"The Road to Emmaus" Service with Karl and Mark Stewart, Crewkerne Unitarian Chapel, 11.4.2021

Opening words

A new day has come

We have risen from the hollows of our isolation and have emerged once more into the light,

Let us greet this hour with joy and reverence

As if we were greeting life for the first time.


HYMN 1 - Hope is born in spring time - purple 63

Reading - Jesus Has Risen from the book of Luke 

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.

While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” Then they remembered his words.

When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.


Reflection - Roll your stone away

“They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus…. Peter saw the strips of linen lying by themselves.”

The title of this reading is ‘Jesus has risen’. So when we rise, what do we want to leave behind in the tomb?

Jesus left behind the humiliation, indignity, and anguish of his betrayal, entrapment, torture and crucifixion. The stone wasn’t rolled away so that he could go out and seek revenge on those who condemned him. Any thoughts of revenge or retribution were left in the tomb along with the strips of linen.

So a couple of questions here: firstly, do you have the strength to roll your own stone away?

The good news is that you don’t have to. You can call upon your angels to do it for you – the ones who appear wearing ‘clothes that gleam like lightning’. Or sometimes that lightning might just be a gleam in your angel’s eye. Keep a look out for your angel wearing ordinary clothes – they could even be smelly, grumpy and dirty – but they might just be the one to help you roll your stone away.

Second question is, what do you want to leave behind in your tomb, once your stone has been rolled away?

The disciples encounter Jesus on the road to Emmaus. And this really is a metaphor for life… figuratively or literally, we spend our lives on the road, travelling through time, if not so often through space. If we’re constantly travelling, if we’re constantly moving, we don’t want to be carrying too much baggage, we don’t want to be weighed down by too many burdens – regrets, resentment, niggling injustices, festering anger, corrosive worry, bad habits of pessimism, cynicism and suspicion. If we’re going to keep on moving, we want to be travelling light.

If we want to look up to the sky and out to the horizon, we can’t be stooped over, trudging along with a backpack full of rocks. So which of these burdens do we want to lay down, what do we want to leave behind in the tomb? And what is the process of laying your burdens down? What is the authentic process of laying your burdens down? It could be the work of a lifetime… through talking therapies, talking with friends, prayer, meditation, symbolic ritual, moments of epiphany and realisation.

Here is a chant which we could use to vocalise our intention to lay our burdens down and exit our tomb of death, and walk out onto the road of life.

Please feel free to mumble along with the refrain ‘Roll your stone away’.

Leave behind your mindless fear

And roll your stone away

Leave behind your fear of life

And roll your stone away

Leave behind your fear of love

And roll your stone away

Leave behind indignity

And roll your stone away

Leave behind regret and shame

And roll your stone away

Leave behind need for revenge

And roll your stone away

Leave behind envy and guilt

And roll your stone away

Leave behind how you’ve been wronged

And roll your stone away

Leave behind your living small

And roll your stone away

So what do we really need for the journey? What are the light things that are going to be essential in our backpack?

Karl and I had to ask ourselves this question recently, as we were packing up to move house from our home of the last eleven years.

As we were choosing what to throw away and what to keep, I had to repeatedly ask myself; how does this thing serve me, does it bring me joy, what am I holding onto here, that I need to let go of?

Some of this process wasn’t that easy, as in the case of my two overly large teddies, who had been stuffed in the attic for the last eleven years. I tried to be ruthless; on two occasions we took them to the tip, but returned home with them, as the queue for the tip was too long, and it had closed before we got to go in.

On the third time lucky, having left for the tip with plenty of time to spare before it closed, I took the previous two reprieves of the teddies’ termination as a sign, that in fact they were meant to stay with me – even if all they did was take up space and maybe were only destined for the attic in our new house.

However, teddies notwithstanding, we did manage to get rid of a lot of stuff. It was very satisfying to see all our belongings fit neatly into the garage-sized storage unit, where they will remain until the sale on our house goes through. I feel a kind of relief to be able to visualise all our belongings contained within one place; knowing that we aren’t carting around too much excess baggage; that we had tried to minimise our belongings, that we are endeavouring to travel light on the journey.

But beyond the material things, much of which was made up of creative things, stories and poems we’d written, drawings, books, sheet music, records, videos - the stuff of the soul.

But beyond all that, even, what do I really need for the journey; what would be in my essential spiritual travel-bag; enough to survive, but not to weigh me down.

