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Readings: 3rd Sunday of Easter

25 April 2014


[Zephaniah 3.14-end;] Acts 2.14a,36-41; 1 Peter 1.17-23; Luke 24.13-35

Almighty Father, who in your great mercy gladdened the disciples with the sight of the risen Lord: give us such knowledge of his presence with us, that we may be strengthened and sustained by his risen life and serve you continually in righteousness and truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

SOMETIMES we can risk being vulnerable with other people, if we are not looking at them, but just keeping company with them. While working for a few months as a hospital chaplain in the United States, I visited a patient who was curt with everyone, and upset most of the nurses. She was not sure what to make of a chaplain with a British accent, especially when, somehow, I ended up teaching her to knit.

I discovered that, as I sat alongside her, sorting things out when her knitting went a bit awry, she started to talk. As her scarf grew, some of her story crept out. When we said a final goodbye, she was surprised to find that she had not only knitted most of a scarf, but had expressed things that she had never before articulated, and that her anger was gradually being defused. The nurses noticed the change.

So I can understand how these two disciples started to talk, as they trudged home from Jerusalem, after the extraordinary events about which even strangers in the city knew. We do not know how much they knew, except that they heard from people who had gone to the tomb, and heard also that the Apostles did not believe the women's story.

How things had changed by the time Peter spoke so boldly to the crowds about God's making the crucified Jesus the Lord and Messiah, or when the epistle was written, with its absolute assurance that God raised Christ from the dead.

But that was later; this was still the third day after the crucifixion, with its horrific memories of Jesus's suffering, and now the wild rumours. Walking side by side probably freed these disciples to express their doubts and confusion.

When Jesus joined them, he specifically referred to their walking, and then Luke records that they stood still. We can imagine it happening: the stopping, turning, and raising their heads to look at him. Here was eye contact; sad eye contact.

The rhythm of walking broken, they did not answer the question directly, but asked one back of him, and resumed their discussion only when he pressed again. He coaxed their doubts and fears out of them, and gradually their confusion and grief poured out in a torrent of words.

Ultimately, "We had hoped . . ." said it all. Somehow, we are miles away from the collect's assurance that the disciples were gladdened with the sight of the risen Lord.

Yet that changed, not as a result of what Jesus said, but of what he did - actions spoke louder than words. Incidentally, this is another indication that there were more than just the 12 disciples at the Last Supper: these two recognised Jesus's actions of four days earlier. Once their eyes had been opened, Jesus promptly vanished. Again, they were left to make sense of the inexplicable but, this time, on the basis of their own extraordinary experience.

In Luke's account, this was the first encounter with the risen Jesus because, until now, although his body was evidently missing, only angels had been seen. By that evening, Peter, too, had had a similar encounter, and the rest knew about it. The collect's petition for such knowledge of his presence with us as will strengthen and sustain us for continual service was being answered for them, and will be for us.

In the breaking of the bread
we recognise you,
As you take the bread and bless
and break and give;
In the wine poured out
and shared we know forgiveness,
By your body and your blood,
O Lord, we live.

In our pain and in our grief
you walk beside us
Staying with us as we voice
our deepest fear.
As the darkness falls around us, Lord, stay with us,
Still the doubts that rise,
speak peace we need to hear.

In the opening of scripture, Lord,
we know you;
As you speak the words of life
our hearts are stirred,
In the truth revealed
we understand God's purpose:
To our slow and doubting hearts,
Lord, speak your word.

In the gathering of your people
come among us,
You are risen indeed,
we know that to be true.
Break the bread and bless
the wine and feed your people,
Through your Holy Spirit's
power our lives renew.

© 1988 Rosalind Brown



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