Living and Sharing Christ’s Love (a sermon on 1 Peter 3:14-16)

Today I want to talk to you about living and sharing Christ’s love, and I want to begin by telling you a story many of you will remember.

In October 2006 a lone gunman called Charles Roberts entered a single schoolhouse in the Amish community of Nickel Mines in Pennsylvania.  By the time he was finished that morning, five young Amish girls lay dead along with their killer. It was a scenario that has been repeated with frightening regularity in the past few years; a gunman enters a public place and starts shooting, innocent people get killed, everyone bewails the increasing violence of our society – and yet it goes on.

Except that this time, something different was going to happen. Within hours of the shooting, members of the Amish community were reaching out to the killer’s family, giving food and raising money for his wife and children. “We have to forgive,” an Amish woman told the Reuters news service; “We have to forgive him in order for God to forgive us”. Another Amish man said of the family, “I hope they stay around here and they’ll have a lot of friends and a lot of support”. This attitude remained consistent in the days ahead. The media were fascinated with the attitude of the Amish and there was a lot of discussion about whether or not it was a good thing. The Amish themselves were clear about it; they believed their children were in heaven, they believed the perpetrator also had family members who needed care, and they believed faithfulness to Jesus meant doing the hard work of forgiveness and love in action.

Evangelism often gets a bad name in our society today, but when I watched the Amish sharing their faith and living it out with such integrity before the watching world, I saw evangelism in the true sense of the word. And it made me think of three verses from our epistle for today.

‘Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame’ (1 Peter 3:14-16).

In the middle of the most awful grief people could ever face – the senseless murder of their children – the Amish of Nickel Mines were able to hold onto their Christian hope. And when they were called on to give an account of the hope that is in them, they were able to do it with gentleness and respect. That’s a positive Christian witness. And as a result, light came out of darkness and hope replaced despair.

So where do actions like come from? Two things stand out for me in these verses from 1 Peter: ‘Hope’ and ‘Loyalty’.

Right from the beginning, Peter’s first letter has been all about hope. At the beginning of chapter 1 he says,

‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead’ (1:3).

What’s this ‘living hope’ all about? It’s about the fulfilment of Jesus’ prayer: ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven’. At the moment we do not always see God’s will being done on earth as in heaven. All too often, we see the forces of evil on the rampage. Yes, there is love and generosity and goodness, but all too often it gets shouted down by cruelty and hate and anger.

This must have been what it felt like to be an Israelite slave in Egypt in the time of Moses – forced by the Egyptians to do hard labour, never getting a rest, never getting a break. And then finally, when the Egyptians let them go free after the tenth plague, they got as far as the Sea of Reeds, and suddenly when they turned around, there was the Egyptian army behind them again! Pharaoh had changed his mind! There was no way out – deserts on either side, sea in front of them, soldiers behind. But then, in a miraculous act of deliverance, God opened the sea up for them and they were able to escape. What was humanly impossible was possible for God, and they were saved.

In later years the Israelites were often tempted to despair, but when they did, they looked back on this Exodus story. “God can do it again!” they thought. “That’s who he is – a God who cares for the downtrodden and delivers them!” So when they were going through their hard times, this story gave them a sense of hope.

Imagine the early disciples the day after Good Friday. They had been so excited about Jesus and his ministry, and they had begun to catch a vision of what he was up to, a vision of the coming kingdom of God. But then he had been arrested and tried and murdered by his enemies, and God had not delivered him. Surely God wouldn’t have abandoned the true Messiah? Like the Israelites coming up against the Sea of Reeds in front and the Egyptian army behind, Jesus had run head on into the immovable force of the power of the Empire, and all his wise and loving words and deeds of power hadn’t saved him. Now he was dead, and the disciples had no hope left.

Until Sunday morning, that is. Then, as the stories began to come in about meetings with the Risen Jesus, they began to grasp the enormity of what God had done. He had done the impossible! Tyranny and death no longer had the last word! And when the disciples were convinced, they went out boldly with the message of Jesus and they were totally unafraid of death. Why should they be? God had shown that he could raise the dead, and Jesus had promised that they would be raised too. So they were not intimidated; they went out with joy to spread the gospel, and when they were persecuted, they thanked God for the privilege of suffering as Jesus had suffered.

This is why the Resurrection matters! This is why we celebrate Easter, and sing Easter hymns and listen to Easter readings for fifty days, from Easter Sunday all the way to the Day of Pentecost. St. Augustine says, ‘We are an Easter people, and Alleluia is our song!’ Because of Easter we have an indestructible hope of resurrection. And we also have an indestructible hope in the power of God to change things for the better. So when the going gets tough we don’t give up, and we don’t give up on difficult people, either. We have placed our hope in the power of God, and because of that, we can keep on going.

So hope is one of the most important forces shaping our actions as Christians. Loyalty to Christ is another one. Look at verses 14-15:

‘Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord’.

‘Jesus is Lord’ was the basic Christian confession of faith in New Testament times. Today, it rattles off our tongues so easily, but what happens when we actually have to put it into practice? Think of the Amish of Nickel Mines again for a minute. The Amish are Anabaptist Christians, and Anabaptists put a lot of emphasis on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. At the end of that Sermon Jesus says: ‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven’ (Matthew 7:21). To sanctify Christ as Lord in your heart means much more than just mouthing words with your lips; it means obedience. It means believing that Jesus truly has taught us the best way to live, and then setting yourself to learn to practice that way day by day.

This is the first issue for Christians: who is the Lord of our lives? Today it seems to me that we sometimes look on Jesus as kind of like a personal butler: his job is to anticipate my needs and meet them. He’s ‘my personal Saviour’, one of my accessories, a convenient aspirin to take my pain away so that I can get on with enjoying myself.

