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Wednesday: speaking with Jesus

Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.

He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

“What things?” he asked.

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

Luke 24:13-35, New International Version

Reading this passage again and thinking about it brings back some memories and raises some questions we don’t often think about.

Looking back over my own life since I became a Christian I remember times when I know that Jesus has spoken to me in various ways and been with me in various situations:-

My teenage years serving time as and apprentice Joiner and Carpenter and meeting Jesus for the first time.
My time searching for Jesus call on my life.
My time as a mission Carpenter in Papua.
Meeting and marrying my wife.
My time in teachers college training as an industrial arts teacher.
Back to New Guinea teaching in a coed High School.
Settling in Australia and serving in various churches and working as a Builder and latterly as a Joinery Manufacturer.
Now retired.

Two things stand out to me in the above passage.

  • How often does Jesus walk with us and we do not recognise Him?
  • How often do we feel the fire and warmth of His presence and even then are not sensitive to His presence?

I could list many ways in which I have experienced Jesus presence and the times when I have been ignorant. This would be no great advantage to you. I ask you to dwell on your own experiences. I believe He treats us all as individuals and speaks to us and meets with us in ways that suit us.

May the fire, warmth and peace of Jesus be yours each day.

R. Fraser

Sunday: remember

Message from Moderator Simon Hansford, 
and prayers adapted from Tess Ward’s “Celtic Wheel of the Year.”

Prayers – sung and spoken

Praise to you Suffering God.
You know the wounding by metal
of skin that was made to love.

Your prophets spoke long ago
of melting down weapons and bombs
to make machines for hospitals and farms,
of using money and intelligence spent studying war
on housing all and finding cures for our dis-eases.

Praise to you for not abandoning us
but remaining with us in the darkest dereliction
of our choice.

Be still in the silence and aware of the Love with and within …

O Holy One who came in peace,
your blood fell on dusty ground
in the sacrifice of Calvary;
Your cross standing erect as graves,
for every father, son and brother;
for every woman too;
row on row of unmarked stone,
indecently clean and straight
belying the messy stain
that can never be eased from our story now
but inspires our courage
and calls us to act for Your eternal shalom.

As age shall not weary them,
may despair not overcome us.
We will not cover the spectre of terror with forgetfulness.
We will remember them.

For all the war studied
and all the lessons never learned,
we offer our contrite hearts
and our sadness
and place them into Your hands.

Hear then the Good News (from Hebrews 9:27-28 The Passion Translation):

Every human being is appointed to die once, and then to face God’s judgment. But when we die we will be face-to-face with Christ, the One who experienced death once for all to bear the sins of many! And now to those who eagerly await him, he will appear a second time; not to deal with sin, but to bring us the fullness of salvation.

So, the peace of the Lord be with you.

Gospel reading

Now on that Sunday two of the followers of Jesus were going to a village called Emmaus, about 11 kilometres from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all the things that had happened that led to the crucifixion of Jesus. 

While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” 

They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 

He asked them, “What things?” 

They replied, “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. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 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.” 

Then 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. As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 

But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 

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. 

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?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 

Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Luke 24: 13-35

A brief reflection

In the midst of life we are in death,creatures of a day.
Like a shadow we flee and never stay.
But God is tender to those who fear him
for he knows of what we are made;
he remembers that we are but dust.
Our days are like the grass;
we flourish like a flower of the field;
when the wind goes over it, it is gone
and its place will know it no more.
But the merciful goodness of the Lord endures forever, 
full of compassion and grace.

Tess Ward, Alternative Pastoral Prayers

Death has a way of bringing the whole of life into question. And days of remembrance can be especially hard as we sit with the tensions of sadness and celebration, of holding on and letting go, of the life that was lived together and the unimagined future of life without one we loved dearly. 

One of the things that I treasure most about my faith is the assurance that the God who was there at the beginning is also there for each ending. And that, in God, beginnings and endings are not as limited or as finite or as opposite as we use them in our language. 

For those disciples on the road to Emmaus, the death of Christ on the cross and all of the events leading up to it and all of the confusion of the days that followed distracted them from their core beliefs and blinded them to the fact that the very one they were mourning was walking right beside them.

Gently, Jesus reminds them. 

First, by telling them the old, old stories right back to the days of Moses so that they might remember God’s faithfulness and recognise the slow unfolding of God’s salvation in every generation.

