A Sermon by The Very Rev’d Frank Nelson
When we have journeyed with Jesus from Palm Sunday, through Holy Week and Good Friday, have lived through the empty hours of Holy Saturday and awakened to the lighting of the Paschal Candle and the joy of Easter resurrection, there is nothing quite like listening to the story of the travellers on the Emmaus Road. When we’re utterly exhausted from the emotion and sheer physical hard work that accompanies the roller coaster ride through Holy Week – the singing, the preaching, the arranging and cleaning, the polishing and publishing, the welcoming and greeting – it’s time to sit back and let the story of Cleopas and his unnamed companion (his wife perhaps?) unfold. Like them we too need to discuss what has happened, to share insights, ask questions, wonder together at what we have seen and heard and experienced. Journeys are a great time to do this for they mean a break from the routines of the day. And if we have travelling companions with whom to share the conversation so much the better.
The concept of journey is a powerful one in the scriptures. There are the well-known journeys which come immediately to mind beginning with Jesus’s call to Simon Peter and Andrew to follow him. There is the great journey with Moses through the wilderness, in some ways modelling the journeys of the ancestors – the ‘wandering Aramean’ of Deuteronomy 26:5. One of those wanderers was Jacob who made his bed under the bright stars of the desert – something Christine and I have done many a time, and gazed in awe at the heavenly host, resplendent in glory without the light pollution of our cities. There is the journey of Philip and his conversation with the Ethiopian which led to a request to be baptised there and then. There are the journeys of Paul and his companions, captured in the Book of Acts and the Epistles. There is the slow agonising journey of Jesus, cross on his back, plodding towards Golgotha. There is the very early morning journey of Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and the other women mentioned by Luke immediately before tonight’s journey story. On their way to the tomb to do their work – the final loving anointing of the body – they had little idea of what they would actually find. The tomb may have been open, but their minds could not possibly have been open to the resurrection.
That’s not unlike our experience when, in 2012, Christine and I embarked on our journey by campervan from Brisbane, down the East Coast and across to the Riverina, Canberra, Gippsland and Melbourne, before taking the train to Adelaide. We’d visited Adelaide and St Peter’s Cathedral, met with the Wardens, the Cathedral Council and Nominators, and one or two others, but had little idea of what you, the people of the Cathedral and Diocese, would actually be like! And the reverse is true. A photograph, a few references from people in New Zealand, a dinner party – not really enough to get to know someone invited to lead the Cathedral into the next season. Inevitably there have been ups and downs – so it should be or the relationship would be somewhat sterile. But through this last eight and a half year journey, which has included climbing more scaffolding than I ever believed possible, we have found something of Christ in each other.
My own journey with Christ consciously began beside a fishpond. Our family lived next door to the tiny village church named after a much more illustrious church in London. St Martin’s in the Fields was, and is, the Anglican Church serving the village of Irene, not far from Pretoria in South Africa. Fr Ian Carrick was the parish priest and could be seen each Ascension Day leading the children across the cornp fields on the annual Sunday School picnic. I guess our parents followed behind carrying our lunch! Fr Ian was something of a prophet, preaching and writing about the looming ecological disaster long before David Attenborough shot to fame. He made the effort to get to know the names of children in the parish and be interested in their doings. So it was that he visited me as a six year old fresh out of hospital. Never one to lose any opportunity to tell a faith story, he used the fish I was trying to catch to tell the story of Jesus calling his first disciples. After explaining what a ‘fisher of men’ was he asked me directly, “Frank, what are you going to do when you grow up?” There could be only one answer to that and I assured him that I too would follow Jesus and be a ‘fisher of men’.
Thomas Aquinas, the great medieval theologian, wrote some 1.8 million words in his Summa Theologica. Towards the end of his life he is said to have had a vision or experience of Christ. He never wrote or preached again. I estimate that in my time at St Peter’s Cathedral I have inflicted over half a million sermon words on Cathedral congregations! I want to end tonight with words that are not mine but those of Fr Ian who set me off on a journey that would eventually bring me to Adelaide and St Peter’s Cathedral; a journey which now calls us to leave the West Island and return to the North Island of Aotearoa New Zealand. There, in the small rural town of Dargaville, I will continue to seek and find Christ in the people of Holy Trinity and, I am sure, enjoy swimming in the freshwater lakes of Kai Iwi.
In quoting Fr Ian I have in mind that couple who opened their home in Emmaus to a stranger on the first Easter Day. I also have in mind St Peter’s Cathedral and the Diocese of Adelaide as we move on in our respective journeys, with all the uncertainty and anxiety that goes with change. Fr Ian preached our college retreat shortly before I was ordained in 1978. His final sermon I have never forgotten and, on this glorious Easter Day, offer it now to you.