So here we are again, Easter 2020, Crown Court Church, gathered not in one place, still separated by physical distance yet woven together in the power of the Spirit— I am grateful for you—to just know you are out there— all of us seeking for God’s presence in our days, all of us trying to make some sense or meaning out of our current experience, all of us waiting for the time of restoration and healing to begin. I am more aware than ever of the gift of other people, of ordinary common life in community, the precious gift of friendship and friends whose physical absence is unmistakable. I am more grateful than ever for the faith community, the church, my church, as I sat at home and watched Philip’s reflections for Holy Week. Thank you, Philip!
Going for a walk is such a treasure these days; something we would not even have thought about, is now an event we plan and savour and enjoy. I count myself lucky to have the expanse of Wandsworth common on my doorstep even if the fit and fast joggers make me feel like a three-toed tree sloth!
You might know the gospel story of the “Emmaus Walk” (Luke Ch 24: vv 13-35).
It was on the evening of Easter Day; two friends of Jesus go for a “walk and talk” as they head towards the village of Emmaus. They hadn’t yet heard the story of the empty tomb. They’re remembering. They’re doing precisely what you must to do when in the grip of grief. You need to talk. So that is what these two are doing. The geographical location of Emmaus remains a mystery. So maybe “Emmaus” is where you go when you need to walk and think and grieve and remember.
And it is in the middle of this desperately troubling, vulnerable and human experience that the two on the road are joined by a third person. More mystery…. it is Jesus, yet somehow, they don’t recognise him at first. In any event, he joins the conversation. They invite the stranger to stay. At the supper table he takes bread, blesses and breaks it and they remember: “their eyes open and they recognized him.” And then the experience ends. The stranger disappears.
I love the way this Easter Evening Emmaus story assures me that the gift of faith is given in experiences that are fairly ordinary, that God comes to us, ordinary people, in ordinary ways. Maybe that’s the whole point of the story- that in this pandemic, you and I have a story to tell, a story of our loss, our loss of routine, of simple pleasures of friendly encounters and tender embraces, and heartbreakingly, for too many, the loss of livelihood or the raw grief at the loss of a loved one- and in our attempts to live through it, to rise above it, to looking forward to putting life back together, God gives us the gift of faith, the comfort and strength of the good news of Easter – that God lives, and the risen Christ comes particularly when loss is bewildering even shattering – and he comes into the ordinary little things which will become extraordinary when all this is over.
It is at times in life when it feels like the bottom has fallen out; precisely at such times that God in Jesus Christ is apt to come, not in a blaze of celestial light, or in the throes of some religious daydream or vision, but at supper time (even when we eat something from the microwave, alone!), or walking along a road (or through a park!). In these “bottom has fallen out” times, He never approaches from on high, but always in the midst of people, in the midst of real life and the questions that real life asks.
This story of two people walking on the road to Emmaus and a stranger who turns out to be Jesus coming to them, out of nowhere, like the first clear light of the sun after a thunderstorm is the good news I share with you this Easter evening.
One of my favourite hymn tunes is “Ode to Joy”, Beethoven’s magnificent chorus in the 9th Symphony. It’s a great tune for Easter Day services. Next time I lead public worship in Crown Court, I will include it! You may have already watched this YouTube clip-
If you haven’t you must. I you have, watch it again! It moved me deeply, as music often does. But this presentation felt like a fearless act of defiance to the “social distancing” we are all necessarily experiencing. A group of musicians, members of the symphony Orchestra of Rotterdam in the Netherlands, separated from one another by the Coronavirus, playing from their homes, nevertheless reach out and connect through music and the result is both glorious and compelling. I have watched and listened many times. I hope you will take the time to do so too.
So, in the midst of the Coronavirus distancing and isolation, the music of the Rotterdam musicians, playing apart from one another but, nevertheless producing beauty, is a reminder that as members and friends of Crown Court, community is basic to who we are as human beings and is strong in spite of separation.
It is also a promise that we will endure, and the wonderful people of Crown Court will live to stand together again to sing.
Joyful, joyful we adore Thee,
God of glory, Lord of love.
Hearts unfold like flowers before Thee,
Opening to the sun above.
Talking of hymns, the last hymn I sang in Crown Court, about a month ago, before all this present trouble included these words which I leave with you for the time being.
Perfect submission, all is at rest,
I in my Saviour am happy and blest
Angels descending, bring from above
Echoes of mercy, whispers of love.
I send my very best wishes,
Rev Forbes Walker,
Member, Crown Court Church of Scotland