Stay with us

Here’s the reading and reflection from today’s Communion service…

On that same day two of Jesus’ followers were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking to each other about all the things that had happened. As they talked and discussed, Jesus himself drew near and walked along with them; they saw him, but somehow did not recognize him. Jesus said to them, “What are you talking about to each other, as you walk along?”

They stood still, with sad faces. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only visitor in Jerusalem who doesn’t know the things that have been happening there these last few days?”

“What things?” he asked.

“The things that happened to Jesus of Nazareth,” they answered. “This man was a prophet and was considered by God and by all the people to be powerful in everything he said and did. Our chief priests and rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and he was crucified. And we had hoped that he would be the one who was going to set Israel free! Besides all that, this is now the third day since it happened. Some of the women of our group surprised us; they went at dawn to the tomb, but could not find his body. They came back saying they had seen a vision of angels who told them that he is alive. Some of our group went to the tomb and found it exactly as the women had said, but they did not see him.”

Then Jesus said to them, “How foolish you are, how slow you are to believe everything the prophets said! Was it not necessary for the Messiah to suffer these things and then to enter his glory?” And Jesus explained to them what was said about himself in all the Scriptures, beginning with the books of Moses and the writings of all the prophets.

As they came near the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther; but they held him back, saying, “Stay with us; the day is almost over and it is getting dark.” So he went in to stay with them. He sat down to eat with them, took the bread, and said the blessing; then he broke the bread and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight. They said to each other, “Wasn’t it like a fire burning in us when he talked to us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?”

There’s a story my family like to tell about me, with glee. One day we were down by the sea at St. Bee’s, on the Cumbrian Coast. We saw a guy arrive on foot with an enormous rucksack. “He must have been doing the Coast to Coast,” I said with great confidence. “Probably about to dip his feet in the water. We should really hive him a round of applause.” A little while later we went past him again, as he was laying out the paraglider he’d just got out from his rucksack…

So, I may have an occasional tendency to change off in the wrong direction – sometimes literally, sometimes just by jumping to the wrong conclusion – always with great confidence, despite my history…

The two disciples in our reading have made a reasonable assumption. They know that Jesus is dead – maybe they had seen it for themselves. Whatever their hopes had been, whatever their beliefs about him, they knew that it was over – now there was nothing more to do but turn their backs on Jerusalem and all the rest, and go home – propelled maybe by the nervous energy that sometimes comes with grief.

As they walk they talk over and over about what has happened, and what it all means. Perhaps we’ve been like that in the last few weeks – either talking else or just going round and round things in our heads. Jesus comes to them. He knows that in all sorts of ways they are going in the wrong direction. They really haven’t understood who he is or what has happened. They need to go back to be with the others to find out what is coming next. They need to turn around.

But Jesus doesn’t block their path and send them back. He comes alongside them, and  he begins, as he usually does, with a question… “What are you talking about to each other, as you walk along?” Tell me the story of these days, as you understand it. Maybe Jesus is coming alongside us just now, with the same question. What is happening for you, and inside you? Tell me the story, as you understand it.

We have a great need to tell our story, especially if it is a difficult and painful story. And if we are listening to with real attention – with love – that in itself can be an immensely healing thing for us.

So Jesus listens. But he doesn’t just leave them where they are. He wants to open their eyes to another way of seeing. He wants to show them how God has still been working, even in these terrible events. He wants to point them to other possibilities for the future. He has a yearning for them to understand, because he loves them.

There has been a lot of wondering about what we might be able to learn during this time of great disruption for some, and much greater difficulties for others. Times of sudden change and loss are sometimes thresholds to new ways of understanding. How might Jesus be calling us to change direction now? As individuals? As humankind?

The two disciples didn’t immediately respond – there must have been so much going on in their heads. But they had begun to feel something in their hearts – something like a burning fire – a spark of connection, and life, and energy, somewhere deep down inside them. The feeling we sometimes get when we allow God in through the broken places in us and sense something stirring that is both exciting and frightening.

Jesus doesn’t push his point. He makes to leave. He waits for an invitation. Stay with us, they say – perhaps not just concerned for him, but wanting this conversation to begin. So he stays, and they sit down for a meal. They do the ordinary things – but they are no longer ordinary, because now he is with them. And as he takes the bread, and blesses it, and breaks it and shares it, he reveals the presence of God just there, at their kitchen table, in the middle of their broken story. And in that moment they see him for who he is.

That can be our prayer too. Stay with us, Lord, and listen to all that is going on inside us. Stay with us, and make our hearts burn within us as we hear your deep call to us, and sense the possibility of growth and change. Stay with us – just stay with us in all of this – as we live from day today, doing the ordinary things as best we can, and help us see the presence of God even here – in our homes, in our messy lives, in the middle of it all.

We’re still trying to make sense of it all. So many changes. Such uncertainty about the future. And the incredibly hard things that many people are going through. Lord, you know how it makes us feel in the middle of the night. You know the questions that rock the foundations of our world. You know our longing to understand – to see a way forward.

In all of this, stay with us Lord.

We are shaken up, our lives are disrupted, and sometimes in this place we get a glimpse of something that needs to change – and a new possibility that might just emerge. Lord, help us to hear the words that come from you, and the intuitions and impulses too deep for words. May the fire of your Spirit burn in our hearts.

In all of this, stay with us Lord.

And as we do the ordinary things. As we get up each morning in this different world, and do the things that need doing, sit to eat, and set out to walk, and just carry on trying to live our lives, open our eyes to recognise your presence with us, Lord, right here in our homes, within every moment, just now in this time.

In all of this, stay with us Lord.

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