Emmaus – Br. Geoffrey Tristram
Every year, for eight years, on Easter Monday, I used to go on a 20 mile hike. It was from Welwyn, Hertfordshire, where I was a parish priest, to our cathedral in St. Albans. I was joined by about 100 young people and helpers from our Sunday School and Youth Group. When we got to St Albans, we would join 10 thousand others, arriving from every corner of the diocese for the Annual Diocesan Youth Pilgrimage. The day culminated in a great Easter celebration with a very loud rock band, on the grounds below the cathedral.
But my favorite part of the day happened early in the morning: at about 6:30 the young people arrived at church rubbing their bleary eyes, and with their hiking boots and back packs, sat on the floor of the sanctuary and we would have an informal Eucharist. The atmosphere was incredible. The day before, there had been packed services – but now, the morning after, everything was very silent, and the air was heavy with the smell of candles and also heavy with all the prayers and worship that had been offered during Holy Week and Easter. The young people picked up the sense of awe and silent wonder. Then we would read the Gospel – and it was always the same one: the story of the Road to Emmaus.
It is the story of how those two disciples, as they journeyed along the road were suddenly and mysteriously joined by another. And this other spoke to them in a way which profoundly affected them. “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us along the road?” The other whom they had encountered was the Risen Lord. And on that Easter Monday morning, sitting on the floor of the sanctuary in the silence as the sun began to shine through the stained glass of the East window, we too experienced the presence of the other, the Risen One, in our midst.
Toward the end of T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” he writes,
“Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you…”
Eliot explains in the notes that he has in mind the story told of Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition: how the party of explorers, when at the extremity of their strength – repeatedly felt that there was one more member than could actually be counted.
Long before Shackleton, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had a similar experience: “Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? Yet I see four men loose, walking in
the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.”
For me, the experience of resurrection is the very real presence of this other in my life: the Risen One. And his compelling invitation is to take to the road, to journey, to make a pilgrimage. Monica Furlong, in her book Traveling In, wrote, “The religious person is the one who believes that life is about making some kind of journey. The non-religious person is the one who believes there is no journey to make.”
“Come follow me. I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life”. Christianity has never been simply a static body of doctrine, but rather a dynamic way of life. The first term used in the NT to describe Christians were “followers of the Way”.
But, I suppose, if we are honest – we’re not always very keen to take to the road. I think I am OK where I am now, thank you. The call to grow and change can make us feel insecure and frankly scared. And yet that is what the resurrection Life is all about. “For here we have no abiding city, for we seek the city which is to come”, we are pilgrims headed somewhere – and that is our heavenly home.
The story of Emmaus is deeply encouraging: wherever we are on our life journey, we are never alone. We are always joined by another: the Risen One. He is the one who always walks beside us: when we are at the extremity of our strength, he is with us; in the wilderness of ice or the furnace of the fire. In our times of greatest loneliness or trial, Emmaus reassures us that “You are not alone: you have a companion”.
I wonder what experience you have of that in your own life?
The Risen Christ walks by our side, but he also goes ahead of us. In John’s gospel, Chapter 14, we read “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places: if it were not so would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” The word used by John for dwelling place is very interesting– it’s the Greek word monai – that doesn’t mean a house, certainly not a mansion! – but a stopping place: rather like a wayside shelter, where a traveler could rest a night or two on journey (like mountain huts in the White Mountains). It was the custom in the East for travelers to send someone ahead to prepare the next shelter along the road, so that when they arrived they might find comfort as well as shelter.
Jesus in this passage says that he is that person for us. He is just ahead of us on our life’s journey: he prepares the way for us. Even though the next step of our journey may seem scary. “I have gone before you to prepare a place for you”.
I wonder though if we often reach a stage in our life when we have found a very comfortable wayside shelter, and decide we’d like to stop there for good! To give up the journey – because where we have got to is far enough, thank you very much. But that is to forget our Abrahamic roots: pitching our tents and taking out the tent pegs in the morning and moving on.
Christ urges us on. We are a pilgrim people. Get back on the road. Don’t be afraid. For I will always be the one walking by your side – and I will always go before you to prepare the way.
So two weeks after Easter, how have you experienced the Risen Lord in your life during these weeks?
Where do you feel that he is leading you? Where is the invitation?
Have you maybe stayed too long in your present wayside shelter? Is Christ maybe urging you to move on? Or to change or to grow?
If the journey seems daunting or overwhelming, the resurrection Gospel assures us that the Risen One will always be our companion on the Way, and will always go before us to prepare the way.
We are a pilgrim people, and our journey will only end when we reach our final resting place, when we shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Amen.
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I enjoyed your unpacking the derivation and meaning of the word “monai” as a stopping place along the road. I have had a very bad cold for over a week and have had a stopping place in my life as I have had to cancel a lot of things I was going to attend. The resulting quiet may not have done a lot to hasten my recovery from the cold (sigh) but has allowed me to pause and reflect in my spiritual journey. And get caught up on reading these morning reflections. I had always seen the “many mansions” parable as showing the end or a goal but now I see it as part of an eternal process. Thanks for the insight.
