Thursday, 15 October 2020

#BeingInterrupted - HeartEdge zoom conversations


A series of online conversations hosted by Al Barrett, Ruth Harley and Sharon Prentis, as part of ‘Living God’s Future Now’, the HeartEdge online festival of ideas.

Using selected content from the book Being Interrupted: Re-imagining the Church’s Mission from the Outside, In (co-written by Al Barrett and Ruth Harley, to be published by SCM Press, 30 November 2020) as a starting point, these 6 sessions will seek to confront the multiple privileges, divisions and obliviousnesses that haunt both wider society and the church itself, and especially race, class, gender, and the marginalizing of children and the non-human world. We will tease out the ways in which these fault lines are reinforced by the ways in which we imagine, talk about, and practise ‘mission’ – and explore how they might be interrupted, disrupted and transformed.


The sessions will be introduced and facilitated by Al Barrett, Ruth Harley and Sharon Prentis, and also include contributions from special guests, opportunities for small group conversations in breakout groups, and a final plenary putting some questions and comments to the panel...

  • Al Barrett is Rector of Hodge Hill Church in east Birmingham, and has spent the last 10 years living and working on a multi-ethnic outer estate.
  • Ruth Harley is an ordinand at Queen’s Foundation, Birmingham, is attached to Hodge Hill Church, and came into training for ordination as an experienced minister with children and young people.
  • Sharon Prentis is Intercultural Mission Enabler and Dean of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Affairs in the diocese of Birmingham.


Session title & details

Invited guests

Fri 16 Oct, 2pm

‘Fault lines in society and Church’

multiple privileges, divisions & obliviousnesses

·         Anthony Reddie

·         Lynne Cullens

Thu 22 Oct, 3.30pm

‘Missional economies and institutional anxieties’

…and how we imagine our neighbours

·         Guli Francis-Dehqani

·         Robb Sutherland

Thu 5 Nov, 12pm

‘Jesus, interrupted’

…how and where we think about Jesus, when we think about mission

·         Jennifer Harvey

·         Augustine Tanner-Ihm

Mon 9 Nov, 4.30pm

‘Life at the edges’

…exploring an ‘alternative missional economy’, discovering abundance (and challenge) in the edge-places

·         Paul Wright with Clare McLean & Sahra Farah (Hodge Hill)

·         Cathy Ross

Mon 16 Nov, 4.30pm

‘What would the Roman centurion do?’

…cross and repentance

·         Azariah France-Williams

·         Rachel Mann

w/c 23 Nov (TBC)

‘Resurrection from the compost heap’

·         (TBC)

·         Annika Matthews

How to book...

Keep an eye on the HeartEdge website - and their 'Living God's Future Now' Facebook page- to book your place in any of these conversations - or search Eventbrite for 'Being Interrupted'.

How to buy the book!

Being Interrupted: Re-imagining the Church's Mission from the Outside, In, by Al Barrett & Ruth Harley (with illustrations by Ally Barrett), is published by SCM Press on 30th November 2020. You can pre-order it from SCM Press here:

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

Living through liminal times

'Living through liminal times'
A reflection for Wed 24th June (Birth of John the Baptist):

  • Isaiah 40:1-11
  • Psalm 85:7-end
  • Luke 1:57-66, 80

Psalm 85, ‘righteousness and peace kiss’,

Do you remember when ‘going into someone’s house’ was something we took for granted?! When we didn’t give a passing thought to the moment we stepped over someone’s doorstep? When ‘popping round to see someone’ meant going into their kitchen for a cuppa, not knocking on the door and then taking four steps backwards?

The Latin word for ‘doorstep’ is limen – from which we get the English word ‘liminal’, the name for those ‘threshold’ times and spaces that are ‘betwixt and between’, ‘neither here nor there’ – times and spaces of ‘comings and goings’, of transition and change.

