Sermon for the 3rd Sunday of Easter: Supper at Emmaus – preached at the Eucharist, Sherborne Abbey, on Sunday, 5 February 2023 by The Reverend Robert Green. (Acts Ch 2: v 14a, 36 – 41; Luke Ch 24: v 13 – 35)
It is difficult for us to appreciate how disconsolate Cleopas and his friend were as they left Jerusalem for their home village of Emmaus. We know the complete story, but for them they could only see dismal failure. Their hopes had been dashed. What had begun with so much promise had come to nothing, and their hoped-for Messiah was dead. What do they do now? Perhaps this is why they fail to recognise Jesus as he comes alongside them in their journey, after all, why should they? Despite his expounding of the scriptures as they travelled together, when they arrived at their home, they still did not realise who had been journeying with them, and Jesus was prepared to continue without them. However in true Middle Eastern style they persuaded him to stay with them as it was towards the end of the day. A meal was duly prepared and it was only when Jesus took the bread gave thanks and broke it, and began to give it to them, that they recognised him. At which point he disappeared from their sight, and they are left to reflect that it was Jesus who was their companion on the road, and as he opened the Scriptures to them, their hearts were burning within them. It didn’t stop there as these two travellers being so overwhelmed by what had happened to them, proceeded to return all the way back to Jerusalem, some seven miles, with joy in their hearts, to tell their friends how Jesus had appeared to them.
It is at this point I would like to refer to the copy of the painting you have before you, which is Caravaggio’s “Supper at Emmaus”. The first interesting thing to notice is that Jesus is clean shaven, and perhaps this is the artist’s way of slightly disguising Him, and further demonstrating why his two companions did not recognise him. But what is more important is that the painting shows that something has happened. Both of these disciples are expressing utter amazement, particularly the one on the right with his arms outstretched, and the one on the left is clearly leaning forward from his chair, and the whole painting draws us into the scene as though we might be another guest at the supper. The third person standing, who may have prepared the meal, appears to be unmoved by what has happened. The painting is rightly illustrating an event, for the Resurrection is not just an experience, or a new belief in life after death (most Jews believed in that anyway) but the Resurrection of Jesus was an event that changed everything, everything is different.
On Holy Saturday evening we observed the Great Easter Vigil, and those who were there will know that at the point when we celebrated the moment of Resurrection whistles were blown, bells were rung, drums were beaten, many clapped, the organ thundered out, and the Abbey was filled with light, when previously there had been semi-darkness. The whole atmosphere changed, something had happened, and the remainder of the service was a joyful celebration of Alleluias. Something had happened which changed everything, and this realisation of the presence of our Living Lord has been the human experience all down the ages.
The Resurrection has to be such a radical event or how else were such a bunch of frightened, disillusioned people to be convinced that Jesus has risen from the dead. We heard last week how Thomas needed quite a lot of convincing, and when he was, it resulted in one of the great affirmations of faith, “my Lord and my God”. It also explains why in that period of some 40 days Jesus appears to his followers in various different ways, and in many different places, both individually and to groups
It is the testimony of thousands through the centuries, including our own St Aldhelm, who founded this Abbey over 1300 years ago, and whose legacy lives on as we gather daily, and Sunday by Sunday to worship Jesus our Living Lord, who made Himself known in the Breaking of Bread.