But that kind of religion would never have prompted the Amish to reach out in love to the family of the man who had murdered their children. If they had believed in that kind of religion they would have said something like “How can we even think about reaching out to others? Right now our own pain is just too much!” But because they really believed that ‘Jesus is Lord’ they were able to hear his call to be there for others as well, and as they followed Jesus faithfully they experienced his help along the way.

What’s going to happen as we Christians live out our stubborn hope and our primary loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ? What’s going to happen is that people will notice. The media noticed when the Amish of Nickel Mines didn’t react in the usual way to a gunman who killed their kids. They had noticed the same thing back in 1999, in Taber, Alberta, when the Rev. Dale Lang and his wife lost their son in a high school shooting. They also turned to their Christian faith for the strength to reach out in love and forgiveness to the perpetrator of that awful act.

I hope that you and I never have to go through such horrors to demonstrate our gospel hope and our loyalty to Jesus. But day by day we are called on to live out our hope and our loyalty before the world. Years ago when we lived in Aklavik in the western Arctic, Marci and I had a lot to do with a family in town with a long history of alcohol problems and jail sentences. One day one of the local Mounties said to me, “I think you and your wife are the only people in Aklavik who haven’t given up on that family”. I don’t share this with you to boast. I actually had never thought about giving up on them; it honestly hadn’t entered my mind. I share it with you just as an example of how, when we follow Jesus, people will notice. They might say something, or they might not, but they will notice.

What then? Peter says,

‘Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence’ (15-16a).

This wording in our NRSV pew Bibles actually sounds rather harsh: ‘Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an accounting…’. I like the NIV better:

‘Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have’.

For most of us, that ‘reason’ will involve some kind of story; you and I are following Jesus today because of a certain series of events. Perhaps it involved parents sharing the Christian faith with us, or the witness of friends, or an experience of God’s help when we were going through a difficult time in our lives.

After the Nickel Mines tragedy, one of the leaders of the Amish Community mentioned the formative effect the Lord’s Prayer had on their life together. He said, ‘We pray it seven times a day!’ He was specifically referring to the words, ‘Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us’. But his explanation of the distinctive lifestyle the Amish were demonstrating involved telling a story about their life together and about God’s work among them.

We all have a story of faith – a story about God’s work in our lives. I am a Christian today because of the witness of my parents. They took me to church every Sunday from before the time that I could walk; they had me baptized, prayed with me and taught me the Bible stories. But they didn’t only do that. When I was thirteen my Dad challenged me to make a personal commitment of my life to Jesus Christ. I did that on March 5th 1972, and it was the beginning of my life as a conscious follower of Jesus. That life grew and was nurtured in a lively church in southeast Essex in which I learned to pray, to read scripture, to worship with others and to live as a Christian. That’s my story, and I’m excited about it. I love telling it to others.

But we don’t only tell our story; we also tell God’s story, the story of the good news of Jesus. This is the reason we have hope! We have hope because God loved our world so much that he made himself vulnerable, and came and lived among us as one of us to spread his love and light. By his life and teaching Jesus showed us what God is like and what it means to follow him. By his death he has demonstrated God’s unconditional love for all people: we can kill him, but we can’t stop him loving us. And by his resurrection he has shown us that hate and anger won’t have the final word: love really is stronger than death. God raised Jesus from the dead and so there’s no longer any need for us to be afraid.

As I talk to friends who aren’t Christians, this is one thing that stands out for me: many, many people are afraid of death. I don’t just mean ‘afraid of the act of dying’ – all of us are afraid of that, I think. I mean ‘afraid of the state of death, of the end of our lives, of non-being’. I remember a time when I was afraid of that, too, but I very rarely feel that any more. As my faith has grown, that fear has receded, and I’m very thankful for that.

So what difference does it make to you to be a follower of Jesus? How are you aware of God at work in your life? What makes it worthwhile for you to continue to practice your Christian faith? Our answers to these questions are the story that God wants us to share with others. But we aren’t to tell our stories in an offensive or pushy way. Peter says in verse 16 ‘yet do it with gentleness and reverence’. My brother used to have a humorous poster on his wall that said, “Those of you who think you know everything are annoying those of us who do!” It was a joke, but we all know there are people in the world who actually believe that! That’s not the attitude in which we ought to share our Christian stories.

Let’s go round this one last time. We are an Easter people, and ‘Alleluia!’ is our song. We believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and we believe his promise that one day he will raise us too. One day his kingdom will come, and his will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. And so we don’t give up on the future of the world, and we don’t give up on ourselves or other people either. We don’t give way to fear; we’re not intimidated. We commit ourselves day by day to Jesus as our Lord, and we ask him to help us each day as we try to obey him in our daily lives. And the more we do this, the more we find it to be a joy to us.

As we live like this, we find that gossiping the Gospel becomes a natural part of our everyday lives. Evangelism isn’t a scary thing; it’s not a program we run in the church or a training course we have to go on. It’s not something we have to make happen by our own efforts. Jesus makes a difference to us, and people notice that difference, and if they trust us, this leads to conversation. And in that conversation we can give ‘the reason for the hope that we have…with gentleness and respect’ (v.15 NIV).

I sometimes enjoy reading Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of the Bible that he calls The Message; it’s a bit quirky, but sometimes it has a memorable way of rephrasing the old familiar words in a way that grabs our attention. Let me close with his version of our text for today:

‘Through thick and thin, keep your hearts at attention, in adoration before Christ, your Master. Be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you’re living the way you are, and always with the utmost courtesy. Keep a clear conscience before God so that when people throw mud at you, none of it will stick’.

May God fill us with the Holy Spirit today and give us strength to put these words into practice. In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Kate Rusby: ‘The Fairest of all Yarrow’

This is a live solo performance from back in 2001. Kate was already such a polished presenter of traditional songs.

Kate recorded this song with a band on her 1999 CD ‘Sleepless‘. It was re-recorded in 2002 for her tenth anniversary collection ‘Ten‘.