We’re in one hell of a liminal space right now. As a church, we’ve just (Sunday 21st) said farewell to Jenni, our curate for the last 3 years; we’re just about (Sunday 28th) to formally welcome Gloria into her new role and ministry among us as curate. As a country, we’re entering into a new phase in the easing of the COVID-19 ‘lockdown’ – and there are more possibilities for where we’re allowed to go, and what we’re able to do, whilst still having to be very careful to limit the risk of spreading the virus that hasn’t simply ‘disappeared’. And as a world, we’re continuing to dig deep into the questions of how we might live life differently, order our societies differently – what a ‘new normal’ might look like, in the wake of COVID-19, with the ongoing global environmental emergency, and in a world where, finally, many of us who are white are waking up to the racism that is so deeply ingrained in both our collective history, and in the present-day structures of our society. And then, to come full circle back to church, we who are Christians in Hodge Hill need to spend time asking ourselves, what might/should ‘church’ look like, in this different world? Yes, we really are in a profoundly liminal space right now.

Our readings today, on the day the worldwide Church celebrates the birth of John the Baptist, offer us a number of images that help us think a bit more about this experience of being in ‘liminal’ space.

In our Isaiah reading, we’re in the wilderness. The people of Israel – or many of them, at least – have been invaded, captured, and taken into exile. They’re a long way from the place they’ve called ‘home’. The place where they find themselves isn’t a desert, where there is hardly any life at all, but a wilderness, a wild place, where there is plenty of life, but that life feels strange, uncomfortable, threatening even. The wilderness is where nettles and brambles thrive, and the kinds of animals that we call ‘wild’ because they’re not necessarily friendly, and certainly not domesticated. Wildernesses are, by definition, not places that are easy to spend time in, or to travel through.

And it’s into this experience of wilderness and exile, that through the prophet Isaiah God speaks words of ‘comfort’ and ‘tenderness’. Enough is enough, the time has come, ‘here is your God’, coming to you, coming to feed you, gather you, carry you, lead you. God is coming to be with you in the wilderness, and to guide you through it.

I wonder, what parts of life – for you, for our church community, for our society and our world – feel like ‘wilderness’ right now?

I wonder what it might mean for us, to know that God is with us in the wilderness, and is guiding us through it? I wonder what we might do, very intentionally, to actively put our trust in that God, in the midst of everything that is going on in the world?

In our reading from the beginning of Luke’s gospel, we find ourselves with Elizabeth, in the middle of childbirth. As moments of transition go, giving birth is one of the big ones in many people’s lives – and being born is a universal experience, even if we probably don’t remember it! Childbirth can sometimes be quick, and can sometimes feel like it’s taking forever. I remember, over the hours in which Janey was giving birth to Rafi, praying the ‘how long, O Lord’ of Psalm 13, repeatedly. And however good the drugs are, labour always involves pain – a pain that some of us who’ve not been through it can barely imagine. When we talk of ‘new beginnings’, we would be wise not to forget the real, lengthy, painful labour that our most embodied of new beginnings involve. It can’t be rushed – it will happen in its own good time. It’s painful, and it’s fraught – even today – with risk, and the potential for grief as much as joy.

And then there is something quite particular about this birth, to Elizabeth and Zechariah. A birth heralded by an angel, a messenger of God. A birth that has involved a literally dumb-struck father – for a whole nine months – because he can’t believe what is happening. A birth that sees the child’s mother breaking with tradition, because it is she who names the child (not, as expected, the father), and because the name she gives him is a new one to their family lineage. Truly God is doing something new here, and Elizabeth, who had been cruelly labelled ‘barren’, is the one who brings it to birth. The onlookers are right to wonder, ‘What then will this child become?’

I wonder, what signs have we seen of something new coming to birth – in our own lives, in our church community, in our neighbourhood, in our society and our world?

I wonder where it is time to break with tradition, time for different voices to be heard, or time for us to use a new name, or new language, beyond the familiar?

And finally, in between Isaiah’s prophecy and Luke’s story of John’s birth, we have the words of Psalm 85. Words of a people longing to see God’s presence, to hear God’s voice, to live in God’s peace. ‘I will listen,’ says the Psalmist, ‘to what the Lord God will say’. The Psalmist who elsewhere says, ‘I will wait for the Lord’ (Psalm 130:5-6), ‘I will seek your face’ (Psalm 27:8), ‘I will hope continually’ (Psalm 71:14). Wait, seek, hope, listen. These are Advent words – for today’s Advent story. The Christian calendar does this at times – throws us into different seasons, especially in the long expanse of what is called ‘ordinary time’ that we’ve now entered. But even in this time of lockdown, when every day blurs into the others, there is no such thing as a time when ‘nothing much happens’. Now is the time for waiting, seeking, hoping, listening. Now is the time, even when our attention spans feel limited, for straining to pay attention to what is going on – both within us, and around us. And when we pay attention in a way that cuts through the media hype, the political spin, and the excitable adverts of re-opened shops, what will we hear, and see? Even in the midst of this time of distancing, disconnection and division, we will, with the Psalmist, see faithfulness springing up from the ground, justice looking down from the sky, steadfast love and faithfulness meeting together, justice and peace kissing each other – and inviting us to join them.

