The household gathers together. If you have a candle, light a candle to signify God’s presence. Ask the Holy Spirit to join you during this time of prayer.

GATHERING
Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

HYMN – „Open My Eyes, That I May See“ by Clara H. Scott (1895)
(sing along to the tune available on YouTube: https://youtu.be/Pt0E84tRhhc)

1. Open my eyes, that I may see
glimpses of truth you have for me;
place in my hands the wonderful key
that shall unlock and set me free.
Silently now, on bended knee,
ready I wait your will to see;
open my eyes, illumine me,
Spirit divine!

2. Open my ears, that I may hear
voices of truth you send so clear;
and while the message sounds in my ear,
everything false will disappear.
Silently now, on bended knee,
ready I wait your will to see;
open my ears, illumine me,
Spirit divine!

3. Open my mouth, and let me bear
gladly the warm truth everywhere;
open my heart, and let me prepare
love with your children thus to share.
Silently now, on bended knee,
ready I wait your will to see;
open my heart, illumine me,
Spirit divine!

OPENING PRAYER
Loving God, at the beginning of this Sunday Service we want to gather ourselves and come to rest inwardly. Everything that distracts us or has just occupied us, we wish to put aside now. Let us listen to You, God. We ask You to help us settle down and to open our ears and our heart. Help us to be open for your holy presence. Connect us to You as we are connected to each other, even though we are celebrating in different rooms and places. God, come into our midst.

Jesus, on the second Sunday after Easter we thank you again for your resurrection, which has changed the course of the world. You have come to redeem us. What was impossible for us human beings, you have accomplished on the cross and thus cleared the way. We are on this path and we often lose sight of the beauty of your road because we are so busy with ourselves. Jesus, and so we ask you: Open our eyes again and again for your saving action on us. You have loved us home. For this we praise and glorify you. Jesus, come and be near us.

Holy Spirit, you work the miracle of faith in us. How incomprehensible the promises remain if you do not make them blossom, if you do not breathe life into them. We ask you: Let us trust your work. Give us the steadfastness and the courage to invite other people to get to know You the Triune God. What we can do, let us do, and what You want to cause, let it become true. Triune God, You are the source of our hope and the goal of our longing. Your name be praised for ever and ever. Amen

PSALM 116:1-4, 12-19

Moment for silent reflection

LUKE 24:13-35

SERMON by Pastor Esther Handschin

The crisis changes my perception. Have you noticed that too? After the first rules have been communicated, I have started to check if everyone is following them. Do not shake hands, keep your distance, sneeze into the bend of your arm, wash your hands, do not cuddle with strangers who do not live in your household. So now I have a pair of control glasses on my nose to check everything. The television commercials in the first days: a catastrophe! Many people gathering in a small space: I wanted to intervene. A short walk to the mailbox: Why is the couple blocking the sidewalk? That’s what my inner voice tells me. Can’t you follow the rules and make room for me?

These new glasses on my nose are not so easy to take off even when I am reading a biblical text. How can the two disciples and Jesus just walk side by side becoming three people blocking the road! Keep your distance! And then the three of them enter an inn. Three people who do not live in the same household sit down together at a table. How can they! The inns don’t open again until the middle of May! At least in Austria.

Perhaps it is also the envy I feel at this point. There are people in this story who don’t know each other and are yet able to talk to each other. They sit together at a table and share the food. That’s something I’m realy missing a lot: sitting together in a casual way, exchanging experiences, talking to each other, sharing how I and the others are doing and being able to perceive each other as whole people. Not only in detail with the parts that the screen shows me during a video conference, completely without gesticulating hands, but with a bookshelf in the background and perhaps a green plant.

What Luke tells us here, almost at the end of his Gospel, as a post-Easter apparitional story, is something I can already see as a reference to his following work, the Acts of the Apostles. There he unfolds on a grand scale how the disciples become apostles and – gifted with the Spirit of God – go out to bring the message of Jesus to the people. They begin in Jerusalem. Then they go on to Galilee and beyond, and in the end they even go as far as Rome when you look at Paul. Thus the Church of Jesus Christ grows. But already in the story of the two disciples who are on their way to Emmaus, we can see some characteristics of what constitutes the essence of the Church. I would summarize it in two phrases: It’s about fellowship on the road and fellowship at the table.

The approaching jubilee, which we as The United Methodist Church in Austria will celebrate next year, makes us ask what is important to us as a church. What do we want people, our families and our circle of friends, but also the media and the public to know about us when we look back on 150 years? How should they perceive us? What is our trademark? What image do we want them to have of us? It is not only a matter of the external perspective. It is also good for us to think more deeply about what is important to us as a Church, what is important about our specific Church and about our congregations. What do we value in the way we are church, how do we celebrate our Sunday Services, how do we communicate and pass on our faith, what kind of interaction do we have with each other and how are we on the road together?

In February, we as pastors met with the lay members of our church for one Saturday to exchange views on these questions. We usually do this at the Annual Conference only, our Synod.

The result of our conversations – as with everything that is worked out in a common process – cannot easily be reproduced. One term that was mentioned again and again is fellowship or community. Our churches are there so that people can live their relationship with God and be strengthened in it. We celebrate together the fellowship that God has established with us human beings. The fellowship is important, because we learn together and from each other who this God is, who has come close to us in Jesus Christ. Our churches are therefore places of faith development and personal development. Here we learn to express our faith, to think about it, to talk about it with others and to put our faith into practice in everyday life. This happens not only during our Sunday Services, but also in many smaller groups and circles. But we are not only concerned with ourselves. Our Christian love and relationship is also for our neighbours who are not members of the church or who do not share our faith.