This song is a version of #215 in Francis James Child’s famous collection ‘The English and Scottish Popular Ballads’, generally known as ‘The Child Ballads’. I believe the tune is Kate’s own.

Faithful to the End (a sermon on Acts 6 and 7)

I know there are some people in this church who have visited Westminster Abbey in London over the past few years. If you have, you might have noticed a striking new set of statues on the outside of the church, above the main doors. They are statues of martyrs of the twentieth century – people who followed Jesus faithfully and paid for it with their lives.

The statues include Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor who was part of the underground opposition to Hitler; he was hanged by the Nazis in April 1945. Father Maximilian Kolbe is there too; he was a Catholic priest and Auschwitz inmate who willingly gave his life in place of another prisoner condemned to die. There’s also Janani Luwum, the Anglican Archbishop of Uganda who was shot and killed by General Idi Amin. Oscar Romero is there too; he was a Roman Catholic Archbishop in El Salvador who was murdered by government death squads as he was celebrating Mass.

Of course there have been many others who have paid with their lives for their allegiance to Jesus. I remember five men whose stories made a great impression on me when I was a young Christian: Jim Eliot, Nate Saint, Roger Youderian, Ed McCully and Pete Fleming. They were missionaries who were killed by Guarani tribesmen in Ecuador in 1952. I think of Tom Fox, a Quaker and a member of Christian Peacemaker Teams, who was murdered by the Swords of Righteousness Brigade in Iraq in March 2006. I think of the thousands of Christians who have been killed by extremists of various kinds in recent years. It has been said that in the twentieth century more Christians gave their lives for the Gospel of Christ than in all nineteen previous centuries. They remind us that martyrdom is not a thing of the past: it is still with us today.

And of course we need to acknowledge at this point that the Church has a sad history of persecuting others too. Christians have burned other Christians at the stake as heretics. Christians have imposed state-endorsed forms of Christianity on others. Christians have perpetrated oppression and violence and murder against Jewish people. This is a sad part of our history and completely contrary to the teaching of Jesus, and we need to acknowledge it, repent of it and ask forgiveness for it.

This morning in our reading from Acts we meet the first in the long line of Christian martyrs, Stephen. Who was he?

We don’t actually know a lot about him. We know that he was a ‘Hellenistic’ Jew – in other words, although he was a Jew by race and religion, he had probably been raised in a Greek cultural context, and his first language was Greek, not the Aramaic spoken by most of the Jerusalem Christians.

We’re told in Acts that those early Jerusalem Christians lived a lifestyle of voluntary communism, sharing all their possessions and giving to the needy, especially the widows and orphans among them. This included a daily distribution of food to believers who couldn’t support themselves. Apparently there was some rumbling about the Hellenist widows being neglected in this daily distribution. The apostles wanted to make things right, so they appointed seven Hellenists to be in charge, and Stephen was one of them. But Stephen’s talents weren’t confined to administration; he was also a gifted evangelist. He’s described in Acts 6 as ‘a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit’ (6:5), and we’re told that ‘Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people’ (6:8).

But not everyone was happy with Stephen’s message, and some actively opposed him. They accused him of blasphemy, and he was arrested and brought before the same ruling council that had condemned Jesus. Luke tells us ‘They set up false witnesses who said, “This man never stops saying things against this holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses handed on to us”’ (6:13-14).

This story is told in Acts chapters 6 and 7; our first reading for today comes at the very end and doesn’t really make sense unless you know the rest of the story! Most of Acts 7 is taken up by Stephen’s defence – a long, rambling sermon about Jewish history that has many Christians yawning for most of the chapter! But Stephen’s not wasting his time; he wants to make two points. First, you can’t tie God down to a Temple made of stone; he’s always on the move. Secondly, God’s people have always rebelled against his voice, the most recent example of that being the way they rejected Jesus. “Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute?” Stephen asks; “They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers” (7:52-53).

Not surprisingly the leaders were angry at these accusations, and they quickly turned into a lynch mob; they took Stephen out of town and stoned him to death, as we heard in our reading. Luke doesn’t attempt to sugar-coat this tragedy. I don’t get the impression that Stephen had a morbid desire for death, and his Christian friends certainly mourned for him; Acts 8:2 says ‘Devout men buried Stephen and made loud lamentation over him’.

But if we look a little closer at Luke’s story we can see God bringing good out of this tragedy. First, the one who held the coats of the executioners was a young man named Saul; later on, of course, he became better known as the Apostle Paul. Many scholars have speculated that when Saul saw the faithful way Stephen met his death, it might have been the first link in the chain that eventually led him to Christ. Secondly, that day a severe persecution broke out against the Church and most of the Christians were scattered. However, Luke tells us that ‘Those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word’ (8:4). So the action that had been intended to stamp out Christianity only succeeded in spreading it!

I find that the story of Stephen challenges me in several areas of my life. Perhaps as I share them with you, you’ll be challenged too.

First, the story of Stephen challenges my desire to be popular and to have an easy life. I have a good friend who used to teach a workshop called ‘Sharing Your Faith without Losing Your Friends’. It was intended to reassure people that there’s a way of talking to your friends about your Christian faith that won’t automatically lead to you losing all your friends! But it is kind of ironic that for most of us, the biggest disaster that could result from our telling others about Christianity is losing our friends! That was the least of Stephen’s worries!

The fact is, of course, that there’s a comfortable version of Christianity that sees the Christian faith as one of many good stress-reduction techniques. Churchgoing, Bible reading, and prayer will help me cope with the pressures of my busy materialistic life. But I don’t need to go public with it, and I certainly don’t need to change the basic orientation of my life to practice it.

