Monday, 2 April 2018

Walking in step with the Crucified & Risen Lord

First preached as a sermon at Guildford Cathedral on Easter Day 2018 at Solemn Evensong & Procession.
Luke 24.13- 35 ‘The Walk to Emmaus’

Alleluia. Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed. Alleluia.

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

One of the delights and excitements of the English beach holiday – apart from guessing the weather – is going rock-pooling. And when you wear shoes a lot walking barefoot on rough ground brings you quickly to realise just how soft and pampered your feet are. I have childhood memories at the beginning of beach holidays treading through rock pools being scratched by barnacles, shivering in cold sea water, jabbed by rocks, burned by hot sand.

Tonight on the shiny floors of this cathedral there will be an Easter procession; not a journey of penitence but a journey of rejoicing. Holy Week and Easter is characterised by a surfeit of journeying – Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, the Way of the Cross; and just last night the confirmation candidates journeyed to the font to recall their baptism, echoing the journey of the people of Israel from their slavery in the darkness of Egypt, to freedom, light and liberty in the Promised Land. Led by incense and making our way to the Paschal Candle our procession deliberately evokes the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire that led the people of Israel from their slavery to freedom. All these journeys are an embodiment of a life metaphor.

So now a new day has dawned: Christ is risen! And still journeys. The journeys of the first Easter morning are of the myrrh bearing women, coming to anoint Jesus’ dead body, and of Mary Magdalene coming to weep at the tomb. From the empty tomb Mary begins the first Christian missionary journey as she goes to pass on the news of the resurrection to the Apostles, what we know now as the apostolic faith. Mary hands on that which reaches us today. Peter and John respond by racing to the tomb. Tonight’s Easter procession is a response in movement around the Cathedral: it is a rather more stately echo of the journeys of the women, of Mary Magdalene and of Peter and John - with no overtaking - to and from the tomb: we make their journey tonight.

Easter can seem like we have finally got it, we have arrived at our destination; journey’s end. And all too often the resurrection is told as simply the happy ending of a sad story. But the resurrection of Jesus is a junction not a terminus; it is a point of departure that takes us on and beyond our expectation. It recalibrates our vision and the possibilities of God; we are left asking ‘who is this Jesus? Where is this Jesus?’ and we see him and find him in the simplicity and depth of the breaking of bread; which is itself, day by day, a glimpse of resurrection and then we see him no more.

In his poem ‘Emmaus’ Archbishop Rowan Williams describes a stranger – Jesus - as completely out of step with our familiar world. Jesus walks to a different rhythm, padding in the gaps between our uncertain footsteps, across the terrain and contours over which we are called to walk, like the feet of the little boy who has removed his shoes to walk across the rock pools.

Before the Resurrection we were shod with the expectation that death is the final word, that we can live only for ourselves, that we are essentially alone. We take off those shoes to walk barefoot, walking the same terrain as before but, like with shoes off in the rock pools, with a more vibrant appreciation of God’s abundant life, our bonds with others, and that we live no longer for ourselves but for Christ. Tonight we begin resurrection walking again, tentatively and yet attentively, walking with him, step by step into his rhythm, he who is everything we are, and everything we are to become.

Those two dejected disciples walked from Jerusalem to Emmaus in the dimness of dusk and with uncertain footsteps. They walked into the dark night with the stranger who walks with them and breaks bread for them, as he has before, and now they walk on and into the light.  

Alleluia. Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed. Alleluia.

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