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Friday April 7 2017

Looking Back: The Road to Emmaus

An Easter reflection from 1927 by the then minister of St Giles' Cathedral


By the Very Rev. CHARLES L. WARR, St Giles' Cathedral

IT is one of the jewels of the Gospel, this story of the walk to Emmaus. It is the epitome of human life and strikes home to the heart of reality. I have walked that road to Emmaus, and so have you; for the road to Emmaus is the road of broken hopes and lost ideals.

We have a profound fellow-feeling with those two men on that Syrian roadway, dazed and bewildered by the collapse of everything on which they had staked their very souls. We know, or we ought to know, the moral and spiritual perils of that darkened highway where love and trust and faith in God and man have been lost to many a traveller, far too tired with fighting against adversities to struggle any more.

It is not true to say that sorrow and disaster inevitably ennoble the spirit. Often, they do; but often, too, snapping the chains of faith, they hurl the afflicted into an unrelieved despair. Unless we hold to certain vital principles, such as the inherent goodness of the universe; unless we believe that the spirit of the great world is just, that life is a purposeful process controlled by the hand of a wise and righteous God, that even in the Cross of His martyred Son His love is somehow revealed – why should we submit in trust and resignation to the bludgeonings of a capricious chance and sportive fate?

It is only when Christ joins the wearied pilgrims that the scales drop from eyes and buried hopes rise to life again. Only is He be true have we any real incentive towards a course of living that is pure and brave.

These twain who met Him on their way that eventide knew this all too well. It was He who brought them peace, and quieted their fears, and made them strong again. They knew that, should He leave them, these things would leave them too. So, when they reached Emmaus, they besought Him not to leave them to themselves. Thus, too, in the twilight of his doubts and fears man turns his face to the Divine and cries, “Abide with me, for it is dark, O God!”

And this is true in a corporate no less than in an individual experience. The feet of humanity these days are on the road to Emmaus. This is an age of disillusionment, but it is not an age of religious indifference. Men are out on the moors and fens of the world desperately seeking for the way that leadeth unto life.

Our post-war years have quenched for many the idealism of sacrifice and service, of living and dying for a high cause and a splendid hop, to which the grim exigencies of the recent conflict awakened them. In the bitter disappointments of unfulfilled promises and devastated anticipations, of widespread destitution and misery, of class antagonisms and greed and selfishness and much unprincipled conduct practised open and unashamed, the dream of a better world has faded.

Some have lost heart and have ceased to believe that the lase of the universe is the law of love. With the disciples on the road to Emmaus they cry, “We trusted that it had been He which should have redeemed Israel; but now, He is dead.”

My friends, the Christ is not dead. Still among the seething tumults of mankind He walks with healing in his seamless dress. Still from his pierced side there flows the stream in which the world can cleanse its soul. Sin and selfishness and the forces of entrenched wrong still fear Him, and know Him to be not a dead but a living issue. I believe in the redeeming power of Jesus Christ; I have seen it make saints and heroes too often from the very dregs of humanity to doubt its terrific reality.

And what He can do with individuals, He can do with collective mankind. If the world indeed be sick unto death and civilisation be at its cross-roads, if we live under leaden skies and on the shifting sands of much uncertainty, the call to each of us is not to give way to an invertebrate despondency but to lift our heads in dignity and courage, to nerve ourselves for our part in that great and glorious adventure of inevitable sacrifice and service which alone contains the certainty of humanity’s restoration, and which demands that men shall give as well as take.

Is not the message of the angels at His empty tomb – “He is not here; for He is risen” – the surety and the pledge that if the sun goes down the dawn will come again?

Last week: "I felt compelled to go"

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