In the New Testament things are very different. The basic message of the early Christians was ‘Jesus the Messiah is Lord of all’, which was kind of ‘in your face’ of them, since the Roman emperor already claimed that title! The early Christians didn’t expect Caesar or his followers to jump for joy over the news that Jesus had dethroned him! But the good news they announced is that the true Lord of the world is not a corrupt politician or a self-serving millionaire, but the Lord who loves us so much he was willing to die for us. The challenge comes when he calls us to turn from our previous allegiances and commit ourselves to him in joyful obedience. Our false gods – whether popularity or greed or nationalism or whatever they might be – must be renounced, and these impostors aren’t likely to cheer about the fact that they’re losing followers.

The late Pope John Paul II understood the cost of allegiance to Jesus. As a young man he lived through the brutal Nazi occupation of Poland, in which almost twenty percent of the nation’s Catholic priests were murdered by the invaders. Catholic youth organisations were made illegal, but young Karol Wojtyla risked his life by taking part in them. Later he joined an illegal underground seminary to study for the priesthood, once again risking his life to respond to the call of Christ. He understood that a Christian has a higher allegiance, and may be called on to pay the ultimate price for it – just as Jesus paid the ultimate price out of love for us.

It’s totally unrealistic for us to think we can follow Jesus faithfully without upsetting anyone. If we follow Jesus, there will be a price to be paid. Please understand: I don’t mean that we disciples of Jesus should be going out of our way to offend people; far from it! But no matter how loving and gracious we are, the offence of the Cross of Christ is still there. The Christian message challenges our self-centredness. It calls us to turn from our sins and live in joyful faith and obedience to Jesus. People aren’t all going to cheer for this. Some will reject it, and they will reject its messengers and those who practice it as well. Faithful disciples of Jesus aren’t surprised by this: we understand that it’s part of taking up our cross and following him.

So the story of Stephen challenges my desire for popularity and the easy life. Secondly, the story of Stephen speaks to my fear. I’ve already mentioned Jim Eliot, one of the five missionaries murdered by Guarani tribespeople in Ecuador in 1952. Some years before, Jim had written these words in his journal: ‘He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose’. In other words, he had already faced the possibility of death, looked it squarely in the eye, and didn’t blink.

Death is our last great enemy. The greatest weapon used by tyrants is the fear of death. But the early Christian martyrs don’t seem to have worried very much about it. Why is that?

Well, put yourself in Stephen’s place. A short time before the events of this story, the authorities had arrested, tried, and crucified Jesus. That seemed to be the end for him. But then the Resurrection happened! Death had done its worst, but God had overcome the worst it could do. And Jesus had promised his followers that the same thing would happen to them: “This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day” (John 6:40).

What did Stephen see when he stared death in the face? ‘But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look”, he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”’ (7:55-56). By the way, we needn’t dismiss this as fanciful nonsense; there are many stories of people near death who seem to see familiar faces coming to meet them. But the most interesting detail here is the reference to Jesus ‘standing’ at the right hand of God. In every other case in the New Testament where Jesus’ place at the right hand of God is mentioned, he is ‘seated’, but here he’s ‘standing’. Was he standing to welcome his faithful follower? We don’t know, but what we do know is Stephen looked into the face of death and saw God’s warm welcome there.

This is what it means to be an Easter people, a people who believe in the Resurrection of Jesus. It means that the very worst thing evil can do to us is only temporary. Jesus has promised us a warm welcome into the Father’s presence and a glorious resurrection on the last day. That’s why, when Dietrich Bonhoeffer was being taken away to be hanged, he said to his friends “Don’t be afraid. This is the end – for me, the beginning of life!”

So the story of Stephen challenges my desire for popularity and the easy life, and it touches me at the level of my fear.  Finally, the story of Stephen challenges my anger.

I’ve already referred to the five Ecuador martyrs of 1952. All five of them were married, and some had children. You might have expected their loved ones to lash out in anger after the men were murdered, but this didn’t happen. Nate Saint’s sister Rachel, and Jim Elliot’s widow Betty, continued to live and work in the area. Eventually they themselves moved into Guarani territory, sharing the Gospel and establishing a church there. Nate Saint’s son Steve has continued through the years to serve the people who murdered his father.

One of the most challenging verses in the Bible is James 1:19-20: ‘You must understand this, my beloved; let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness’. Stephen understood this well. What were his last words? ‘Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them”. When he had said this, he died’ (7:60). No doubt the spirit of steadfastness and love with which he met his death made a great impression on the people around him – not least, upon Saul.

So this story challenges me to let go of my anger against people who speak and act against my Christian faith. It reminds me that angry words don’t achieve anything. Rather, like Jesus and Stephen, I’m to respond with love and forgiveness. As Paul says, ‘Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them…If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink’ (Romans 12:14, 20a).

So, to sum up: First, the story of Stephen challenges me to put my loyalty to Jesus ahead of my desire for an easy life. Second, it calls me to give up my fears and put my trust in God who raises the dead. And third, it challenges me to let go of my anger against those who oppose the Gospel, and to respond with love and forgiveness.

So our call, you and I, is to continue to be faithful to Jesus, even when not everyone in our lives is jumping for joy about it. We’re called to reach out in love with the good news of Jesus. We’re called to rejoice with those who respond positively to it, and to continue to love those who don’t. And we’re called to entrust ourselves above all to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has promised that he will not let us down, even in the face of death; rather, he will bring us through death to our own glorious resurrection.

The Good Shepherd (a sermon on John 10:1-11)

Ever since I was a kid I’ve been a big fan of the Robin Hood stories. As most of you will know, Robin Hood is a legendary figure who is said to have lived in the late twelfth century in England during the time of the Crusades. King Richard the Lion Heart was away leading a crusading army, and his brother Prince John was ruling the kingdom on his behalf; in the Robin Hood stories Prince John is a self-serving tyrant who is taxing the people to death. Robin and his band of merry men live in Sherwood Forest, and they often confront Prince John’s local representative, the corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham. Robin and his men have been driven into the outlaw life, and they spend their time robbing from the rich and giving to the poor, in anticipation of the day when King Richard will return to do away with corruption and put everything to rights.

