Sunday Worship 23 April 2023

Order of Service

Below you will find the Order of Service, prayers, hymns and sermon for today’s service.   You can either simply read this or you can
 

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Sunday Worship from the United Reformed Church
for Sunday 23 April 

 
Today’s service is led by the Revd Dr Michael Hopkins. 

 

Welcome & Call to Worship
 
Whoever you are, wherever you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here. Welcome to this service from the United Reformed Church.  My name is Michael Hopkins, I’m minister of group of churches based around Farnham, in Surrey.  Today I’m recording this service in the chapel of Elstead United Reformed Church, in a village in the Surrey Hills. On this Sunday, our service focuses upon the story of Jesus and the road to Emmaus, where Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to his companions, and their eyes were opened, and they recognised him. As we gather today as Christ’s family, may we recognise Christ’s presence with us, and may God give us receptive hearts to meet him here and through the days ahead.  Let us worship God.
 
Hymn    Jesus Lives! Thy Terrors Now
Christian Fürchtegott Gellert (1715 – 1769); Translator: Frances Elizabeth Cox sung by the choir of St Paul’s Cathedral, London.
 
Jesus lives! Thy terrors now 
can no more, O death, appall us;
Jesus lives: by this we know 
thou, O grave, canst not enthrall us. Alleluia!
 
Jesus lives! Henceforth is death 
but the gate of life immortal;
This shall calm our trembling breath 
when we pass its gloomy portal. Alleluia!

Jesus lives! For us he died;
then, alone to Jesus living,
pure in heart may we abide,
glory to our saviour giving. 
Alleluia.
 
Jesus lives!  Our hearts know well 
nought from us his love shall sever;
life nor death, nor pow’rs of hell 
tear us from his keeping ever.  Alleluia!

 

Jesus lives! To him the throne  
over all the world is given;
May we go where he is gone,  
rest and reign with him in heaven. Alleluia!
 
Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer
 
Living God, we praise you, you are indeed good.  You hear both the cries and the whispers of our hearts.  You know every aspect of our lives and you still love us with unfailing love.  You invite us to know you better, and we thank you for that privilege.  Help us to embrace it every day of our lives.
 
God, you know how broken we can find ourselves sometimes, and we acknowledge that before you.  Sometimes, like those on the road to Emmaus, we do not recognise you.  At other times we only realise much later on that we were in your presence.  Sometimes we never noticed you at all.  If we have missed any opportunities to speak a word of healing or encouragement to someone in need, we’re sorry God.
 
Silence
 
Thank you, God, that you bring peace, forgiveness, and a new start.  We accept your loving forgiveness as we pray together as Jesus taught us: 
 
Our Father…
 
Bible reading: A short form of Luke 24 (abridged by MH)
 
On the evening of the first Easter Sunday two disciples were walking to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles out of Jerusalem.  They were deep in conversation, thinking about Jesus dying on Good Friday.  In the middle of their conversation, Jesus came up and walked along with them, but they did not able recognize who he was.  He asked them, 
 
“What are you talking about so intently?” 
 
Then one of the disciples, called Cleopas, said, 
 
“Are you the only one in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard what’s happened during the last few days?” 
 
Jesus said, 
 
“What has happened?” 
 
Cleopas explained that Jesus had been betrayed and killed, and they were all very upset that he had died, and that was three days ago. Some of their women had confused them.  Early this morning they were at Jesus’ tomb and couldn’t find his body.  They came back with the story that they had seen a vision of angels who said he was alive.  Some of their friends went off to the tomb to check and found it empty just as the women said, but they didn’t see Jesus. Cleopas and his friend still didn’t realise that the stranger walking with them was Jesus.  Then Jesus said to them, “
 
You are very slow.  Don’t you realise what happened?”  
Then he explained everything in the Scriptures that referred to him.  They came to the edge of the village where they were going to.  Jesus acted as if he were continuing, but they asked him to stay and eat with them.  Jesus sat down at the table with them.  Taking the bread, he blessed and broke and gave it to them.  At that moment they suddenly recognised him.  And then he disappeared.  They were very very surprised, and ran all the way back to Jerusalem.  They found the other disciples, and told them how they recognized Jesus when he broke the bread.
 