Perhaps all I really need is

Trust – that the ground won’t just disappear from under my feet

Courage – to walk towards whatever lies around the corner or over the crest of the hill

Humility – to ask others on my path to hold me up

Openness – to allow others to teach and inspire me

Forgiveness – for those who’ve wronged and hurt me along the way

Generosity – to share what I have with my fellow travellers

And love – to see the face of the divine in all I meet…

This idea of travelling light, and travelling with God by your side is summed up in the words of a great sage of our times, the singer and songwriter Dolly Parton. And I’d like to sing you a couple of verses from her song ‘Travelin’ Thru' which sums up so much of what we’re discussing today:

“Well I can't tell you where I'm going, I'm not sure of where I've been
But I know I must keep travelin' till my road comes to an end
I'm out here on my journey, trying to make the most of it
I'm a puzzle, I must figure out where all my pieces fit

Like a poor wayfaring stranger that they speak about in song
I'm just a weary pilgrim trying to find what feels like home
Where that is no one can tell me, am I doomed to ever roam
I'm just travelin', travelin', travelin', I'm just travelin' on

Questions I have many, answers but a few
But we're here to learn, the spirit burns, to know the greater truth
We've all been crucified and they nailed Jesus to the tree
And when I'm born again, you're gonna see a change in me

God made me for a reason and nothing is in vain
Redemption comes in many shapes with many kinds of pain
Oh sweet Jesus if you're listening, keep me ever close to you
As I'm stumblin', tumblin', wonderin', as I'm travelin' thru

Oh sometimes the road is rugged, and it's hard to travel on
But holdin' to each other, we don't have to walk alone
When everything is broken, we can mend it if we try
We can make a world of difference, if we want to we can fly

I'm just travelin', travelin', travelin', I'm just travelin' thru
Drifting like a floating boat and roaming like the wind
Oh give me some direction lord, let me lean on you
As I'm travelin', travelin', travelin', as I’m travelin’ thru

I'm just travelin', travelin', travelin', I'm just travelin' thru

HYMN 2 - Earth is gift of God's creation - purple 31 

Candles of Joy and Concern 

Reading - On the Road to Emmaus 

Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognising him.

He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

“What things?” he asked.

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognised him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognised by them when he broke the bread.”

HYMN 3 - Joy of the dayspring - Karl's lyrics to the tune of Morning has broken, purple 53


Here we look today at the road in front of us, a path to the side, perhaps a little cut in the undergrowth going off at an angle. It wasn’t there but it is now just because its been walked in by someone, then followed by another, and another. Here we are on this road walking along maybe many times traversed by others. As you go you see a path to the side you don't where it goes, you don’t know why you saw someone walk off along it.

As you continue you are just about to arrive where you are going and then just as you do, that person who went down the side path earlier is there. There you find a welcome and you get to know who walked by and find they went that way to welcome you ahead of when you got there. Does this seem a puzzle to you? There is something you can see in this being, but you’re not sure what - but you then feel assured. It doesn’t matter yet that you don’t know who he is.

More people are gathering at the centre of the place, there are stalls, people selling many things being auctioned; there are some people in a corner, just there by the stone column. They’re hungry. This mysterious being all of a sudden just goes to the stall, takes with a great sense of peace the food, and walks over to them and gives them the food. They eat and there at that moment they’re filled with a feeling of blessing. And with that they get up and start helping people just as poor as they themselves.

And then they come across a man and a woman standing, looking pointing at this at this cave. The mysterious man asks what is troubling you, “we have heard that there is a cave and that Jesus has been trapped in there because he has been crucified”.

“I’ve heard that the cave is here, I’ll show you”. He showed them, saying, “Don’t worry this cave is empty there’s the stone. It’s been rolled away.” They were relieved. That evening they sat around a fire in the centre. Many stories were shared and the tale was told of the stone being rolled away. “This is impossible! Who can roll a stone away? You have to be super strong surely!”

So now here you are you are with friends and all of you are joining in the conversation. You all share the problems you have, and then as you’re talking, you find you have this in common: you all discover that there must be in you a cave, it’s holding something but you don’t know what or why. Is it possible that this is the one thing that is crucified? Is it to stay there? Is this the buried thing that never sees the light of day, let alone Easter, or through the other side?

We have seen Easter and we are through the other side.

Here are some questions to ponder. Do you see light in the cave? Is the stone a little way rolled back, just letting in a chink of light? Are you creating a way through the stone to reveal the sculpture already there? Are you crafting a way as you are called to serve another? Is there something new to learn in the old? Are you going to walk the road to Emmaus that many times that it will run smooth? Are you going chip away off the big stone and let those chips just be?

I would like to share with you the whole size of God. I feel this great blessing that we’re all here together in this moment, in this context, in this hour, this time, this day; as the night falls later we’ll be looking up at the same stars. Only they are there now!

I’ll share with you the whole size of God now as we share our lives together. Now we’ll gather round the fire of the spirit to make these days the ones we remember. We will share with each other the whole of God as we share our stories on the good days and the bad. We will laugh and cry together. I’ll share the whole size of God with you. I will roll your stone away with you, and you with me. Let’s come again and again and we will bring our hearts to this holy place. If we pass each other may we know the love of God and all that is divine in every stone we feel under foot. I’ll see you in Emmaus - we’ll all meet there. And here, and in mean time may we be the act of the risen Christ to one another.

The whole size of God is a very big thing to carry. I’ll chip that stone in to three pieces. G: Grace O: of D:Divinity.

