Sermon 2017 April 30th



Listen here:


Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. Luke 24:35


It is perhaps the most famous stretch of road in the scriptures.

Definitely up there with the road to Damascus

or the way between the waters of the Red Sea.

A pilgrim pathway; holy ground.

Ironic, that Emmaus today is lost – or at least no one entirely sure where it is.

yet the mind map to/from Emmaus is held dear.


The beginnings are bleak.

Two refugees, trudge away from wrecked dreams;

desolation behind, emptiness ahead.


Cleopas and another – wife or companion?

Witnesses to the rollercoaster of recent days;

triumphal entry, temple teaching –

Surely this was our time: He the One to bring it about.

Yet, strange reluctance to seize the moment,

unwilling to surf the crowd’s approval to a landslide victory.

Instead, the tightening noose,

the menace of earthly powers.


An upper room, a final meal;

bread fragmented, wine poured out.

A kiss in the garden, a kangaroo court,

the viciousness of soldiers unchecked.

Now, in vain, attempting to shut out the memory

of a place called Skull (Golgotha) – where the light went out.

One insult more – a ransacked tomb.


Defeated, grief-struck, the two poured out their lamentation.

To the stranger who fell in with them:

“We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel…

We were wrong…”


Perhaps you know something of defeat or dreams broken –

a failure, a betrayal, a war, a divorce, a death.

Perhaps you have seen or sensed a bottom that has to be reached

before rising can begin.


After the questions and the listening,

after the speaking of sorrow, the stranger’s reply:

Could it have been any other way?

Don’t our scriptures tell it so –

a Suffering Servant, an enduring Messiah,

a cross before a crown?


Then the first evening star, journey’s end;

the courtesies of hospitality, a place at the table;

utterly ordinary, bread and wine;

utterly un-ordinary; guest becoming host.

Thanksgiving for simple gifts;

elements offered and received.

Then their eyes were opened –

something returned, hope and wonder, loved undefeated..


The earliest known paintings by the Spanish Renaissance artist Velázquez (1599–1660),

are two versions of the “Kitchen Maid” (in Spanish, La mulata, La cocinera)

painted when he was about eighteen.

The main figure and visual centre in both paintings

is the kitchen maid in the foreground.

The woman appears distracted.

In her left hand, she holds a ceramic jug of wine.

She’s glancing over her right shoulder,

She bends over to support herself.


Velázquez depicts the maid as a mulatto,

the offspring of a Spanish Christian and an African Muslim.

Given the antipathy of the day towards the Moors,

the subject of this painting, then, is a person marginalized at every level —

by her mixed race, religion, gender, and class.


The version in the Art Institute of Chicago shows only a mulatto maid.

For many decades, the version in the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin

also showed, only the servant girl.

But when the Dublin painting was cleaned in 1933,

it revealed in the upper left corner, Jesus and two men at table.

Clearly, the Dublin version was the dinner at Emmaus.


Seen only through a window-like opening,

Jesus and the men are relegated to a back room in the background.

Whereas the men had been blind to the identity of Jesus

even when he was with them for a seven-mile walk,

the Moorish maid recognizes the risen Christ

while working in the mundane context of a kitchen.

[“God is found in the pots” said Teresa of Avila.]


The picture asks us:

Who understands the risen Christ?

Who is the risen Christ for?


Emmaus – scriptural account or artistic imagining –

reminds us of our own sometime limited seeing,

our mistaken expectations about what God is doing in Jesus;

reminds us of the sometime clearer sight, of those we easily overlook.


On Wednesday, the Glass Door Charity

held its end of Night Shelter season reception here at St Columba’s.

Some three hundred volunteers, gathered from twenty-five West London congregations,

helping to keep a hundred homeless guests sheltered and feed

each night of the winter months.

There was much that should make those involved feel proud –

It is powerful, practical outworking of love and faith.

Yet the very existence of such a charity, its area of concern growing,

points to a different and ongoing defeat –

that amid the palpable wealth of this city,

the condition of homelessness persists and expands.


Two speakers – both of whom, a man and a woman –

had experienced the Night Shelter from the sharp side – as guests –

spoke movingly about what it is to be homeless.

The educated accent, the cv of business owner,

the bewildering speed with which things had unravelled

were reminder of there but for the grace of God…


And listening a little to the experience of the volunteers –

what they have received, enjoyed, learnt –

a shift from talking about the homeless, to talking about individuals –

people with names, who are experiencing homelessness.


In evenings shared, dignity upheld, bread broken together –

albeit in small ways – new sight, different understanding, hope rekindled – Eyes opened…


Next Sunday potentially we break croissant together –

or that is the hope, if the caterers of Divine Dine (our Young Adults) come through.

A simple congregational breakfast and the opportunity to hear a speaker from Christian Aid.


In the aftermath of World War II, British and Irish church leaders met,

determining to do everything possible to help European refugees

who had lost everything.

The name they gave themselves was Christian Reconstruction in Europe.

Their purpose was not to evangelise,

but to alleviate suffering for ordinary people, regardless of faith.

That was the beginning of today’s Christian Aid.

2017 marks the 60th anniversary of Christian Aid Week –

the primary vehicle whereby individuals and congregations raise funds for the charity.


Christian Aid insists the world can and must be swiftly changed

to one where everyone can live a full life, free from poverty.

It works globally for profound change that eradicates the causes of poverty;

it provides urgent and practical assistance where need is great.

The theme of this year’s Christian Aid Week:

We’ve been there for refugees since 1945. We won’t turn our backs now.

The offering of a little time

to stand and collect at Victoria or Green Park station on Friday 19th May

might just be an Emmaus road for someone – perhaps you or I?