Meeting God on the way 

                                       ©Suzanne Grimmett

Easter 3

Acts 2.14a, 36-41

Psalm 116.1–4; 116.11–18

1 Peter 1.13-25

Luke 24.13–35

Early this morning I met a child
on her way to school.
Dragging her feet,
huddled against
March’s liony wind,
she gave me a smile,
but I was too busy
looking for you
to really notice.

At noon,
as I was walking home for lunch,
I met a neighbour
trailing his dog;
he nodded
and asked how I was,
but in my rush to get to the house
to see if you were waiting,
I had no time for a chat.

my wife tiptoed
into the quiet of my den,
bringing me a cup of tea and
kissing me softly on the cheek
before slipping out,
but I was too busy
searching the Bible
to really notice.

                                                                Thom M. Shuman, in Fire and Bread by Ruth Burgess

Where do you expect to meet God? And what do you expect God to look like? Be like?  It is common to latch on to those moments we have felt close to God and think, there! I have found God…and then we think we know where to look in all our days. Perhaps we have located an understanding of God in one particular part of scripture, or one church practice. And we think, yes…that captures the essence of God!

This is one of the reasons why I think it is powerful to set aside the time in our lives to travel through all the offerings of Holy Week and Easter together- that we may live again the whole story from Palm Sunday to Easter Day. It is a ritual that keeps reminding us that we are a pilgrim people and that it is in attentiveness to the movement and to presence that we encounter Jesus.

We have today a very famous narrative offering from Luke’s Gospel that is all about movement and presence. Here we have two companions walking and talking, as companions do who have gone through a terrible grief or trauma. In their sadness their feet are taking them away from Jerusalem. The whole of Luke’s Gospel seems to be a journey towards the spiritual heartland of Jerusalem – the place of crucifixion, but also of a victory that had nothing to do with the worldly powers of empire. It is hard to be certain what these two had expected of Jesus’ movement, but maybe it was the overthrow of Rome and the politic liberation from their overlords. Whatever they expected, the hopes of this pair had been dashed, and they have turned their back on Jerusalem to head to what was likely a centre of Roman power. How often, when are hopes are dashed, do we tell ourselves it is more realistic to accept things the way they are?

“We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”

We had hoped. Surely some of the most poignant lines in scripture because we can relate to them. Think of your most cherished hopes and how they have not been realised, and it is easy to find some empathy for this pair as they resolutely turn their backs on Jerusalem and trudge along the road. 

Sometimes, when we have it clear in our head what the object of our hope would look like and how that most desired wish would manifest, our fixation can lead us to miss some greater life that is being offered. I would argue that hope that has a specific object in view is not really hope at all.  True hope is found not in fixed objects but in the love and possibility of a relational universe. These travellers do not recognise Jesus as he walked alongside them…so absorbed were they in the crashing of their idealised redemption. When we are gazing on a fixed objective, we can miss the dynamic Spirit of God who is with us, but also beyond us. Something has occurred and is occurring in that very moment that is beyond the traveller’s capacity to imagine, and so they are blind.

How tantalising to hear in the story that Jesus, beginning with Moses and all the prophets “interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures” and yet not to hear the words themselves. The only thing we know is what our travellers said later, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”

I wonder if you have ever experienced anything like that? I suspect John Wesley did, famous as he is for the phrase, “I felt my heart strangely warmed.” Have you ever had that sense of presence and perhaps joy without being able to necessarily put into words what is happening? These travellers still did not recognise Jesus but this warmth in their hearts prompted them to beg their travelling teacher to stay with them.

Abide with me. It is the invitation of love. It is also what the risen Christ will always respond to- an invitation to stay with us in relationship. In the story the risen Jesus was walking ahead but turns back to stay and eat with them. And when do they finally recognise him? In the breaking of the bread.

It is correct to say that this breaking of the bread was part of a meal. We can rightly point to the presence of God in table hospitality, but if we only see that, we are missing the specific action that is clear in Luke’s Gospel and the earliest Christian traditions of the breaking of a bread. ‘A bread’ may be bad English, but it makes perfect sense in a Middle-Eastern context where a whole baked flatbread is broken and distributed.[1]  A bread broken and shared by Jesus is what we hear in Luke’s Gospel in the feeding of the five thousand, the meal in the upper room before the fateful events of Good Friday and here, in this meal shared by two travelling companions on the way.

When we do this ritual blessing, breaking and sharing of bread, we are remembering Jesus, the forgiving victim, and the self-giving love which in its freely offered sacrifice, creates life. In that moment we cannot only see God, but are empowered to be God in the giving and sharing of our lives. In remembering Jesus in the Eucharist, Brian McLaren says we are re-membering and resurrecting Jesus in our hearts, our bodies and our lives, his body and blood reunited in us so that we become his new embodiment.[2]

I began by asking where you expect to meet God. The poem I read described the journey of (probably) the poet, preoccupied as he looks for God. He first meets a child and misses the chance to share a smile. Then he passes a neighbour and is too busy trying to get to God that he does not hear the care and invitation being offered. Finally, his own wife, careful of his need to concentrate, offers the warmth of a kiss and a hot cup of tea, but in searching for God in the Bible, he did not even notice. Sometimes God can show up in ways we do not recognise. Sometimes we need to release our own expectations of where and when the living God might appear so that we can have eyes to see past the image or idol of our own making.

This is at the heart of the Easter season.  In recognising the ways we are called to die to our own fixed ideas and expectations of God and self-centred hopes, we are invited to unite our lives to the One who gave his life so that it could be shared and multiplied. Whether it is as small as dying to our own preoccupied agendas for long enough to return a smile or a neighbourly greeting, or as great as opening ourselves to forgiveness or releasing our lives in the cause of justice and peace, we discover in this dying to self, that resurrection life is found in relational love. As we centre our hopes in the power of self-giving love, away from the fixed objects which stifle our best dreams, we find ourselves part of a kingdom movement in the risen Christ who is always moving, beckoning us to follow.

Perhaps there are hopes that you have never seen realised. Maybe there are places you have looked for God and found God elusive.

In this Easter season, we may be reminded that the God of resurrection is a God who will always surprise us. We may be called to lay down our expectations and even our best loved ideas about God and to trust instead to the presence of the Spirit who promises we will never be alone. May we together become the embodiment of the new thing God is doing in Christ, blessed, broken and shared with the world that love and life may multiply. And may we keep moving as pilgrim people, with eyes to see a God who is intimately present in every moment and intimately present in our own hearts, flowing through all the life and love we share.  +Amen

[1] Andrew McGowan: Andrew’s Version: Thoughts on the RCL readings, Easter 3, April 18, 2023

[2] Brian McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking p 208