1st Sunday after Easter (Low Sunday)
Psalm 118, Isaiah 51: 9 – 16 and Luke 24: 13 – 35
This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it. Psalm 118: 20
So the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. Isaiah 51: 11
But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Luke 24: 21a (Jesus said) ‘Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ Luke 24: 26
Almighty Father, who hast given thine only Son to die for our sins, and to rise again for our justification: Grant us so to put away the leaven of malice and wickedness, that we may always serve thee in pureness of living and truth; through the merits of the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. Collect for First Sunday after Easter.
We find ourselves a week on from Easter Day still rejoicing in the wonder of the Resurrection. Through Lent we were walking with Jesus as he prepared to face the known ordeal of Calvary. His death came as no surprise to him, as he knew this was the necessary climax to his earthly ministry. Indeed, he had on a number of occasions explained to the disciples that his death was essential for his purpose to be fulfilled; all this was in accordance with the words of the prophets. While it might have been expected of an unlearned group of followers who were loyal to the success of Jesus’ Messiahship insofar as they understood it, it must have been a great sorrow to Jesus that most of the priests, religious scholars and leaders failed to recognise who he was. Jesus had gone to his death mocked and vilified by the people most educated to understand true Messiahship. Yet amidst the apparent failure of the crucifixion Jesus had managed to cry out triumphantly, ‘It is finished’.
Now all this was in the past, as our passage from Luke 24 describes events later on that Easter Day. Two of Jesus’ friends were making their way from Jerusalem to Emmaus, mulling over the mystery of the empty tomb. What could have happened to the body? What was the significance of the angels’ appearance? Why had it been necessary for Jesus to die? They must have been experiencing a maelstrom of emotions.
Then a stranger joins them on the journey. In their confusion they do not recognise the resurrection body clothing Jesus. A lengthy conversation follows, where Jesus feigns ignorance of the recent events in Jerusalem and they unburden themselves of the disappointment, ‘But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel’ in verse 21a. Even the testimony of their friends seeing the vacant tomb and the appearance of the angels had failed to raise their spirits. Jesus then uses the scriptures to prove why all these events were expected and necessary, and why he had to suffer the ignominy of a criminal’s death on a Roman cross in order to make the permanent forgiveness of sins possible.
We then read the touching account of hospitality offered at the destination and how Jesus takes the place of prominence to offer thanks and break the bread they were about to eat. Cleopas and his companion had not been part of the privileged group of disciples who had shared in the Last Supper, but they must have been told about it, for they instantly realise that the man with them was actually the risen Jesus.
The story ends with Jesus vanishing from sight and their hurried return seven miles to Jerusalem, filled with joy and excitement; all their questions had been answered, all their doubts addressed by Jesus himself! To their added amazement they arrive to learn that Jesus had been seen by Peter. We continue with the events of Easter Day in our thoughts next Sunday.
Amid the happiness of Jesus’ disciples as we take our leave from this scene in the locked room (for they were scared for their safety with rumours spreading of Jesus’ resurrection), today’s Collect brings us up short. In the first sentence we have some condensed theology – the Father gave the Son to die for our sins and the power of the resurrection justifies us as forgiven sinners in God’s sight. Then it moves on directly to the very practical acceptance that we are still prone to temptation and falling into sin. We pray we may put away the leaven of malice and wickedness, likening the corrosive effect of sin in our lives to the way yeast reacts and is alive, multiplying the potential for us to fall into the trap of sin even after we have been saved. This is a theme we have covered not long ago when the Collect for the Second Sunday in Lent spoke of us having no power of ourselves to help ourselves. We need to accept we continue to be fallible human beings who can so readily fail our Lord, repent and ask for ongoing forgiveness, and ask for the Holy Spirit’s help to continue the transformation of our lives that is part of discipleship. Like the two friends on the Emmaus road, we need Jesus alongside us to help us understand and serve God in pureness of living and truth.
Kevin Boak, Lay Reader