We are at the end of our 5th week, in the UK, of our Coronavirus lockdown and the Government has announced a further three weeks of restrictions to try and manage the devastation caused by the virus Convid-19. Life has changed radically, especially for the Church, as new ways of being Church in isolation is emerging. One might perhaps assume, mistakenly, that the Church, the body of Jesus Christ, will not survive; yet it is re-imaging itself in all sorts of virtual forms; because God as Father, Jesus Christ his son and Holy Spirit, living amongst Christian people and in the world, matters to us and to our lives in lockdown. God is our saviour and is the one we come to love and to serve.
I have been struck this week by the hand clapping for key workers, who are keeping us going on the front line. Every Thursday at 8pm and at different times around the world, we come out of our houses and applaud the hospital and medical staff and teams, care workers, emergency services and those vital to our lives. During these times we get to see our neighbours in the flesh. Yes they do exist, they are not just in a virtual world and we can wave to one another, chat across the fence and across the street and exchange a smile and a joke as we share in our appreciation of those on the front line. The clapping is a sign of something far bigger, a mass demonstration of appreciation for something good and hopeful that will save us in the end.
Many people of course will be living in anxious times as the future is uncertain. Businesses and work may have unsure and different futures, pensions and savings may be impacted by the economic uncertainty and those who are ill are fighting the battle. Others of course will be seeing a different way of life and living in the now with the beauty that is surrounding them.
Whatever our situation though, we need someone, in the flesh and not virtual, who we can turn to and depend upon and know their love and concern for us. Two people went for their exercise on a 7 mile walk, in the heat of the day, keeping themselves to themselves, making sure they were social distancing and talking to one another about their anxieties in the current situation. They felt threatened, they felt very sad, they felt that all was lost and they needed to seek a new life somehow. Then a 3rd person joins them, in the flesh, and asks them why they are so sad. He almost seemed to be part of the family walking with the couple. Here is what happened.
‘Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 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.
This scripture from Luke 24:13-35 is one of the recorded events of Jesus Christ, God on earth, the son of God our Father, appearing as a new creation, a new person in the flesh, as well as virtual. His crucifixion on a cross cleared the way for evil and sin and death to be defeated and then, with his resurrection to a new life, all who believed in him would know new life in Jesus Christ. We live in the resurrected age and presence of Jesus Christ; he is alive, and he brings the promise of salvation and hope in him. The two on the road to Emmaus saw a sign of his presence as he broke bread in front of them. If you connect with most virtual services in the current climate, you too will see that reminder of the resurrected presence of Christ amongst us, through his Holy Spirit, in broken bread and wine outpoured.
You see, if we let him and believe in him, and sometimes even when we don’t, Jesus Christ will come alongside us in our anxiety and sadness and walk with us, leaving us with joy and ‘our hearts burning within us’. You see we encounter the Holy in the sadness and the crisis and we want to lift up his name and give him praise.
Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty
Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty
Who was, and is, and is to come
I lift up His name with the sound of sing
Lift up His name with all the earth
Lift up your voice and give Him glory
For He is worthy to be praised
It is often at different and hard times, or times of suffering, that the follower and believer of Jesus Christ, will have new and deep revelations of the mercy and grace of Jesus Christ. It is the mercy and grace of God that comes to us and brings us joy even though we might in wordly terms suffer. It is the Christian’s ability to rise above the circumstances in front of us, to see God at work in our lives and the lives of others, that shows ‘He is Alive’. It is our calling to reveal God’s mercy and grace to others in how we react during these times as a witness to the world around us. We pray that we do not become obstacles to God’s mercy and grace, but are his light to the world.
The two on the road to Emmaus ran back to Jerusalem, the place of their anxieties, worries and sadness, to proclaim that Jesus is alive and they had seen him and they knew his joy and the world changed and it will change again!
Perhaps our prayer could be:
Thank you Lord that in all circumstances we can turn to you and know that you are alive. Help us to recommit ourselves to you, so that our hearts burn with your love and your presence. Come and bless those amongst us who are suffering that they may know a deeper revelation of how much you love them and wish to save and heal. Come into our own lives and help us to be witnesses to your mercy and your grace, and to see you working in this world to bring us all closer to you, reconciled and living life in all its fullness and purpose as you intended, not as we intend. Help us to know your will and to fight this virus.
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
now and for ever.
As we gather together on a Thursday evening, or whatever time it is in our part of the world, to clap for our medical and care services, maybe we could also clap for the living God who is present with us and active with us in this crisis.
Psalm 47 has these words.
Clap your hands, all you peoples;
shout to God with loud songs of joy.
For the LORD, the Most High, is awesome,
a great king over all the earth.
He subdued peoples under us,
and nations under our feet.
He chose our heritage for us,
the pride of Jacob whom he loves.
God has gone up with a shout,
the LORD with the sound of a trumpet.
Sing praises to God, sing praises;
sing praises to our King, sing praises.
For God is the king of all the earth;
sing praises with a psalm
God is king over the nations;
God sits on his holy throne.
The princes of the peoples gather
as the people of the God of Abraham.
For the shields of the earth belong to God;
he is highly exalted.