Sunday, May 08, 2011

From Jerusalem to Leverstock Green

We spent Friday undertaking an unenviable task - sorting the loft. it is an unenviable task because when we arrived here we were 2 and a bit, and now we are 5 (6 if you count the dog!) and with a boarded loft this end and no boarded loft at the other, we needed to sort with a motto - if in doubt throw it out.

Sorting stuff was was a bittersweet experience - there were records, books, photos, keepsakes, mementos - there were things that brought back good memories, there were things that reminded me of people no longer with us, there were things that reminded me of how far I have journeyed on life since. The sorting made me look back and caused a number of different emotions to surface.

Then yesterday morning I was at Leverstock Green School celebrating the history of the life of the school in this community as part of the 200th anniversary celebrations of the National Society which was set up to promote religious education in this country. It was wonderful to go and see photos and records and stories of the school over different eras of it’s past and to celebrate the journey the school has been on over the years and the impact that the it has made on thousands of lives in this community.

In this morning’s Gospel reading we encounter two people, full of memories about the past, overflowing with emotion, contemplating the journey their lives had taken them on as they travel from Jerusalem to Emmaus.

This story deals in things we know and can grasp and understand - it happens on the way to Emmaus from Jerusalem - roughly equivalent if we were to walk from here to St Albans Abbey, about 6 miles. We are told one of the key players is a man called Cleopas. He’s not one of the 12 disciples, but might have been part of the very earliest of churches. And the other? One of us perhaps?

We know something that they don’t.  As they walk the two travelers are joined by a stranger. THey fail to recognize him as the risen Jesus. Was that because it was so unlikely? So unexpected? Were they so wrapped up in their grief. But would we recognize him? Jesus promises to walk with us, to be with us wherever we go but do we recognize him?

Cleopas and the other disciple are asked by their traveling companion to explain why they are looking sad. Their hope is gone.  So Cleopas explains about the things that had taken place.  ‘We had hoped...’ said Cleopas.  As he retells of Jesus alive, crucified, dead and buried, so they tell of crushed hopes and trodden down dreams with him and for themselves. Gone. But notice, as they unfold the top news story of the day, they describe Jesus as a great prophet, but fail to grasp something crucial - his divinity - He is the Son of God. They had missed something crucial.

By ourselves, through own intelligence, our philosophy, science, our own reasoning we discover much about our lives and the world, but all in all we cannot fully grasp God fully, really truly is using these alone. God is beyond us. We need him to reveal himself to us alongside us.

This weekend we have been celebrating the life of Leverstock Green school in the context of the wider bicentennial celebrations for the National Society. We have been celebrating and giving thanks for the life of a school that has walked alongside this community for over 160 years through tragedy and joy. What we celebrate this weekend is not the buildings, but the people who have walked alongside sometimes unseen, as fellow pupils of the school as well as staff and support staff. It is their presence, commitment and care that is remembered long after the buildings are forgotten because it is that which shapes us as people and has transformed our future.

The stranger walks alongside Cleopas an the other disciple and us and opens the scriptures to them. He reveals the big story of God’s love for creation contained in them, and reaching it’s fulfillment in and through his messiah, his chosen one. Even then they did not fully grasp why this was the most important walk of their lives.

Later, as they share a meal at which the stranger takes bread, gives thanks for it and blesses, breaks and shares it. Suddenly it dawned on them who the stranger is. It is their Master raised from the dead. Jesus himself had had walked alongside them and had revealed God’s promise of new hope and resurrection life to them, but not in the Temple, not in church, but in the ordinary things of life - a walk, a meal, a chat, a growing friendship...

This is such a contemporary story. We make our way through life accompanied by all sorts of people - family, friends, teachers, strangers. Some of the journeys are joyful some are tragic. Jesus comes alongside each of us on life’s journey. He doesn’t force his way into the conversations, but listens attentively to our stories and then asks us what we are saying and where we are going. Some of these journeys will encourage us to ask big questions about life and faith.

Jesus meets us this morning wherever we are on our journey. As we read the Bible he helps us understand the extent of God’s love for us as all. As we break bread and share wine Jesus transforms our hurts to hopes, our sorrow to joy, our death to his risen life. As we leave here he meets us again in the ordinary things in life - a walk, a chat, a meal a growing friendship. In all these Cleopas and the other disciple found themselves filled with faith. As we journey from school to college, to work, to family, to friends in all the ordinary things of life, walk alongside us O unexpected Jesus and share with us the things of God and fill us with faith and hope. Amen

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