Third Sunday of Easter

30 apr 2017

9am & Choral Eucharist

Preacher: The Revd Rachel Young, Succentor

Readings: Acts 2. 14a, 36–41; 1 Peter 1. 17–23; Luke 24. 13–35


I wonder how many of us have witnessed something that has changed our life?

Of the various types of witness there are, an ‘eye-witness’ is someone who has obviously seen, heard, or touched something themselves and a ‘hearsay witness’ describes what somebody else has said, or done, or written. We could be either of these; and we can witness ‘to’ something – so that what we believe or hold to be true is witnessed by how we behave.

Of course, sometimes witnesses of crimes can end up being given witness protection by the police – a new name and identity, somewhere new to live, a new job – and literally their life changes.

I wonder how we would describe our own witness to the resurrection. Could we say that it has changed our lives?

In our gospel reading we hear the story of two contemporary eye-witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection, the two disciples who were walking to Emmaus on Easter Sunday evening.

Many have commented that this story can resonate with every Christian’s experience of their journey of faith; that we can identify some points of similarity between their experience and ours.

First, these disciples were at a low point in their lives.

They thought it was all over – their hopes for the Messiah and for the release of the Jewish nation from captivity by Rome were gone. Although their mood isn’t recorded specifically, they were certainly disappointed and not sure what to make of the reports from the women in their group who said they’d found the tomb empty.

And Jesus drew alongside them. For some reason, they didn’t recognise him, and they were asked by this stranger what had happened.  

Those of us who are familiar with listening skills will know that saying ‘Tell me about it’ is a good place to start. And so they told him; they said, ‘We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel’. They told him, and Jesus listened to them, apparently without interrupting.

We too don’t always recognize Jesus when he draws alongside us.
In those times when we are experiencing something incomprehensible or inexplicable, our grief or doubts cloud our horizons and we are perhaps tempted to blame God rather than turn to him.

Jesus draws alongside us; sometimes in the form of another person; sometimes, in some words we may read or hear; or perhaps in the form of a surprisingly persistent, quiet, spiritual presence.

And Jesus will listen to us. Whatever we have to ask him or tell him, we can have confidence that he will listen. Jesus’ patient listening and explanations to the two disciples on the Emmaus road led them to recognise that he’d been with them for the whole journey.

Secondly, the time and place when they did recognise Jesus was when they were eating together, in the breaking of bread.

Many people testify to knowing the presence of God, through the Holy Spirit, when they take Communion. This can, above all, be a place where we experience the presence of God; the elements of the Eucharist literally feed us and help to keep our faith alive. The Eucharist is one of the central channels of communication between God and the Church; and so for Christians it is important that we regularly bring ourselves to a place where we can receive Him through the bread and the wine.

And thirdly, how did they describe the point when they knew it was him?

‘Weren’t our hearts burning within us..?’

This is perhaps something that many of us will have experienced. A friend of mine once shared that she felt her ‘heart grow bigger’ as she worshipped God, and then apologised because she thought it sounded silly!

John Wesley, one of the founders of Methodism, experienced his ‘heart strangely warmed’ at his conversion.

And it can be our experience, that sometimes God by-passes our thought processes and hones in on our heart, the seat of our emotions. This can be unsettling, or disturbing, or delightful, depending on how familiar we each are with our feelings.

The experience of seeing Jesus and knowing he was alive so fired up those  two disciples that they walked all the way back to Jerusalem (probably about two hours walk) to tell the others about it. The disciples started sharing this news amongst themselves. More and more of them were seeing him, talking to him, even eating with him. Their witnessing led them to talk about it, as our witnessing can do, too.

But there is one more of their experiences that we too can share: they became hopeful. Their hope, which had disappeared at the crucifixion, returned. And we too can know hope, the Christian hope that is rooted in Jesus now being alive. Even in the worst of situations, perhaps especially in the worst of situations, we can know and live in hope.

We have seen how the experiences of the two disciples can resonate with our experiences. And although we can’t be eye witnesses, as they were, our own experiences can become our own witness to Jesus’ resurrection.
Each of us who call ourselves Christian has our own witness statement we could make;a statement which could help us live our life in all its fullness and tell otherswhat has happened.  In conclusion, then, we can be inspired by the story of the two disciples who walked to Emmaus with Jesus alongside.

We can be inspired to be witnesses who can testify to the experiences they had, by those we ourselves also experience, and our lives can become a witness to that which we believe to be true.

Being a witness to the resurrection can change our life:

  • We can know God with us, through the presence of his Holy Spirit, even in seemingly hard, hopeless situations.
  • We can know hope - hope in his promises, his love, and his presence with us.
  • And we can know our hearts burning within us, as the Holy Spirit propels us to live our lives as changed people.