Second, by accepting the invitation to stay with them and enacting the simple blessing, breaking, and sharing of bread as he had so recently done in the upper room of the disciples that they might know him and make known to others the truth of his abiding presence. 

As we remember all Australians killed in military operations by telling their stories or standing at the end of our driveways at dawn or wearing sprigs of rosemary or baking ANZAC biscuits, may Jesus gently remind us that – as part of Christ’s resurrection community – we are custodians of the good news, part of God’s unfolding plan for the salvation and renewal of the whole world, a people called to pray and work for God’s perfect peace. 

Prayers for peace

Let us pray for all who suffer as a result of conflict,
and ask that God may give us peace:

for the servicemen and women
who have died in the violence of war,
each one remembered by and known to God;
may God give peace.
God give peace. 

for those who love them in death as in life,
offering the distress of our grief and the sadness of our loss;
may God give peace.
God give peace.

for all members of the armed forces who are in danger this day,
remembering family, friends and all who pray for their safe return;
may God give peace.
God give peace. 

for civilian women, children and men
whose lives are disfigured by war or terror,
calling to mind in penitence the anger and hatreds of humanity;
may God give peace.
God give peace. 

for peace-makers and peace-keepers,
who seek to keep this world secure and free;
may God give peace.
God give peace. 

for all Defence Force chaplains offering support,
encouragement, acceptance, compassion and understanding
wherever and whenever it is needed;
may God give peace.
God give peace.

for all who bear the burden and privilege of leadership,
political, military and religious;
asking for gifts of wisdom and resolve
in the search for reconciliation and peace;
may God give peace.
God give peace. 

O God of truth and justice,
we hold before you those whose memory we cherish,
and those whose names we will never know.
Help us to lift our eyes above the torment of this broken world,
and grant us the grace to pray for those who wish us harm.

As we honour the past,
may we put our faith in your future;
for you are the source of life and hope,
now and for ever.
Amen.

Wednesday: on the verge

I’m spending my time following Easter reading slowly through the Gospel accounts of Jesus’s appearances to his disciples. 

While I have long loved the story of how he travels with two disciples on the road to Emmaus and makes himself known to them in the breaking of bread, I find myself intrigued at the moment by what follows afterwards when those same disciples return to Jerusalem to share the news of their encounter with the eleven who are still behind closed doors. 

As they are recounting this miracle, Jesus appears in their midst – startling and frightening them all.

While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.

He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.

Luke 24:36-48, New International Version

I wonder how often we, desiring God’s presence, pleading for God’s guidance, are actually upset and disturbed when our prayers are answered and we encounter God in a way so real, so tangible that we would tell friends later, “I came face to face with God.” 

Coming face to face with God can be terrifying – especially when it is unexpected, or our lives are in disorder, or we are carrying around within us some secret shame, some “hidden” sin.  Think of Peter still labouring under the burden of having denied his association with Christ, or John’s shame at being unable to stay awake in the garden, or Nathanael’s heartache at not having borne witness to the suffering of his Lord and teacher upon the cross.

Jesus comes into their midst without judgement, speaking words of peace, offering the signs necessary to turn their fear and trembling into joy and amazement, and their joy and amazement into certainty and belief.

A central truth of the Christian life that we often neglect is that every encounter with Jesus places us on the verge of change and invites us into newness.

Often we are looking instead for the presence of God to satisfy an emptiness within us, to bring a little comfort and peace into a difficult day, but the God who puts our lives back together does so with the hope and desire that those lives will be lived in a different way.

It is for this reason that Jesus opens the disciples’ minds to the Scriptures: so that they can bear witness – testify – to the new life that the suffering and resurrection of Christ has made possible.

The Good News that we preach and proclaim over Easter does not stop with Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. The purpose of Jesus’s excruciating suffering is not just that we might claim forgiveness and the assurance of an eternal life in God’s kingdom. We need to fully understand and bear witness to the fact that the resurrected Lord gives us the power and the passion to be different, to turn away from and leave behind those relationships that drain us, those habits that have a hold on us, those mistakes and failures which limit our imagination and rob us of life.

Christ’s resurrection brings us to the brink of change.  All things are possible.  All ways are open. So, which direction will we choose to walk in? And who do we choose to walk with us?

***

May the God of the Easter garden bless you in every season of the heart.
May the God of the mountainside bless this time we’ve spent apart.
May the God of the beach bless you whether tides ebb or flow.
May the God of the upper room bless your doubts that all may know
the deep love of God that is stronger than death.

Amen.