So, at least, goes the legend! However, historians know that this is a very romantic view of Richard the Lionheart; he actually cared very little for the people of England, except as a tax base to support his very expensive foreign crusades. He was king for ten years but spent only a few months of that time in his own country; the rest of it was spent in the Holy Land or journeys there and back. That includes a time when he was kept prisoner in France and his people were taxed to raise an enormous ransom to set him free! So if the people were putting their hope in Richard to set things right, they were going to be disappointed. Like many political leaders, he turned out to be a self-serving adventurer who didn’t have the true welfare of his people at heart.

Of course, we’re no strangers to the political Messiah syndrome in the modern world either. Over and over again we’ve had political leaders using overblown rhetoric to persuade us to vote for them; if they get in they’ll ‘drain the swamp’ and give us ‘change we can believe in’. And over and over again, it’s been ‘welcome to the new boss – the same as the old boss’. It seems to be very hard for weak and sinful human nature to withstand the temptations of greed and self-aggrandizement and the love of power.

Now, you might ask, what does this have to do with the Easter season, and with John chapter 10 and the idea of Jesus as the Good Shepherd? Stay tuned: all will be made clear!

In the message the early Church preached, one of the meanings of the Resurrection is that Jesus is the true Lord of all. On the day of Pentecost Peter preaches to a huge crowd in Jerusalem; here’s one of the things he says to them:

“This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you see and hear” (Acts 2:32-33).

‘The right hand of God’ is the place of authority. So it’s Jesus, and not Herod Antipas or Pontius Pilate or Caesar off in Rome, who has ultimate authority. Jesus, and not some earthly pretender, is the true Lord of all. As Peter goes on to say, “God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36). This is what the Resurrection means.

And this is also what John chapter ten means. In biblical times the image of the shepherd was a royal image; the kings and leaders of ancient Israel were thought of as shepherds of God’s people. This idea goes all the way back to King David, the shepherd boy who God chose to be ‘shepherd’ of his people Israel. We see it at the end of Psalm 78:

‘(God) chose his servant David,
and took him from the sheepfolds;
from tending the nursing ewes he brought him
to be the shepherd of his people Jacob,
of Israel, his inheritance.
With upright heart he tended them,
and guided them with skillful hand’ (Psalm 78:70-72).

Later on, in Ezekiel chapter 34, the prophet delivers a thundering judgement against the corrupt kings of Israel:

‘Thus says the LORD God: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and scattered, they became food for all the wild animals’ (34:2b-5).

This is what Jesus is talking about in John chapter 10. To claim to be ‘the Good Shepherd’ – not just ‘a’ good shepherd but ‘the’ Good Shepherd – is to claim to be a better king than the self-serving political and religious leaders who were exploiting the people of God instead of caring for them. Jesus was claiming to be the true King of Israel, the Messiah, who would care for the people of God.

And yet, I hear you saying, was Jesus really a king? He didn’t grab political power, he didn’t run a government, and he didn’t lead an army; instead, he proclaimed the coming of God’s kingdom and told people that the way to be greatest in the eyes of God was to be the servant of all. All of that is definitely true, and so we have to go on to say that we can only call Jesus a ‘king’ if we are changing the definition of kingship. To him, it’s more to do with spiritual and moral leadership based on the love the King has for his people, and their commitment to following him.

But many people prefer to follow a worldly political leader. Presidents and prime ministers and dictators can get use their power to things done! They can command budgets of trillions of dollars, they can send powerful armies on crusades to set things right, and they can do practical things to make the lives of people better. Isn’t it better to put our hope in these people to bring lasting change in the world, rather than in a romantic idealist like Jesus?

I can understand the attraction of that line of reasoning. But the problem is that all political leaders turn out to be disappointments in the end; even the best of them are imperfect people, with sins and weaknesses and skeletons in the closet. Even though they talk as if they’re going to build the new Jerusalem, it ends up only being New York! Even those who start out claiming to have the welfare of the people in mind – like the Bolsheviks in Russia at the beginning of the twentieth century – often end up being just like the evil tyrants they replaced. And of course, even the best of them retire or die one day, and then a lot depends on those who follow them; will they continue on the same path? And so the psalmist says,

‘Do not put your trust in princes,
in mortals, in whom there is no help.
When their breath departs, they return to the earth;
on that very day their plans perish’ (Psalm 146:3-4).

Jesus says he is not like these people; he is the Good Shepherd. What makes him so good? Let’s look at today’s gospel reading to get an answer to that question. One thing we’ll notice as we look at these verses is that Jesus is a very unusual shepherd. In fact, all three of the characteristics we’re going to mention are not things we’d usually find in a shepherd at all.

The first thing I want to mention is what he has in mind for his sheep. Look at John 10:9-10.

(Jesus said) “I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly”.

The thing that makes this unusual is that Jesus is entirely devoted to the well being of his sheep – not for what he can get out of them, but just for their own sake. Let’s be honest: most shepherds want healthy sheep, but it’s because of what they can get out of them. Whether they’re keeping sheep for the sake of their wool, or because they want the meat, they aren’t doing it out of the goodness of their hearts; they’re trying to make a living, and that’s what the sheep are for. In other words, most shepherds look after their sheep in order to exploit them.

Some politicians talk the talk about caring for their constituents, but they don’t walk the walk: when we watch their actions, we know that in the end it’s their own well being they’re dedicated to. Jesus is different; he’s committed to the well being of his sheep. His vision for us is that we might have life, and have it abundantly – or, as some translations say, ‘life in all its fullness’. Jesus isn’t interested in taking things away from you unless they are things that ultimately diminish your life. But what he’s really about is adding to your life; he wants to add the joy and peace and sense of purpose that come from knowing God, from having the Spirit living in you, from learning the ways of God. He came to give us life: that’s his vision for his sheep.