I wonder, how can we practise ‘listening to what the Lord God will say’? What will help us to pay attention, beyond the media hype, political spin, and advertisements to consume, to what God is doing? And when we do, what are we hearing and seeing – and how can we join in?

Sunday, 7 June 2020

Some questions for this time...

Some questions I’m pondering, inspired by these quotes..
1. Have we come to the edges? What have we found there? How prepared are we to make those edges our home - rather than stepping away from the edge and ‘going back’?
2. What is the ‘new garment’ beginning to look like? Whom/what is it fitting well? Who’s doing the stitching? Who’s being stitched up?
(Arundhati Roy)
3. Who is bearing the ‘rupture’, and/or prepared to stay with those who are? What are we, consciously or unconsciously, dragging through this ‘portal’ with us? And what are we prepared to relinquish, leave behind? *** I wonder, what other questions should we be asking at the moment...?

Friday, 5 June 2020

"We take a breath"

In the last few days, the world has witnessed the very public racist murder of George Floyd by police in the USA, the global wave of grief, anger and solidarity in response, and the ways in which this has highlighted ongoing, structural, socialised white supremacy and anti-blackness in our world, in our society here in the UK, and in our churches.

In a tiny, personal way, the last week for me has also marked the end of co-writing with Ruth Harley our book, Being Interrupted: Re-imagining the Church's Mission from the Outside, In. The book begins with the 2016 Brexit vote, and ends with the 'great interruption' of COVID-19. In between, it tries to explore the interconnected structural divisions in our (specifically UK) society - and church - down lines of race, class and gender, and also acknowledging the ways in which we push children, and our other-than-human neighbours, to the edges of visibility, value and power. And it tries to do that exploring - particularly my voice in the book - in a way which is critically conscious of my own multiple privileges, as a white, middle-class, male, adult, ordained priest in the Church of England.

Before the book's Epilogue, which reflects on the interruption of COVID-19 that we're still right in the middle of, the final two chapters of the book focus on the cross and resurrection. We imagine the journey of conversion that the Roman centurion at the cross might have gone on, becoming a traitor to the oppressive Empire of which he has been a representative. And we try to catch, and point to, glimpses of what a fearlessly honest, painstakingly careful 'joining together' in resurrection community might look like.


The chapter on resurrection finishes with a reflection on breathing - or 'respiring', to use a more technical or old-fashioned word... 

respire   /rɪˈspʌɪə/    verb
gerund or present participle: respiring
1.       breathe.
"he lay back, respiring deeply"
(of a plant) carry out respiration, especially at night when photosynthesis has ceased.
"lichens respire at lower levels of temperature and moisture"
2.       (archaic) recover hope, courage, or strength after a time of difficulty.
"the archduke, newly respiring from so long a war"

Breathing is a theme in the resurrection stories. Jesus comes into a locked room, and breathes on his fearful disciples. The Holy Spirit at Pentecost is encountered as rushing wind - powerful breath - that sends them out, to connect and communicate with others.

Breathing is something of a universal necessity. We breathe, to live. The rhythm of breathing, taking in, giving out, is something every moment needs, but is also an invitation to move, journey - to pay attention to the cycles and spirals within which we are moving.

"I can't breathe," gasped George Floyd, repeatedly, as he was choked to death under the knee of a police officer in Minneapolis. "I can't breathe" gasped Eric Garner 11 times, as he was choked to death by a police officer in New York in 2014. Victims of state-sponsored, white supremacist, anti-black violence, six years apart, with so, so many in between. "I can't breathe," gasp Black sisters and brothers in the US, the UK and across the world, as our globalised white supremacist structures refuse to allow space for Black bodies, Black voices, Black lives to matter in the same why as white bodies, white voices, white lives apparently matter.