Hymn    Jesus Stand Among Us
W. Pennefather (1873)  The Hillside Singers conducted by Raymond Smith from Hillside Methodist Church, Brinscall.
 
Jesus, stand among us
in Thy risen power;
let this time of worship
be a hallowed hour.
 
Breathe the Holy Spirit
into every heart;
bid the fears and sorrows
from each soul depart.

 

Thus with quickened footsteps
we pursue our way,
watching for the dawning
of eternal day.

Sermon
 
Emmaus is rather an enigma.  If you look on a map it’s everywhere and nowhere.  You can find a myriad of places claiming to be Emmaus, but none of them are actually called that, and if you look for evidence that they existed at the time of Jesus, there is even less evidence.  Sure, every tour and pilgrimage to the holy Island will go to Emmaus, but there’s actually very little evidence for anything much at any of the places they might take you to.
 
Indeed, if you dig about a bit deeper, the name Emmaus is itself a word play on a mistake, linking back to the story of Jacob meeting God in a dream in Genesis 35.
And then if you read the story of Abraham and Sarah meeting God at the Oaks of Mamre in Genesis 18, you’ll see that all the important points of that story are pretty much identical to all the important points in the story of the otherwise unknown disciples meeting Jesus on the road to Emmaus.
 
There is immense confusion about the location of Emmaus, about the name Emmaus itself, and the story bears more than a striking resemblance to one of the stories Abraham and Sarah being visited by God.
 
Now, I don’t want you to go home and say that Michael said the story of the road to Emmaus never happened and it’s all made up.  I’m saying no such thing.  It might very well have happened.  What I am saying is that it is much more important to consider not, is this story true, but what truth does it tell us?  We have a story to remind us that the risen Christ is with us, just as God was with Abraham and Sarah, and with Jacob.  The important message of the story of the road to Emmaus, then, is that the risen Christ is with his people today, as he was with Abraham and Sarah, with Jacob, with Cleopas and the disciples, so he is also with us today.
 
There are several things that Luke knew, and which Luke knew that his readers knew, which help to make sense of the story.  
 
Luke knows, and his readers knew, that the disciples were going the wrong way.  Everything Luke writes is focussed upon Jerusalem, and these two disciples are going the wrong way.
 
Luke is really interested in roads.  He is the one who tells us about a good Samaritan and the Jericho road.  He reminds us that the Son of Man and the disciples lived on the road.  He gives us about the road from Jerusalem to Gaza where the apostle Philip makes a startling convert.  For Luke, roads are places of danger and courage, but above all roads are places of commitment.  
 
I think that what Luke wants to tell us is that this story of the road to Emmaus is not something that happened once in history, but something that happens always and everywhere.  This is why there are so many parallels with the Abraham and Sarah, and with Jacob.  This story of the journey to Emmaus, and its antecedents, is not primarily a story of something that happened, but a pointer towards, and a reminder of, something that is happening now.  Just as God came to Abraham and Sarah, just as God came to Jacob, just as the risen Christ came to Cleopas and his friend on the road to Emmaus, God is coming to us today, in this place, in this community, in this week.  And from that comes the challenge of how we might recognise him, and how we will we point him out to others.
 
It would be a great loss, and indeed miss the point the whole point, if we were to allow the story of the risen Christ on the road to Emmaus to become history, and so to be imprisoned in the past.  I suggest that the point is that the early Church took the stories of Abraham and Sarah, and of Jacob, and re-worked them with their unshakable belief in the risen Christ, and we too must take the story of Emmaus and apply it afresh.  Nothing is impossible for God: God is able to bring light to our darkness and life out of death, if we recognise it.
 