The second thing I want to mention is the depth of his commitment to his sheep. A hired worker has no personal investment in the sheep; they’re just working their hours and earning their wages. If some of the sheep get lost or sick or die, it might be a bad reflection on the hired worker but it doesn’t have a personal impact on them.

The shepherd in Jesus’ parable is the owner of the sheep; they belong to him, and he has a huge personal investment in them. This means he’s even willing to sacrifice himself on their behalf; as Jesus says in verse 11: ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep’. This perhaps would have strained the credulity of Jesus’ hearers a little; I doubt if they’d known too many shepherds who were willing to die to protect their sheep. All the more reason why Jesus is such a Good Shepherd; his sheep are so important to him that he is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice on their behalf.

In the first letter of John we read: ‘We know love by this, that (Jesus) laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another’ (1 John 3:16). In the world we live in, it’s easy to get jaded about empty words. Businesses say they really care for their customers, and we’ve heard politicians talking about how their constituents are so important to them, but all too often the actions don’t match the words. But John goes on to say, ‘Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action’ (1 John 3:18). This is what Jesus did; he didn’t just speak words of love, but gave his life on the Cross for us, so that we could be saved.

That’s the value God sets on each one of us. Sometimes we don’t feel as if we’re worth very much; sometimes we might even wonder if God knows we exist at all. If we feel that way, we should look to the Cross, where Jesus died, and say to ourselves, ‘That’s how much God loves me. That’s how far Jesus was willing to go to save me’. He is the good shepherd, and the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.

We’ve seen what he has in mind for his sheep, and the depth of his commitment to his sheep. The third thing I want you to notice is the intimacy of his relationship with each individual sheep. Look at John 10:3-4:

“The gatekeeper opens the gate for (the shepherd), and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice”.

There’s a two-way relationship here: the shepherd knows his sheep by name, and the sheep know their shepherd and the sound of his voice.

I had the privilege a few times to meet Ted Scott (he was Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada from 1971 to 1986). The first time was at a clergy retreat in Saskatoon in the spring of 1980; he was the retreat speaker, and he and I had a conversation on the first evening of the retreat. Our next meeting was five years later, at a clergy conference in the Arctic. On the first evening of the conference I saw him looking at me; the next morning he said to me, “I don’t remember your name, but I’ve met you before, haven’t I?” I was amazed at his memory and I quickly reminded him of my name. I saw him at national meetings several times after that, and he always remembered my name. I found that really impressive; as Primate of Canada he must have met thousands of people every year, and yet somehow he was able to treat each one as an individual and remember their names.

Jesus does not treat us as members of a collective. Jesus is the good shepherd; he knows your name, and he knows my name too. Again, I suspect this is unusual; I don’t think there are many shepherds who know their sheep by name, but Jesus does.

But it works the other way too, and this is perhaps the challenge this reading has for us. Jesus says, “the sheep follow (the shepherd) because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers” (John 10:4-5). The challenge is for us to get to know the voice of our good shepherd – our true King – so that we may be sure it’s really him we’re following and not a stranger who cares nothing for us.

The most important way for us to get to know the voice of Jesus is by hearing what he has to say in the gospels. The gospels give us a vivid and compelling picture of Jesus; it’s not hard for us to form an impression of the sort of person he is and the sort of things he has to say. You know this is true. For instance, if someone were to say to you ‘Jesus told his disciples that if they followed him he would make them rich’, you’d shake your head and think to yourself, ‘That doesn’t sound like something Jesus would say!’ So you see, you’ve already begun to get to know his voice. Keep reading the gospels, keep meditating on what Jesus has to say there, keep doing your best to put it into practice in your life, and you’ll find yourself getting a better and better sense of what his voice sounds like.

So we have a shepherd king with a compelling vision for us: he wants to give us life in all its fullness. We have a shepherd king with an absolute commitment to us: he was willing to lay down his life so that we could be saved. And we have a shepherd king who wants to have a close personal relationship with each of us, a relationship in which he knows us by name and in which we get to know the sound of his voice and learn to follow his leading.

One last thing: many pastors and priests see these words of Jesus as a model for their ministry, and to a certain extent there’s nothing wrong with that. But the trouble is that pastors and priests are only human, and inevitably we fail. If you treat your pastor or priest as the Good Shepherd, you’re going to be disappointed.

So don’t do that. Don’t fall into the trap of turning to a human pastor for the shepherding that only the Good Shepherd can give you. Remember the words of David in our psalm for today; he had priests in his life, but he doesn’t say ‘The priest is my shepherd’. He says ‘the Lord is my shepherd’. So pray that the Holy Spirit will fill you and help you get to know the real Good Shepherd, who gave his life for you and who knows you by name. And then give major time and attention to soaking up what the Gospels say about his life and teaching, so you can learn to know his voice and follow his leading. And when you get discouraged, remember his ultimate vision for you: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

Nic Jones sings ‘Ten Thousand Miles’

This version of the traditional song ‘Ten Thousand Miles’ is taken from Nic’s 1977 album ‘The Noah’s Ark Trap’, now sadly unavailable (by legal means, anyway).

For those who are unfamiliar with Nic, this wikipedia article gives a short introduction to his career and his influence on English folk music, including the horrific accident which almost killed him in 1982 and brought his musical career to a halt for nearly thirty years.

Nic’s first four solo albums are currently unavailable because of a complicated legal dispute with a record company. If you can find them, they are worth their weight in gold, especially the third and fourth ‘From the Devil to a Stranger’ and ‘The Noah’s Ark Trap’. His fifth solo album, ‘Penguin Eggs’ (1980) is widely considered to be one of the finest folk albums of all time, and is readily available on CD. There are also a number of compilation CDs made up of live recordings of varying qualities; check his website for more information.’

Mainly Norfolk has a good piece on ‘Ten Thousand Miles’ (AKA ‘The Turtle Dove’) which also notes its kinship to ‘A Roving on a Winter’s Night’, ‘The Blackest Crow’ and ‘Mary Ann’.