"I Can't Breathe" - graffiti art by Mohammed 'Aerosol' Ali, in Birmingham, June 2020

So what does breathing mean for those of us who are white, or whose identities are entangled in other forms of structural privilege? For many of us, even our breathing requires particular kinds of attentiveness. Some of us are just beginning to wake up, just beginning to pay attention, to our entangled pasts and presents, in ways that might make our future breathing, speaking, acting, more conscious and more consciously in solidarity with the multitudes of our kin - human and other-than-human - that struggle to breathe.

I wrote the words below, which conclude our chapter on resurrection, from that conscious position of multiple privilege, in the days after George Floyd's murder. They are not, as I say, the last word.


We take a breath
to resist the temptation to seize the initiative.

We take a breath
to avoid being the first to speak.

We take a breath
so we are better placed to hear others to speech.

We take a breath
to relax our defences,
to be better able to receive
as gifts.

We take a breath
to stay put,
to look,
and look again,
and to notice
the glory
in our common flesh.

We take a breath
to enter
into a shared unspeaking
with those human and other-than-human kin
who do not speak in words,
with those who have been silenced,
with those fighting for breath
because there is a knee on their neck,
a hand on their throat,
or because the air they inhale
is poisoned with toxic chemicals,
or because
they are breathing their last,
crucified by today’s Empires.

We take a breath
to ‘stay with the trouble’,
to let in the pain,
to be interrupted by the losses,
with cries too deep for words,
to breathe them in
and breathe through them,
to let them pass through our hearts,
‘making good rich compost
out of all that grief’.[1]

We take a breath
to let the work of relinquishing
and repentance
and reparation
begin in us,
to let the decomposers
and the processes of decomposition
do their thing,
break open,
chew over,

We take a breath
to let ourselves be stretched
even to aching point
into wormhole solidarities
beyond our familiar horizons.

We take a breath
to ready ourselves
to follow after
and among
our respiring
‘mass of swarming neighbours’,[2]
a ‘force field
of speechlessly breathing bodies’,
catching a breath
in shared silence,[3]
stretching the Moment,
opening the window,
leaping and racing
blown on the wind of the Spirit,
into the Background Realm
of Wild Reality
that is the kin-dom
of God’s shalom.

We take a breath
to pass up the last word.


Recommended reading - for white Christians especially (not remotely exhaustive!):

  • Reni Eddo-Lodge, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race (London: Bloomsbury, 2017)
  • Akala, Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire (London: Two Roads, 2018)
  • Afua Hirsch, Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging (London: Vintage, 2018)
  • Anthony Reddie, Theologising Brexit: A Liberationist and Postcolonial Critique (Abingdon: Routledge, 2019)
  • Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility: Why It’s so Hard for White People to Talk about Racism (Boston: Beacon, 2018)
  • Ibram X. Kendi, How to be an Anti-racist (London: Vintage, 2019)
  • Layla Saad, Me and White Supremacy: How to Recognise your Privilege, Combat Racism, and Change the World (Quercus, 2020)
  •  A.D.A. France-Williams, Ghost Ship: Institutional Racism and the Church of England (London: SCM, 2020)
  • Mukti Barton, Rejection, Resistance and Resurrection: Speaking out on racism in the church (London: DLT, 2005)
  • Michael N. Jagessar & Anthony G. Reddie (eds.), Black Theology in Britain: a Reader (London: Equinox, 2007)
  • Willie James Jennings, The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010)
  • Ben Lindsay, We Need to Talk about Race: Understanding the Black Experience in White Majority Churches (London: SPCK, 2019)
  • Anthony G. Reddie, Is God Colour-Blind? Insights from Black Theology for Christian Ministry (London: SPCK, 2009)
  • James Perkinson, White Theology: Outing Supremacy in Modernity (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004) 
  • Jennifer Harvey, Dear White Christians: For Those Still Longing for Racial Reconciliation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014)

[1] Macy & Brown, pp.276-8
[2] Tom Dewar, in a global #TogetherApart conversation, April 2020
[3] Keller, pp.164, 167

Sunday, 24 May 2020

#NeighbourhoodPilgrimage #ExploringEaster

Welcome to our first ever ‘Neighbourhood Pilgrimage’! 