Br. Geoffrey, I so loved this sermon. I am so thankful that the Risen Christ walks beside us, as well as ahead of us, to lead us on the way. I always enjoy reading all the comments, too, which are, so often, are sermons
within themselves. SSJE has quite a following of fellow Christians. May God bless you now and all the days to come.
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(Forgive me if this has already been stated, I did not have the energy to read the other replies). I am reminded that we are all on a journey, every existence is a journey, and that this is true of every individual person, object, phenomenon. So It is helpful to remember that no matter where we are and what we do, we are on a journey, the universe is on a collective journey. This I think is part of the zen buddhist understanding of impermanence.
This is significant for our family as our son packs up to leave for a job in Paris- a city that he he wanted to live in and experience , had taken French lessons and spent a month or so there a few years ago. He had almost given up hope of finding a job there when this one turned up. We all wish him well and hope that he knows that he is not alone in this new journey and pray that our Lord keeps him safe.
I have been receiving these from a precious friend. They enrich my days. Please include me on your mailing list. With gratitude
An uplifting message for the spiritually conflicted, and a reminder of the very basic and core tenet of Christianity; that we are never alone.
Peggy in San Antonio, Texas
I love this post Easter story and it has been on my mind occasionally the past few weeks and then, last night I dreamt about it. Imagine my delightful surprise this morning to wake up and read your beautifully crafted sermon. Not only a wonderful writer, you are but you paint a warm and beautiful picture of the Risen Christ who is very important to me. Thank you so much for this lovely Word.
Dorothy in Victoria, BC, Canada.
Thank you, Brother Tristram; your words have reminded me of the One who walks before us and with us, and who is the Word behind us telling us the way; you have brought me great comfort. Bless you.
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I too can say “thank you.” I tend to be a person who tries to put Christianity in a box. This sermon was a good reminder that the Christian life is dynamic, and that although we have a text, the Bible, and a body of doctrine, it is in the application that we really experience Christ’s presence and see how each day we experience some new understanding of God and how we are to live.
Though this message was delivered sometime ago, as I read it this morning it still has significance. I search for a place to feel the love of Christ, to be inspired, to do more. While I spend a great amount of time on my own with prayer and thankfulness a community of others sharing in this belief is necessary. So I too will continue to travel about in search of likeminded Christians. I am thankful to have found SSJE as a sign in the road pointing “this way”.
Home – as I read this I began to think that yes we are moving towards our heavenly home and that we are also called to care for the home our island home Earth.
That a lot… Having a foot firmly set in both places. A hard task with everything else that comes and goes in ones life. That is why I believe prayers are so important they help me stay balanced.
A good word brother. Living in the church and going to the world works much better than living in the world and going to church! Christian community should be our starting place, not our goal.
Recently, my wife and I bought a pickup truck and cabover camper. We intend to travel around the US to see our daughters and grandsons. But before this happens, we have to complete an irrigation system for our garden so we can leave rest assured the the garden witll receive water on a regular basis. This is all part of our journey just like packing our equipment, bags, food, etc. prior to leaving home.
These sermons remind me of things I have known.
Always I remember that Jesus is with me every step of the way. Thank you for reminding us – it is easy to forget this and to feel that we are alone in our suffering , our times of trouble. A voice whispers that we are never alone and it is so reassuring to know this and a relief to experience this. I pray that all in trouble and going through hard times may have this feeling.
Thank you Br Geoffrey, I have begun a journey recently by giving up my apartment and allowing myself five months to find a new home. Your message illuminates my journey and reassures me. With peace.
Thank you Brother Geoffrey. Your loving and insightful words are a gift and an answer to a prayer…
Amen indeed! Thank you for these hope-filled words!
Thank you brother.
May we both be covered in the dust of our rabbi from following his path along the road!
2 July 2011
Thank you for these words of strength
I have always loved this story to begin with. Always have found it exciting and mysterious, and thrilling.
I enjoyed your relating the story to our “never” being alone because the risen Christ is always with us wherever we are. Encouraging. 🙂
Thanks and peace.
On our journey we sometimes find ourselves in way stations that are not particularly life-affirming. Perhaps it is the Stranger who calls us to pack up and move along and who fills our hearts with hope, the most necessary ‘food for the journey’.
Thank you. It is hard in the creative life to know, sometimes, what the next steps are to be, and how to make them….a career in a more patterned type of work has different uncertainties, but the path towards growth in one’s work is more clearly laid out, most of the time, it seems.
Even in steadily prayed searches for direction and guidance along that way, those who write, make dances, play music, or study works of art may find themselves at an impasse, or at least a stopping point, that might not even be so much comfortable as puzzling: how to do the next thing, how to balance that against other needs in life, how to move in the direction that is most glorifying to God–and also pays the rent and moves one’s inner work forward.
Seeking Wisdom’s breath to waft the mists away so the road is clear, and seeing God’s One as moving ahead to prepare the next resting-point is helpful imagery, and I’m adding it to my prayer in these matters. Thank you.
Thank you Geoffrey,
As I pack for a move across country to NM with very mixed emotions, this was a helpful calling to mind of essentials. I appreciate it!
Dear Brother Geoffrey, thank you for the reminder of our journey, especially when it is uncertain, and we feel ill equipped, that Jesus trusts us enough, and believes in us enough to take the journey, and never leaves us behind, alone, or forgotten.