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Since lockdown Frances and have been walking, companionably every day, with Rosie and Nina of course, talking about all the things that have happened, or we have heard about or read during the morning when we have been in our separate studies engaged on different things. So the story of the two disciples, Cleopas and another, waling and talking feels more than usually resonant. We walk a lot in any case but these past weeks the distances have increased as we have to start on foot from the rectory. Once the tuggy dogs have settled there is a gentle reflective rhythm that sets in creating space for appreciation for the world outside and space for new thoughts.
I have always liked to think that Jesus came and stepped into this space, falling naturally in step, drawing near. Although we know that Jesus’ followers were frightened these two open up to this unrecognised stranger who has joined them. Heedless of any risk they reveal that they are full disciples, that they had hoped Jesus was the one to redeem Israel. So at the very beginning of this story before any steps had been taken we see the two disciples stopping to let Jesus in. “They stood still, looking sad” and we hear them nonetheless, feeling safe, safe enough to own up to their allegiance in this now manifestly police state.
As I said, walking itself, the rhythm of one foot in front of the other can free the miind., laying down the noise of everyday worries and opening possibilities for fresh ideas. Beethoven knew this, he used to walk regularly in the afternoons saying that freeing his fingers from the keyboard would admit new melody. Jesus sees the sadness of the couple, hears their disappointment and dashed expectations and in a tone of astonishment says “But cannot you see that He (Jesus) is the Messiah and all these things were necessary?” It was you see, never part of general Jewish thinking that the Messiah should suffer but that the annointed successor to David would abruptly overturn and defeat the enemies of Israel and rule over a period of peace, prosperity and justice. Against this religious background Jesus’ teaching is groundbreaking. He goes on to point to all the references in scripture from Moses onwards that speak of the true coming of the Son of God.
Notice how at the end of the journey, having let Jesus in, having heard him, even if they as yet do not know who he is, the two disciples do not want to let him go! “They urged him strongly, saying ‘stay with us.’” And so he stays and breaks bread with them in that marvellous showing of himself.
Now on our lockdown walks over the course of a week we visit all of our benefice churches and I am sad for we and everyone are forbidden to go inside. Like Cleopas and his friend, we have lost contact, they with the physical Jesus and we with our sacred space. No longer can we walk convivially with strangers, fall in step with one another and be three o the road. But we can learn, for they stopped and let Jesus in, without seeing him and we can do the same; actually I think we must do the same. And we will wait then for the time when after all this we will gather again and we will break bread and take communion and recognise who we have been with.