A pilgrimage, traditionally, is a journey to somewhere special, somewhere holy. The destination is important, but so is the journey to get there. For people of faith, we expect to encounter God along the way, to experience God journeying with us.

This pilgrimage has been put together by members of Hodge Hill Church, as an invitation for anyone living in the Hodge Hill area to go on a journey around our neighbourhood. We believe that there are places of beauty in our neighbourhood, if our eyes are open to notice them. And we also know that there are many, many acts of quiet love, care and creativity going on between neighbours that are worth noticing, discovering and celebrating.

Especially in these strange and challenging times, when we’re all trying to live safely and carefully to minimize the risk of catching and spreading COVID-19, we’re learning to live in our neighbourhood, and love our neighbours, in new ways. Some of those might just be temporary. Some might be a glimpse of a ‘new world’ that we’re building together, that will last well beyond COVID-19.

You can download the full booklet here, which will help guide you on your pilgrimage, encourage you to notice aspects of your neighbourhood you might never have noticed before, and help you reflect on what you notice along the way. It’s organized into a trail of 11 ‘stations’ – each one has a picture, a little bit of the Easter story (from the Christian gospels, the stories of Jesus’ encounters with his friends, after his crucifixion and resurrection), and some ‘wondering’ questions to reflect on. You don’t have to start at the beginning – you can begin wherever you find yourself. If you can, we want to encourage you to visit all the stations, but don’t worry if you are only able to do a few.

There are one or two activities we’ve suggested here (see below), that you might want to do before you go on your neighbourhood pilgrimage – and there’s an opportunity at the end to share your photos and reflections with others, via our new neighbourhood website: 

Go in love, go in peace, go safely, and may you catch glimpses of a new world along the way!

Before you set out on your pilgrimage walk: 

You might want to do two activities in advance – things to make, to bring with you on your walk…
  • For the 2nd Station:
I wonder what, or who, helps you when you feel afraid?

ACTIVITY: Write or draw a ‘thank you note’ to anyone who’s been an ‘angel’ recently – and bring it with you.

  • For the 6th Station:
I wonder what change or new beginning you long for?
(It could be a change or new beginning in your own life and relationships, or in our neighbourhood, or in our world.)
And how you could help to make it happen?

ACTIVITY: On a piece of paper, write or draw a picture of a change or new beginning you long for – and bring it with you.

Locations (see map below):

·         1st Station: Mary Magdalene finds the empty tomb

o   The Hub, on the parade of shops on Bromford Drive: B36 8TY

·         2nd Station – an angel appears to the women

o   Rope swing area at the back of Comet Park, behind Hollowmeadow House, off Bromford Drive: B36 8RD
(what.three.words = heavy.slices.factor)

·         3rd Station – Mary Magdalene meets Jesus

o   Ambridge House allotments, off Folkestone Croft: B36 8RA

·         4th Station – two friends meet Jesus as they are travelling

o   Bus stop / post box at the corner of Chipperfield Rd & Collingbourne Ave

·         5th Station - Jesus appears to his friends

o   Tesco Express, 32-36 Chipperfield Road: B36 8BL

·         6th Station – Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of a new world

o   The wooden cross at Hodge Hill Church, 242 Coleshill Road: B36 8BG

·         7th Station - Jesus gives his peace to his friends, to share with the world

o   The bus stop outside Hodge Hill Church (as above)

·         8th Station – Jesus gives his friends the Holy Spirit

o   The Hunters Moon pub, 220 Coleshill Road: B36 8BE

·         9th Station - Jesus shows his wounds to Thomas

o   The bench on the open, upper part of Hodge Hill Common towards the houses (what.three.words = ears.gifted.useful)

·         10th Station - Jesus cooks breakfast for his friends

o   At the front of The Raven pub, 144 Hodge Hill Road: B34 6DR

·         11th Station – Jesus helps Peter remember, and begin again

o   Down the Cole Valley footpath about 300m (to the left from The Raven) – at the foot-bridge over to Glebe Farm (what.three.words = raft.belong.hangs). NB. can also be accessed a short way down the footpath from Cole Hall Lane.

What if I can’t go out at the moment?

We realise that there are some of you that would love to do this pilgrimage ‘out and about’, but because of the infectious risks of COVID-19 are currently in ‘shielding’ at home. We hope there might be ways in which you can still feel part of the pilgrimage experience.