So, what we are about today is having our eyesight adjusted, so that we can see the risen Christ, having our hearts prepared to believe in the risen Christ, when we read the Bible, and when we gather with others that believe.
 
Perhaps you may sometimes find your hearts mixed up, or sometimes find everything is difficult or complicated, or sometimes find it hard to recognise the risen Christ at work among us today?  The story of Emmaus tells us that this is precisely when the risen Christ is closest to us, and is ready to open our eyes.  
 
The sheer strangeness of this story, the awkwardness of its history, ought to trip us up every time we read it.  It’s an amazing, startling, story that sends us back the other way.  When our strategies put us in charge, our vision, our priorities, we God is dying, and living, to meet us when we least expect it and to turn us round on the road over and again, and put us right by mercy and grace.
 
Hymn    On the Journey to Emmaus
Marty Haugen © 1995 GIA Publications  Frodsham Methodist Church Cloud Choir. Accompanied by Andrew Ellams and produced by Andrew Emison and used with their kind permission
 

On the journey to Emmaus 
with our hearts cold as stone 
the One who would save us 
had left us alone.
Then a stranger walks with us 
and, to our surprise, 
he opens our stories 
and he open our eyes.
 
And our hearts burned within us 
as we talked on the way, 
how all that was promised 
was ours on that day.
So we begged him” ‘Stay with us 
and grant us your word.”
We welcomed the stranger 
and we welcomed the Lord.
 
And that evening at the table 
as he blessed and broke bread, 
we saw it was Jesus
arisen from the dead;
Though he vanished before us 
we knew he was near – 
the life in our dying 
and the hope in our fear.
 
On our journey to Emmaus, 
in our stories and feast, 
with Jesus we claim that 
the greatest is least:
and his words burn within us – 
let none be ignored – 
who welcomes the stranger 
shall welcome the Lord.

   

Prayers
 
God of invitation, thank you for your presence in our lives.  
Give us open doors and open hearts, to share hospitality in your name.
 
We hold before you who have been rejected or made unwelcome, those who struggle to fit in, those who do not know what it is to be loved.  Show them your love, and help us to be people who show your compassion.
 
Thank you for those who have welcomed us, those who make such a difference in ways seen or unseen, those ready to give, to share, who stretch out their arms to those in need.  Bless and strengthen them; and help us to show our gratitude and support.
 
Guide those in power and authority, that they would see how to help the poorest and most vulnerable – and act on it, that the world may become a kinder and fairer place.
 
As you walk beside us, show us how to draw strength from you, and grow in knowledge of you, that our hearts too might burn within us.  We pray all these things in the name of the risen Jesus.  Amen.
 
Prayer of Dedication
 
Living God, 
as we serve you giving our time, our money, our skills, and our energy, 
may we meet you on the road, 
and may we be aware of your presence with us, 
with hearts open to everyone we meet on our journey through life.  
Amen.

Hymn    Shout for Joy the Lord Has Let Us Feast
John Bell © Wild Goose Resource Group, The Iona Community sung by the choir of St Magnus Cathedral, Orkney and used with their kind permission.
 

Shout for joy! 
The Lord has let us feast;
Heaven’s own fare 
has fed the last and least;
Christ’s own peace 
is shared again on earth;
God the Spirit 
fills us with new worth.
 
No more doubting, 
no more senseless dread:
Christ’s good self 
has blessed our wine and bread;
all the wonder 
heaven has kept in store,
now is ours 
to keep for evermore.
 
Celebrate 
with saints who dine on high,
they have found 
that love can never die.
’Hallelujah!’ – 
thus their voices ring:
nothing less 
in gratitude we bring.
 
Praise the Maker, 
praise the Maker’s Son,
praise the Spirit – 
three yet ever one;
praise the God 
whose food and friends avow
heaven starts here! 
The kingdom beckons now!

 
Blessing
 
The service has ended.
Go in peace and joy,
and the blessing of God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, 
is upon you, and all God’s people,
now and forever. Amen.

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