Mary Black sings ‘Annachie Gordon’

Here is the very great Irish singer Mary Black singing the classic Scottish ballad ‘Annachie Gordon’. I believe she is following the interpretation of the song by Nic Jones on his 1977 album ‘The Noah’s Ark Trap’ (sadly unavailable nowadays, at least by legal means).

In recounting the history of this fine old song, Wikipedia has this to say:

The words were printed in Maidment’s “North Countrie Garland” (1824) and in Buchan’s “Ancient Ballads and Songs 2” (1828). The tune was first printed in Bronson’s “Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads”. The story is along the lines of “Romeo and Juliet“, with the two lovers dying at the end. Sometime between 1800 and 1829 a broadsheet ballad called “A New Song” was printed. In it the name “Auchanachie Gordon” has been replaced by “Hannah Le Gordon” but is otherwise very similar. It is hard to explain why the hero has been given a girl’s name. Perhaps the Scots name was so unfamiliar to the Newcastle printer than he made a somewhat garbled choice of name.

Nic Jones recorded the song as Annachie Gordon on his 1977 album “The Noah’s Ark Trap” (1977). Mary Black included it using the same name on the album “Mary Black”. Loreena McKennitt recorded it on “Parallel Dreams” (1989). Other versions include June Tabor‘s on “Always” (2005), Sharon Shannon‘s on “Libertango” (2004), John Wesley Harding‘s on “Trad Arr Jones” (1999) and Oliver Schroer‘s instrumental version on “Celtic Devotion” (1999). Sinéad O’Connor also recorded a version on the Sharon Shannon Collection released in 2005, and Gabrielle Angelique recorded the song on her Album: “Dance with the Stars” (2006). The Unthanks 2009 Album “Here’s the tender coming” also contains a version. The earliest professional recording was by Berzilla Wallin on “Old Love Songs and Ballads from the Big Laurel, North Carolina” (1964).

Read the rest here.

Mary Black has one of the most distinctive and beautiful singing voices in Irish music today (a field that is certainly crowded!). Her website is here.

‘Open Our Eyes, Lord – We Want to See Jesus’ (a sermon on Luke 24:13-35)

We sometimes sing a worship song around here that goes like this:

‘Open our eyes, Lord, we want to see Jesus,
to reach out and touch him, and say that we love him.
Open our ears, Lord, and help us to listen;
open our eyes, Lord, we want to see Jesus’.

This song expresses the longing of our hearts in this Resurrection season. At this time of year we read the stories of Jesus’ appearances to his disciples after his resurrection, and maybe when we read those stories we feel just a little envious; maybe we think, “I wish I had been there. I wish he would appear to me too. Then I’d believe in him and I’d never doubt again”.

There are some people today who tell stories of mystical encounters with Jesus. John Sherrill has a story like that in his book They Speak with Other Tongues. He talks about how he was in hospital recovering from cancer surgery. He was lying awake at night, in some pain; there was a boy in the room with him too, tossing and turning and sleeping fitfully. And suddenly, in the night, there was a light in the room; it seemed to be centred on the far ceiling. John watched it for a few minutes, curious, and then he said one word: ‘Christ?’ The light didn’t move, he said, but it was as if it enveloped him, and the pain from his wound eased.

John’s roommate turned on his bed, moaning a bit with pain. John said, ‘Christ, could you help that boy?’ And it was as if the light enveloped the boy too, and immediately he slipped into a peaceful sleep. And then the light was gone.

This was obviously a real encounter with the risen Christ that was so powerful that it changed the rest of John Sherrill’s life; he says in his book that for months afterwards, when he tried to tell people about it, he choked up with tears. And again, when we hear stories like this, we might find ourselves just a little bit envious. “Why can’t I have an experience like that? If Jesus is alive, why doesn’t he show himself to me, in a way that’s clear and unambiguous?”

But wait a minute – in the gospels, the resurrection appearances of Jesus weren’t always clear and unambiguous. Let me remind you of a detail that we often forget: when he appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead, they often didn’t recognize him at first. When Mary Magdalene met the risen Jesus beside the empty tomb, she ‘saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus’ (John 20:14); she didn’t recognize him until he spoke her name, “Mary”. Later on, in John chapter 21, after the disciples had been fishing on the lake all night long, we read that ‘Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus’ (John 21:4). We might think it was because the light wasn’t very good, but a little later on, when they were sitting and eating breakfast with Jesus, John adds, ‘Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?”’ (21:12) – a very strange thing to say if it was absolutely clear who he was.

We get the same thing in our gospel reading for today, the story of the walk to Emmaus. The two disciples – perhaps they were a married couple? – were walking on the road. ‘While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him’ (Luke 24:15-16). It wasn’t until he was sharing a meal with them later that evening, and he ‘took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them’, that ‘their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”’ (24:30-32).

Luke isn’t just telling us about something that happened on the day of Jesus’ resurrection; he’s using the story to instruct us about how we can meet Jesus today. The appearance will not be unambiguous; we’ll need to have the Holy Spirit ‘open our eyes’ so we can recognize his presence in the scriptures and the breaking of bread. But you can be sure that Luke knows exactly what he’s doing: he’s writing his gospel for a generation of Christians who have not seen the Risen Jesus; he wants them to know that this does not mean they can’t experience his presence with them. And that includes us; our eyes can be opened too, so that we can see him in places where at first we didn’t recognize him. And two of the most common of those places are the Scriptures and the breaking of bread, or Holy Communion.

Let’s explore this passage a little more. I can imagine this couple walking home to Emmaus, ‘talking with each other about all these things that had happened” (v.14). And then along comes a stranger, and he asks them what it is they’re talking about. Out comes the sad story of Good Friday:

“The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (vv.19b-21a)

In other words, “We thought he was the Messiah, but he obviously can’t have been, because if he was, God wouldn’t have abandoned him like that. But he was such a good guy; we really loved him and believed in him”. But then the story goes on:

“Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him” (vv.22-24).