On the day(s) of the ‘out and about’ pilgrimage, we will encourage people to take photos and share them – via our neighbourhood website Look out for these, when the time comes.

You can spend time reflecting on each station in this booklet, and could move around your house, and in your garden (or balcony), as you do them. Some possible locations could include:
  1. by your front door (a place that might often be locked, and sometimes open)
  2. standing on your door-step (where angels – and messengers – might sometimes come)
  3. in your garden, balcony or next to a plant/flower in your house
  4. on your driveway – or, if you can’t go out, holding a map (a place where a journey might begin)
  5. at your meal table, or sitting room (a place where you would usually enjoy the company of others)
  6. looking out of a window (to see the world beyond)
  7. opening the window (to share God’s peace with others)
  8. holding your phone (to communicate with others)
  9. in your bedroom (a place where we dare to expose our bodies – to ourselves, and sometimes to others)
  10. in the kitchen (a place for making – and sharing? – a meal)
  11. in the bathroom (the place of bathing/washing – remembering our baptism and other new beginnings)
We’d love you to share your reflections, when you’ve done the pilgrimage, in whatever way you’ve been able – via our neighbourhood website:


‘Raised in Leeds’ are 19 illustrations by Si Smith of Jesus Christ’s appearances after the resurrection. They are drawn as though they took place in and around Leeds, a city in the North of England. Each illustration is inspired by a scripture text which is next to the station title in this booklet.

Ian Adams wrote some reflections and prayers to go with Si Smith’s pictures. We have used Ian’s words as inspiration for the words in this booklet, but they have mostly been written or re-written especially for our context here in Hodge Hill.

This booklet has been put together by Ruth Harley (the ‘wondering’ questions) and Al Barrett from Hodge Hill Church. If you’d like to find out more about us, and/or get involved with what we’re doing here, do get in touch:

Facebook: /HodgeHillChurch

Twitter: @hodgehillchurch

Sunday, 26 April 2020

Journey with Jesus on the Emmaus Road - a guided reflection

In this time when we’re not able to share communion together, this guided reflection offers an opportunity for each of us to meet Jesus in the breaking of bread, in our own home, wherever we are. It was intended for use at any time in these weeks where we’re cut off physically from each other – but has special significance this week, as it’s based on this Sunday’s gospel reading.

Walk through the reflection slowly. Give it time. One of the many, many insights of this story is, as Japanese theologian Kosuke Koyama puts it:

God walks “slowly” because he is love. If he is not love he would have gone much faster…. [Love] goes on in the depth of our life, whether we notice or not, whether we are currently hit by storm or not, at three miles an hour. It is the speed we walk and therefore it is the speed the love of God walks.’

Emmaus Road, by He Qi

With Jesus on the road: ‘what things?’

13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?”

Imagine you’re walking down that road, heading home, walking and talking with a friend or loved one. Talking together about everything that’s going on in the world.

Imagine Jesus comes alongside you, and asks you what you’re talking about. It’s an open question: ‘what things?’

Tell Jesus what’s been going on. Don’t worry that he’ll know already. Imagine him as a friendly stranger, who’s a good listener. Tell him what’s important to you right now.

With Jesus on the road:
hopes dashed, and a rumour of resurrection

They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.”

‘We had hoped…’, say the disciples. They share with Jesus their hopes and their disappointments – and their shock and grief. And they share their wonderings, however doubtful – a rumour of resurrection – the faintest of hopes, a tiny glimmer of possibility of life beyond death.

Share with Jesus what’s on your heart. Tell him how you’re feeling: the happy and the sad, the hopeful and the fearful, the things you’re thankful for and the things that are heart-breaking.

With Jesus on the road: re-telling the story

25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

It’s probably not the response they were expecting! Jesus sounds a bit harsh here. But if we can get over that, we hear him responding to their story-telling with some story-telling of his own: helping them see how their fragments of experience are in fact part of a much bigger Story, that stretches back to the beginning of creation, and forward to the ‘making new’ of all things. And helping them understand that he, Jesus, is in the middle of it all – with us, in it all, every step of the way.

Where might Jesus be in the midst of all that is going on right now? What words might he be saying, to you, and to those others for whom you’re praying? What might it mean, that our stories of suffering and death, of disappointment and fear, are held within his story of love and healing, of death and resurrection?

