30 April, 2017

3rd Sunday of Easter
‘A DIVINE COMPANION’

BIBLE READINGS
Psalm 116

Luke 24:13-35

REFLECTION

The ancient people believed that they had to go to certain places to be able to communicate with their gods or the divine. In South America, for example, the famous Mesoamerican Pyramids were seen as those places where the divine met the mortals.

The priests had to climb hundreds of steps to reach the top of the pyramids to get closer to the gods who resided in the heaven. Famous other temples dotted our blue planet as sacred places were people in the past could pray to their gods or goddesses.

We see this kind of belief in the Old Testament as well. God was often believed to live in Mount Sinai. The mountain was the place where people could meet God. For example, Moses conversed with God and received the commandments on the mountain.[1] After Israel conquered the land of Canaan, people didn’t have to go to Mount Sinai anymore to meet with God. Many places of worship were built and people gave offerings to YAHWEH in those places. But after King Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem, worship was centralized. The temple in Jerusalem was now considered as God’s only place of residence. People came to the temple, from all over Israel, to give offerings to God and to look for God’s favour.

But the risen Christ never asked his disciples to meet him in the temple in Jerusalem. Instead, he met his disciples in ordinary places. He met Mary in the garden (see John 20:1-18 - she mistook Jesus to the gardener).  He met Thomas and the other disciples inside of a house (John 20:26) and at the shore (John 21:1-14). In our reading this morning from Luke, he met two of his followers on the road from Jerusalem to a village called Emmaus.

Now, Emmaus was an unknown village. No one knows its exact location.[2] Perhaps, its mysterious location means that Emmaus was more than a particular village somewhere in Israel. Perhaps, it means that Emmaus is a place where all of us are travelling towards; a place where all of us can relate to. Perhaps, it means that the road that those two disciples were travelling is the road that all of us also travel. Perhaps, it means that what they experienced on the road was an experience that we also can have. Perhaps it means that their story is our story too.

On that day, these two disciples were walking in fear and disappointment and confusion. Three days ago, their ‘hero’, Jesus of Nazareth, was crucified and buried. They had hoped that Jesus would finally reveal himself as the Messiah – the liberator of Israel, defeat the Roman’s force, restore the Kingdom of Israel, and rule over them as the righteous king. But their hope was shattered by his brutal execution.

So their journey was the journey of defeat. And we all have been there. We all have been on a similar journey, filled with painful memories.

But today we are reminded that it is in that very moment that Christ meets us. No, we don’t have to go to certain places to meet the risen Christ. He meets us in the ordinary places; even in those places where we experience our most painful or disappointing moments in life. Christ meets us wherever we are on our life’s journey; not only in our ups, but also in our downs.

Even more, Christ will meet us at our most unsuspecting times. He comes and meets us when we are least expecting him. What we need to do is to open ourselves and welcome him as a companion on our journey together.

This was also the testimony of the person who wrote Psalm 116, our Psalm reading for today. The Psalm was a part of a group of Psalms recited during the Jewish Passover meal, on the eight day of the Passover festival.[3] The Passover festival was celebrated to commemorate the liberation of the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt. As such, Psalm 116 was an appropriate Psalm to be read during the meal.

Indeed, the author of Psalm 116 had experienced God’s salvation first hand. He said that the power of death was surrounding him and grave was closing in on him (verse 3). We don’t know exactly what kind of trouble that he was facing (it may be an illness, a financial distress, a broken relationship, or other things). But even in his darkest moment, when he was completely crushed and couldn’t trust anyone, he never stopped trusting God (verses 10-11).

And God did not ignore his plight. God rescued him and put him back in the land of the living (verses 8-9).

Indeed, the psalmist knew that he was not walking alone because he was walking in God’s presence (verse 9). Just like the two travellers on the road to Emmaus, the living God became his companion and helper on the road.

In the King James Version of the Bible, the two disciples, who were on their way to Emmaus, invited Jesus to stay with them by saying:

"Abide with us; for it is toward evening and the day is far spent"[4]

The words inspired the creation of the much beloved hymn: "Abide with me/Fast falls the eventide". It is the hymn that we sang after the Bible readings today. The hymn was written by Henry Francis Lyte. He was once the vicar of a parish in Devonshire in England for 25 years.

On Sunday, September 4, 1847, Lyte preached his last sermon for the congregation. He then said farewell to them and went home to rest. He was 54 years old, physically unhealthy, and was deeply troubled by the disunity he faced in his congregation.

 

After having his meal in the afternoon, he went to his study room. He stayed there for about an hour or two. When he then returned to join his family, his hands were holding the manuscript of the now classic hymn. He died three months later.

Many people think that Lyte talked about the end of day in his popular hymn. But he was actually talking about the end of one’s life. He was talking about faith that dares to face life and death fearlessly in the light of the cross and the empty tomb.[5] Even as he was walking the last journey of his life; even as he was broken inside and outside; the risen Christ was still his companion who never left him behind.

The French philosopher, Albert Camus, once said,

“Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow.
Don't walk behind me; I may not lead.
Walk beside me and be my friend.”[6]

The risen Christ is indeed a friend who walks besides us as a companion on this journey that we all have to take; the journey that we call life. And he meets us not only when we are walking on top of the world, but also when we are walking in the darkest valley.

But there is another aspect that we shall not ignore in the encounter between the risen Jesus and his two disciples on their way to Emmaus. On that road, the two disciples encountered the risen Christ in a communal setting, not individually. Unlike Mary Magdalene, who was alone when she encountered the risen Jesus, the two disciples met the risen Christ as a community.

The picture you will see on the screens now is a famous painting by the Dutch maestro, Rembrandt.

It is titled, The Supper at Emmaus. Here the Dutch painter captured the moment of revelation of the resurrected Jesus in the sharing of an ordinary meal around the table. His imagination gave him the freedom to add in the scene a servant who was not mentioned in our reading in the Bible.

Now, Rembrandt was a European and his painting reflected his European background, but the message was the same: Christ is revealed in our act of fellowship and hospitality. He is revealed when we share our resources with one another. This reminds us of what Jesus said before that whenever there are two or three people gather in his name, he’ll be there with them.[7]

Friends, life is indeed a journey together. We all are on the road together. You and I are on a journey together as a community who believe in the risen Jesus; a community that we call the church. The risen Christ meets us here every time we gather in his name. He meets here whenever we have fellowship with one another, worship together, serve one another, and help those in the community.

Friends, we all come here carrying our burdens, our broken hearts, our painful memories, our weaknesses. But the risen Christ meets us here as we share our burdens with one another and as we bring our light to the world outside of this church building. The risen Christ is here with us now. We may not always be aware of his presence, but he is walking together with us as a friend, as a companion on our journey.

Amen.
Toby Keva

[1] See Exodus 34:1-4

[2] Seasons of the SpiritTM SeasonsFUSION - Lent.Easter 2017 © Wood Lake Publishing Inc. 2016 (p. 126)

[3] Nancy deClaissé-Walford, Commentary on Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19, on
http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3232 (April 30, 2017)

[4] Luke 24:29 - KJV

[5] David E. Leininger, East of Easter (www.Sermons.com)

[6] www.Sermons.com

[7] Matthew 18:20