I have to admit, so much emphasis on fellowship or community also makes me skeptical. Community is not important for all people. There are people who find it easier just to be on their own. Too much closeness soon triggers a feeling of narrowness. How quickly do we spread the message: Just become like us and everything will be okay. Although this can result in different things, it requires a high degree of adaptation: Learn the same pious language as we use. Pray exactly as we do. Come every Sunday and you will be one of us. It can’t be that for me. But what can?

For me, the current Corona time with the restriction of physical contact is a good opportunity to once again trace and examine what exactly is so important for me in „community“. Yes, I long for community with other people, but how much of that is necessary for my faith? I do not have any ready answers yet. But I look forward to sharing my thoughts with others. In the meantime, I would like to learn from the story of the disciples who were on their way to Emmaus what fellowship on the road and fellowship at the table means to them.

The two are on the way together. „Met'“ (= with) „hodos“ (= way), to be on the way with one another, one could say. The derivation of the word „method“ from the Greek as „to be on the way together“ is not quite exact. But I often use it to explain who the Methodists are. They were given this nickname in England in the 18th century, because people thought they wanted to be pious according to a certain method. I prefer to see them as people who are on the road together, like these two disciples are on the road to Emmaus. It is noticeable in the first few verses of the story. The „together“ is emphasized and mentioned several times.

So they talk to each other about what they have experienced and what is on their minds. Then a stranger joins them. He seems to know nothing about what they thought must have been noticed by everybody. And so he lets the two tell him about all that happened in Jerusalem in the last days: about the prophet Jesus, who was executed and crucified by the authorities of the city; about the discovery of the empty tomb by some women; about their stories about an apparition of angels and about others who also saw the empty tomb.

Surprisingly, it is precisely the stranger who now begins to explain to them, on the basis of the Holy Scripture, how they can understand and interpret what has happened. The fact that they are walking together towards a goal (Emmaus) has opened them to something new. I have often experienced people – most of the times we’re talking about men here – who start talking and telling stories when they are heading towards a common goal. The talking happens then quasi incidentally.

In the technical language of communication, this is called „side by side“. And something else happens: The two of them have opened up their community to a stranger. They are presented by him with a new understanding of their experiences and their faith.

No wonder, then, that they feel the need to rest and strengthen themselves after the fellowship on the road. Talking and walking has made them tired, thirsty and hungry. So they invite the stranger to be their guest. Now they sit around a table and can look at each other. This is another form of communication where I observe that it works rather well with women: „face to face“. As before, something revolves around the relationship between the two disciples and Jesus, who is still unknown to them. In the beginning the two of them invited the stranger as their guest. At the table, however, he suddenly becomes the host by taking the bread, giving thanks for it, breaking it for all and passing it on.

With the discovery with whom they were actually travelling and sitting at the table, the fellowship on the road and the fellowship at the table is dissolved again. The two disciples are now no longer on their way to Emmaus, but are returning to Jerusalem. First of all they seek fellowship with those with whom they were desperate, sad and perplexed. They need to be encouraged with what they have experienced. But actually they are too late, because those in Jerusalem have already experienced themselves that their Lord has risen.

In conclusion, I would like to summarize once again what the story of the disciples of Emmaus tells me about the theme of fellowship:

  • fellowship on the road and the fellowship at the table is characterised by togetherness, whether it is by doing something together or while talking together.
  • It helps us to better understand our experience, whether it is pain or joy, suffering or thanksgiving, when we do it on the basis of the Holy Scripture.
  • Often it is those who come in from outside who can give us important impulses and new perspectives.
  • It is not always those who invite who end up being the hosts. Often enough, the roles turn around and we change from those who give to those who receive.
  • Our attention is directed towards the desperate, the sad and the helpless. But they can surprise us with the message that the Lord has risen.

Amen.

AFFIRMATION OF FAITH (read aloud)
We are not alone, we live in God’s world. 
We believe in God:
who has created and is creating;
who has come in Jesus, the Word made flesh,
to reconcile and make new;
who works in us and others by the Spirit.
We trust in God. 
We are called to be the church:
to celebrate God’s presence;
to live with respect in creation;
to love and serve others;
to seek justice and resist evil;
to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen,
our judge and our hope. 
In life, in death, in life beyond death,
God is with us. 
We are not alone.
Thanks be to God. Amen.

PRAYERS OF INTERCESSION
God, these days we think again and again of the people in countries that are not as rich and not as well positioned as we are in Austria. Whether in India, Bangladesh, Northern Macedonia or Albania. We ask you: Preserve them! Protect them through your grace and through your work, for nothing is impossible to you. Help them where our help is not enough. And help us, who have possibilities to help, to act in solidarity.

Jesus, today we want to pray for all the families who are beginning to suffer from the forced closeness and where the frustration and the uniformity of the days are threatening to discharge into anger and violence. Please Jesus, give new thoughts, new ideas and new ways to prevent this. Strengthen in all those who are affected the loving mindfulness and the will for peace. Protect the weaker ones and prevent all those involved from becoming guilty of guilt against each other, that is what we ask of you, Jesus.

Yes, God, and so we ask you for all the people worldwide for whom the current situation of unemployment and forced inactivity is becoming a threat to their existence. Those who are slowly running out of breath and who are desperate because they don’t know how to survive. Whose savings have been used up and who are raising their hands to you with questions: Help them out of their misery. God we ask you, help them as only you can help. Have mercy God, we beg this for our brothers and sisters. Be near them and save them from misery. God, please hear our calling, hear our prayer.

BLESSING
God, we ask you to bless us!
We think of Jesus on the road to Emmaus:
He is with us, accompanying us on our roads.
He is at our side.
He gives us the words that sustain our lives.
Amen.