Spend some time listening for a word of hope and promise – or, in the silence, simply know yourself in the company of Jesus.

Inviting Jesus in

28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them.

‘Stay with us…’, the disciples say to Jesus. Invite Jesus to come into your home, to stay – to be with you, here and now.

Imagine opening your door for him, and welcoming him in. Imagine him coming in with you, following you through your home and sitting down next to you where you are.

A hymn / prayer (especially for evenings):

Lord Jesus Christ, abide with us,
Now that the sun has run its course;
Let hope not be obscured by night,
But may faith's darkness be as light.

Lord Jesus Christ, grant us your peace.
And when the trials of earth shall cease.
Grant us the morning light of grace,
The radiant splendour of your face.

Immortal, Holy, Threefold Light.
Yours be the kingdom, pow'r, and might;
All glory be eternally
To you, life-giving Trinity!
Text: Mane Nobiscum Domine; Melody: Old 110th


30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”

Take some bread in your hands, just as Jesus did.

Break it, just as Jesus did.

Take a piece and eat it.

‘Their eyes were opened, and they recognized him…’

Know that Jesus is with you, closer than breathing.

Spend some time just dwelling in this moment, with thankfulness.

Longing to return

33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

This is where the story ends. For us, at the moment, there is an incompleteness. It’s not possible for us to leave home, and return to a place where all our friends are gathered together – where we can exchange our stories of where we’ve met Jesus. We long for that day. We maybe even ache for it.

But what is possible today, or tomorrow? Who can we speak to – on the phone, on a doorstep, or at a window? Who can we share with, the glimpses we’ve caught of the risen Jesus, of hope and life?

Jesus, beloved friend, we thank you:
for listening to us along the way,
for coming in to be with us here,
and for making yourself known
in the breaking of bread.
Stay with us, we pray,
and when the day comes,
go ahead of us into the world:
that we might see your presence and hear your voice
in loved ones, in strangers, in neighbours all,
as we join together to cry:
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

What happens on the Emmaus Road, as the bewildered friends of Jesus and the friend they’d thought they’d lost walk together, is ‘the unfolding of a Person’ (these words are from Roland Allen, a theologian): as they walk and talk, Jesus offers space for his friends to ‘unfold’ their lives, their stories, in his company; and he too ‘unfolds’ for them his story – the story they thought they knew, but had not, until then, grasped more than tiny fragments of it.

And in the walking, and the unfolding, and their instinct to want to carry on this conversation, deepen this relationship further, that is behind their invitation to ‘stay with us’ – they begin to notice, realise, see things that before they had not noticed, realised, or seen.

In these weeks of what many are calling ‘lockdown’, when so much of normal life has been put on ‘hold’ (and who knows what our new ‘normal’ might look life after this?), I wonder if we might hear a deeper invitation, an invitation from the God who is Love: to a journey, a walking together; to a conversation, an ‘unfolding’ of ourselves to each other; and to a noticing, a possibility of seeing with new eyes things about the world, and its people and other creatures, that we have not ever seen or noticed before.

I’m going to finish with a picture, and a poem, that were shared with me by a travelling companion of mine, a theologian of mission, Cathy Ross. She reminds us that it is very often the people we tend not to notice – the little ones, the ones on the edges, the ones who are rarely given value – who see Jesus most clearly, and who will help us see Jesus more clearly too. I wonder who, in our world today, we are beginning to notice more, value more, and who might help us, in this time, begin to see Jesus afresh too?

Kitchen Maid with the Supper at Emmaus, c. 1618, Velasquez

She listens, listens, holding

her breath. Surely that voice

is his – the one

who had looked at her, once, across the crowd,

as no one ever had looked?

Had seen her? Had spoken as if to her?

Surely those hands were his,

taking the platter of bread from hers just now?

Hands he’d laid on the dying and made them well?

Surely that face?

The man they’d crucified for sedition and blasphemy.

The man whose body disappeared from its tomb.

The man it was rumoured now
some women had seen this morning, alive?

Those who had brought this stranger home to their table

don’t recognize yet with whom they sit.

But she in the kitchen,
absently touching the wine-jug she’s to take in,

a young Black servant intently listening.

swings round and sees

the light around him

and is sure.