Sub Dean Canon Michael Rawson
A few years ago there was an television advert
A few years a go there was an television advert. In the first scene a young skinhead was seen running around a corner with a group of startled and fearful people watching him. In the second frame he was roughly shoving an elderly woman off the pavement. It was clear he was attacking her, pushing her off balance to grab her bag or worse. The third and final scene panned out to show the whole scene in context: the youth was pushing the woman out of the path of some masonry falling directly above her from the building overlooking the street.
With a shock it suddenly becomes clear that the woman's life was in danger, but not from the young man. Indeed, instead of being a threat, the youth is saving her life. Given the whole context of the situation, our perception of the story changes completely.
The same thing can happen for all of us when our viewpoint of what is happening or what has happened is forced to change because we receive new information.
In today’s gospel Jesus speaks with two very dispirited people. They cannot believe what has happened. They talk about their disappointment and disbelief as all their hopes have been destroyed. They believed that Jesus was the Messiah, the one who was to save Israel. The faith they had put in him had been enormous. Though tentative at the outset, they had gradually put their whole hearts into following him. And then it had all become just too difficult and they had deserted him at the foot of the cross. He had turned out to be a nobody, a powerless man like them who had suffered a painful and shameful death. They may have been kicking themselves for having been so stupid to have been taken in by this man Jesus. But above all they were devastated, desperately sad and without hope. They thought they had found something wonderful but as they grasped it so it had crumbled to dust in their hands.
Into this scene comes Jesus, meeting them in their need. He goes through the scriptures, showing them how his death fulfills the promises and prophecies. Jesus puts his death in a new context for them, he gives it meaning, and shows it to be the culmination of his act of redemption, not a failure. And as their eyes are opened they recognise him - they see him truly as he is. Hope had not gone, far from it. Now they could begin to see the real context, the total picture, in which everything looks different.
Reading the Emmaus story in our own context today has been an eye opener for me. Every day we’re told to stay at home and yet here are the disciples out and about on a journey. Keep your distance we are advised, and yet Jesus draws near to his two followers. The disciples recognise Jesus in the breaking of bread, whilst most of us are prevented from receiving the Bread of Life.
I wonder if the story has a different meaning for you this year, under the shadow of Coronavirus? Where do you see yourself in the story? Has the bigger picture changed for you?
Paradoxically, whilst this is a pandemic affecting the whole world, it does feel like our world has shrunk enormously. For many it’s not much larger than the room where you are sharing this worship. We are used to Cathedral life and worship centred on the celebration of the Eucharist and receiving the bread of life. So how do we find Jesus today?
Not being able to receive Jesus the Bread of Life is a real privation for so many of us, as is the prohibition on making our journey through life, together.
And yet like those first disciples, we encounter Jesus today in our need. He comes near to us in our isolation, our fears and our hopes, bringing a message of life and peace in which God makes all things new. These days will eventually pass but in the meantime may we expand our vision of God’s love for each of us and for the whole of creation and may our hearts long for the coming of God’s kingdom.