What do you hear in their words? I hear bitter disappointment, anger at the authorities, confusion about who Jesus really was. I hear a desire to believe in the resurrection, but also a fear of false hopes, and almost a sense of “I told you it was too good to be true!” – “but him they did not see”.

Sometimes when we come together for worship each week, we come like these two disciples – confused, disappointed, wanting to believe but finding it harder than we thought it would be, hurt by the wounds the world has given us. Maybe we remember a time when faith was easy, and we wonder why it’s so difficult now. Maybe we wonder why bad things happen to good people. Maybe we wonder why we seem to find it so hard to have any real sense of connection with the living God. Maybe we even ask those really threatening questions: “Does God really care? Is God silent? Is God even there at all?”

You see, this isn’t just a story of two disciples who met Jesus on a road long ago: it’s a story about us, too. Let’s go on.

The fellow traveller comes and walks with them, and Luke tells us ‘their eyes were kept from recognizing him’ (v.16). This is our experience today too; often Jesus comes to us, but our eyes are kept from recognizing him. After all, we can’t see him, and it’s sometimes hard to believe in someone you can’t see! I’m reminded of the story of a mom who was reading a bedtime story to her little girl, and the doorbell rang. The mom got up to answer the door, but the little girl said, “Don’t leave me by myself, mommy; I’m scared”. “There’s no need to be scared”, says mommy; “Jesus is here with you”. The very wise little girl thought for a minute, and then said, “Send Jesus down to answer the door; you stay here with me”!

As we come together today, I think of Jesus’ promise that “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20). But we often forget that, because we can’t see him. We need to ask God to open our eyes and realize that he is coming to us, particularly in the two main parts of this service: the word, and the sacrament.

Look at verse 32: after the risen Jesus had been revealed to the two disciples, they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” They were referring to what had happened to them earlier in the day; after they had opened their grief and confusion to the stranger, who they didn’t know was Jesus, he said to them,

‘“Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things, and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures’ (vv.25-27).

What an amazing experience that must have been! In those days most Jewish people would have been familiar with the story the Bible tells, and would have had some parts of it memorized. But the problem these two had was confusion about the role of the Messiah. They believed the Messiah was going to ‘redeem Israel’ – in other words, lead an army and set them free from their enemies. They heard the stories of King David and prayed that God would send them another one like him. But they hadn’t noticed Psalm 22 – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me…they have pierced my hands and my feet” (Psalm 22:1a, 16) – or Isaiah 53:

“But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:5-6).

So Jesus led them in a Bible study, all from memory, going through all the scriptures and pointing out the things that had been fulfilled in his death and resurrection.

Martin Luther once said that ‘the Bible is the cradle where we find the infant Christ’. That’s why each week we read big chunks of the Bible – Old Testament, Psalm, New Testament, Gospel. This is important. Some people think it’s just the appetizer, with Communion as the main course, but it’s not! When the Word of God is read and preached, Jesus is present in it, meeting us, teaching us, opening our eyes to his truth. And often we find, as those two found on the road, that he sort of ‘sneaks up’ on us; we don’t realize until afterwards that our hearts were burning within us as we listened to the message of the Scriptures.

Well, going on with the story, the three travelers on the road finally reached the village of Emmaus. The two invited the stranger into their home, and they sat down to eat together.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. (vv.30-31).

Strictly speaking, this was not a Communion service – it was an evening meal. But still, when Jesus did those actions from the Last Supper, something powerful happened – something supernatural, that Luke could only describe as ‘having their eyes opened’ – and they realized that Jesus had been with them all the time.

My friend Terry, from my last parish, tells a story of something that happened to him not long after he became a Christian. He had struggled with anger issues in the past, and one day he had an experience – I won’t go into detail about it – that he expected would make him very angry, but to his surprise, it didn’t. He puzzled about that for a few days, until he came to church the following Sunday. He told me afterwards, “I was still wondering about it, until I went forward for communion, and when you put the bread in my hands, I suddenly remembered: ‘Oh yeah – I have help now!’” Like the disciples in Emmaus, when the broken bread was put into his hands, he realized that Jesus had been with him all along.

Holy Communion is Jesus’ gift to us. He commanded us to ‘do this in remembrance of him’. He told us that the cup was the new covenant in his blood, pointing to his death as the sacrifice for our sins. He told us that if we eat and drink, we will have his life in us. We’ll spend our whole lives trying to understand these things, but we’re never going to completely get our heads around them! If we wait until we’ve got them figured out, we’ll wait forever, because Communion is one of those things that you can really only understand from the inside. And even then, we won’t understand much of it – but maybe, as the bread is broken and we receive it, we’ll realize Jesus is with us, like those disciples in the house in Emmaus, and like my friend Terry did.

Well, there are many more things we could say about this wonderful reading, but I need to stop now. So let’s just go round this one last time.

We come here each Sunday longing to meet the risen Jesus. Maybe our week has been tough, like these two disciples on the road; maybe we’re hurt, or confused, or angry, or doubting. So Jesus comes to us here and meets us. As the scriptures are read and preached, he opens our hearts and minds to understand what’s written there. But it’s not just an intellectual thing; it’s relational as well. “Our hearts burn within us” as he opens up the word to us. And then comes the sacrament: his body is broken, his blood poured out, and in the bread and wine those gifts are given to us. So we come in faith, holding out our hands, not understanding, but trusting that he will keep his word. And he does: whether we feel anything or not, he has said it, so we can rely on it.

Let’s pray that this will be real in our experience – so real that we won’t be able to keep it to ourselves, like the two at Emmaus, who ran all the way back to Jerusalem to tell what had happened on the road, and how Jesus had been made known to them in the scriptures and in the breaking of the bread. In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.