey of faith, be it short or long, rocky or smooth, lonely or surrounded by companions – or more likely a little bit of all of those! That’s why it has always seemed such a good gospel passage for those liminal moments when we are betwixt and between. Moving, a new job, a new relationship; the end of one thing and (nearly!) the start of another…
It reminds us we are always ‘on our way’. Going away from something that is past – as those frightened disciples were scuttling away from Jerusalem. But also towards something, the house at Emmaus, where they perhaps hoped to hide and lick their disappointed wounds. But it was not to be! And that’s the other great thing – you don’t know what is going to happen, or what it is going to be like, until you get there (how like birth, death and heaven!). In a sense that is what Faith is, or should be: trust that with and in God it will be OK (whatever you may feel to the contrary).
The first part of the Emmaus journey sums up my life so well: study, reading, thinking, books … but no real understanding. Time and again I needed God’s guidance to light that fire within me (as of course I still do!). At 14, at 18 and then (long gap as I wasn’t listening much) again at 40. At crucial and liminal moments something burned within me as the scriptures were broken open and I yearned for meaning. ‘What’s it all about, Alfie?’ I cried.
I wonder if that thought has crossed your mind in the wee small hours these last few weeks? But of course it is not that journey of listening and learning in itself that brings revelation; that opens the eyes. That only happens in ‘the breaking of bread’. That moment of recognition, of revelation, is more powerful than all the learning and all the texts old and new, even those that He guides us through. Yes, (thankfully) Faith is not in the head or on the page – it is in the Emmaus room of the heart: in the deepest fabric of our being
Recognition becomes an act of thankfulness, of Eucharist [eucharistein]. In the physical action of breaking bread — not even bread as such, worthy and essential staple of life though it might be — but in bread broken in the hands of the Lord we are joined to the mystery of faith. Jesus asks us to repeat this action ‘until He comes’. And through our participation in that act, His act, an act shared with the many thousands and thousands, living and departed, who stand around the holy table with Him, my faith is truly born, born again, nourished and completed.
If you don’t know this wonderful passage from my fellow monk of Nashdom Abbey’s book about the development of the liturgy of the Eucharist, you can read it here (You won’t regret it!)
Purple prose that passage may be. But for me it weaves the historical thread that takes me directly (and, as it were, again, afresh, ‘today’) back to that first Easter experience in the house at Emmaus, which is the well-spring of my faith. It marks the start and constant anchor of my faith journey, shared with many, many others – pilgrims and searchers all down the centuries. When Christ, in the words of Gerald Manley Hopkins, ‘easters’ in those who truly open their eyes and are illuminated by Him.
And so —