- Published: Monday, 27 April 2020 13:11
EASTER 3 2020
Captain Tom Moore is a remarkable man, whose drive and determination has inspired the nation; becoming an unlikely celebrity on Breakfast Television. At the beginning of April, the 2nd world war veteran began to walk his garden on a zimmer frame, with the intention of raising £1000 for the NHS before his 100th birthday. To date, donations have exceeded 28 million pounds. Deeply moved by Tom's story, the singer, Michael Ball, dedicated Rogers and Hammerstein's song, “You'll never walk Alone” to him, which was later recorded, and incorporating Tom's voice. On Friday, and days off his 100th birthday, the version reached no. 1 in the UK Singles Chart. Happy birthday Tom.
“You'll never walk alone” is a song deep in the nation's psyche. It comes from one of my favourite musicals, “Carousel”, which premiered in 1946. Set in a New England fishing village, Bobby Bigelow, a carnival barker, meets Julie Jordan. They marry and Julie becomes pregnant. Desperate for money to support his family, Bobby is killed in an attempted robbery. Later, he is granted permission to return to earth to make amends to his widow and their daughter. Appearing at his daughter's graduation, Bobby encourages her to have confidence in herself because she will never walk alone. Following Gerry and the Pacemaker's version, the song became the rallying call for Liverpool's Football fans; as well as speaking of hope and encouragement following the Hillsborough Stadium incident.
It is late afternoon, and two of the followers of Jesus have left Jerusalem and are going to Emmaus, a village some seven miles away. Cleopas and a companion, possibly his wife, are discussing all that has been happening. Traumatised, they need to go over it again and again, hardly able to comprehend it all. As they walk, Jesus joins them, but of course they do not know that it is him. As far as they are concerned, Jesus is dead and buried, and with him many of their hopes and expectations.
The episode reminds me of my pilgrimage a few years ago to Santiago de Compostela in north-western Spain. 'El Camino', the way of St James. As I walked the miles of rough terrain towards my destination, frequently fellow travellers would drew alongside with a cheery greeting, 'Buen Camino'. Some happily walked in silence. Others talked eagerly about this and that: sharing personal details, employment, hopes, dreams. It is sometimes easier to share with strangers: you can say what you like, be open, because you are less likely to meet them in the future....The two travellers don't hold anything back from Jesus: they feel badly let-down, and their hopes have been shattered. Their faith in God has been undermined and damaged. What a poignant wistfulness there is in their sorrowful phrase, “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel...”.
As the impact of the Covid-19 was beginning to dawn, I recall one of medical experts being interviewed on the radio, and out of the blue she was asked whether the presence of the virus undermined a belief in God. I sympathised with her, and it seemed a daft question at such a time. But the dialogue on the Emmaus Road seems to encourage difficult and challenging questions of this sort; no need to brush them under the carpet. The Emmaus Road story positively encourages us to voice our frustrations and anger and bewilderment. We are eavesdropping on the questions of two questioning travellers – and they are seeking to make sense of it all. Just like we are in our present circumstances.
When life seems desperate and unpredictable - and we feel we don't have the skills and resources to help as much as we would like - simply listening and being there, staying with the questions, the pain, the anger of a fellow human being - may be as much as we can do. As he drew alongside his fellow travellers, Jesus began by simply listening – listening is a Christ-like activity, and it's fundamental to our discipleship. Frustratingly, at present, human touch is largely denied to us. But never underestimate those few words on the phone, a letter, an email, a wave, a 'Cooee'; it can bring immense comfort, a sense of 'you're not walking alone'. And it can be the start of a healing process that is going to take who knows how long. We must never be embarrassed to share our vulnerability; it is not a sign of weakness, rather it is a sign of maturity and strength.
Jesus spends the whole day with his companions, walking with them, listening to them, explaining the psalms and prophecies of the Old Testament, to prepare them for the blinding moment of recognition. That moment of recognition captured so powerfully by the artist Caravaggio in his 'Supper at Emmaus'. And what is a companion - literally someone who shares bread. The two travellers seem to recognise Jesus in this familiar gesture - the risen Lord once again blessing, breaking and sharing bread with them: he is the companion who has travelled with them, even though, understandably, they didn't know it.
At the Eucharist, the meal is prepared for us, and we're drawn into communion with Christ, and with each other. We nourish ourselves on the Scriptures, entering into the mystery of the sacrament, and encounter the Lord who eats and drinks with us.
So let's begin each new day with hope, may our hearts burn within us, because we know that Christ our companion is with us, walking unseen beside us, encouraging us to interpret everything that may happen; casting his light on every encounter and every challenge.
“Walk on, walk on with hope in your heart, for you'll never walk alone”.