May it be so. Amen

Reflection on reading 

So Cleopas and Simon encounter Jesus on the road to Emmaus, but fail to recognise him.

They fail to recognise that the person they have encountered is divine, a child of God. And this reading puts me in mind of the well known quote from George Fox, the father of Quakerism, when he writes

“Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations, wherever you come, that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one”.

As quoted in Quaker Faith and Practice, 19.32.

And this idea of ‘recognising God in everyone’ is one that was repeated by George Fox throughout his ministry, and along with the story of The Road to Emmaus, reminds us to greet everyone we encounter, as if we were encountering a child of God, to treat and revere everyone we meet as if we were meeting the Risen Christ.

So how would it be, if we were to greet everyone we meet as if we were meeting a child of God?

Or even to greet everyone we meet, as if they could be the emissary of God, the one whose destiny it could be to bring healing, hope and reconciliation to the world, as Jesus had promised to do.

From the supermarket worker, to the road-sweeper, the call-centre worker, who we’ve waited 45 minutes to speak to, only to have them not be able to answer our question. From the hooded youth in a gang hanging out on a street corner, to the person in a country far away, fighting in or fleeing from a conflict we know nothing about. Surely to recognise that of God in all these people would fundamentally change the way we relate to our fellow humans.

And what about the bad people? The corrupt politicians at home or abroad, the dictators, drug barons and war lords, the domestic and sexual abusers, the bullies and tyrants. Could we even bring ourselves to see God in them? And what would that mean for how we interact with the world? When we hear about such people, could we bless them instead of curse them? Would we send a prayer of recognition from the God spark in our heart to the God spark in theirs, as buried and starved of oxygen as it might be, below layers of detritus.

The emissary of God could be a tramp or a beggar, or even a villain – like Paul the Apostle, persecutor of the early Christians, before his conversion on the road to Damascus – again, a story of an encounter on the road, an encounter whilst on a journey.

And as Jesus himself said, whilst he hung dying on the cross, ‘Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do’, is it not within our gift, likewise to forgive those who persecute us, and send a message of kinship, our God-heart to their God-heart.

So our mission today, and every day, could be to greet all we encounter, as if we were encountering the Messiah, the emissary of God, a child of God, the Risen Lord Jesus. Remember to bless all who you encounter, bow within your heart to the divinity within them; give them the benefit of the doubt and the benefit of your esteem – they might just be there to save you, if not ultimately, then maybe just in this moment. For isn’t that how we are saved? Time and again, in lots of small ways. A smile or a kind word stops us from falling into cynicism or despair. We have the capacity to rescue each other constantly, to be each other’s emissaries of God, and to elevate each other, and thereby all of humanity, one act of attention, one act of compassion at a time.


Let us pray,

For all those who mourn,

Especially the Queen and the Royal Family, honouring the life and legacy of Prince Philip, and all those across the country and around the world who join with them in their sadness.

And for all others who mourn, especially those who continue to lose loved ones to Covid, and especially where they couldn’t be by their side at the time of their passing.

Let us pray that they are upheld, sheltered and comforted in their grief, and that the souls of the departed are caught and ushered into the loving arms of the divine, the mystery of life beyond our earthly understanding.

So may it be.

Let us pray for all those who suffer in mind, body or spirit, this hour, this day, this moment.
Help us, O God, to do all we can to alleviate the suffering of all beings, and not to contribute to its causes.
From that of God in us, to that of God in them, help us to recognise the divinity in all beings, and to honour and respect it, befitting it with its rightful dignity.
And help us, O God, to be harbingers of healing in this world, in whatever ways, large or small, that we can.

So may it be.

We pray, this day, dear God for forgiveness.
Forgiveness for the things we’ve done which we ought not to have done.
And forgiveness for the things we’ve left undone, which we ought to have done.
We pray that you might guide our thoughts, words and deeds. By your grace, align our minds to your mind, fill our hearts with your courage, and help us to be the emissaries of your compassion and wisdom on the earth.

So may it be.

Let us give thanks today for the service of all. For those in positions of great responsibility and power, and for those unseen, in minimum wage jobs, keeping the mechanisms of society going, maintaining the integrity of its structure through their service, even when this service can be demeaning or humiliating, exhausting or unrelenting. Bless them all, and help us to serve according to our talents and abilities, but more than that, lead us to our service by helping us to recognise and answer to the needs of your people.

So may it be.

Let’s speak together the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples, beginning with Our Father, Mother, Parent…. Feel free to translate the words in your heart, as is most meaningful to you.

Our Father...

The Peace 

Let us offer one another a smile and a nod of Peace
The Peace of God be with you
And also with you.

HYMN 4 - Nature shouts from earth and sky - purple 105

Closing Words of Blessing

Go out into the world to greet and recognise that of God in all you meet,
May you find the courage and strength to roll your stone away, and leave behind in the tomb, all that you do not need for your journey,
And may the peace and the blessing of God’s love wrap itself around you, cushion and uphold you in the days to come.
 So may it be,