A hopeful lean into the future…
The accounts of the resurrection are remarkably inclusive. Jesus appears as a gardener to a woman who had faithfully followed him. He appears to the disciples gathered behind locked doors in Jerusalem. Later on he will appear to Saul—a zealous persecutor—on the road to Damascus. If Jesus is interested in establishing a selective power structure, we don’t see that based on who he encounters after the Resurrection.
The Emmaus story is an indication that there is room in the Resurrection movement even for bit characters. We never hear of Cleopas before this account or again after this passage. We never learn the name of his companion. In terms of the big picture of the church and its mission they are nobodies. They are ordinary people who have been following Jesus and his disciples. They could be any one of us.
This week we learned that a thirty-something Colombian leader has been named to lead Mennonite World Conference and that the office is moving from Strasbourg, France to Bogotá, Colombia. For much of church history the Jesus story was told through the lens of power–through a European lens. This handoff of leadership to the global South seems to be aligned with the narrative arc of the Emmaus story.
For Cleopas and his companion the story is over. They are walking back home. Jesus has died and they have lost their faith and hope. They are not looking for him; in fact, they don’t even recognize him when he joins them. Their hearts are heavy.
Richard Rohr says that all great spirituality is about what we do with our pain. I have an acquaintance who two years ago was planting a church. There was conflict and he was asked to leave by denominational leaders. Today he views religion as a prop that limits humans from being all they can be. He has moved beyond organized religion. I share this not to pick apart his story—or judge where he is standing. But just to ground this Emmaus story in real life. Disillusionment with God, the church, religion is real. We have our own stories to tell.
The Emmaus story provides a hopeful image—that we are not alone in our pain and confusion. The image is of God walking alongside human confusion, pain and loss of faith and hope. Emmaus invites us to expect God to seek us out in these places. But Jesus may come in a way that is unrecognizable. He may come as a stranger along an ordinary road, the road each of us is on every day.
Who is the stranger among us? (TED video until 5:17)
The Emmaus story challenges us to see that it isn’t our unshakable faith and deep spirituality that connect us with the risen Christ, but our smallest gestures of hospitality and friendship.
In the midst of their confusion—their slowness of heart—Cleopas and his companion respond to a stranger with hospitality. The stranger who has listened to their story…the stranger who has told their faith story back to them in a way they had not heard or seen before—even from their own scripture and tradition. This stranger is the one whom they invite to stay with them.
At supper when Jesus takes, blesses, breaks and gives them the bread, they recognize him, then almost immediately lose him again as he vanishes. The Emmaus story teaches us once again that we do not possess Jesus. Not when we gather at table around Scripture and the Breaking of Bread. Not when we invite him into our homes and our hearts.
This is sometimes hard to accept—as individuals…as the church. Perhaps this story invites us to let go of our need to control the Jesus story. Even when we have the Scriptures and knowledge of the tradition, the Risen Christ comes and goes. Jesus does not just stay at our table. Jesus is in the process of bringing healing and hope to the universe and everything in it. He has other roads to walk…other tables to show up at.
Even though Cleopas and his companion do not get to hold on to Jesus, their experience on the road and at table has transformed them. They immediately return to Jerusalem to find the disciples and the rest of their group.
I am beginning to wonder if Christian faith is less about words and more about paying attention. Paying attention to the gardener…the stranger walking with us along the road of life. Paying attention to our hearts—the heaviness we carry—and the hope that comes as we recognize God walking with us in those places. I came across a poem this week that speaks to a way our hearts burn within us.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass…
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?
– Mary Oliver
What is the task? How do we pay attention?
The youth group went on a prayer walk this week. They took their cameras along to take photos of places of desolation and consolation.
Outdoor prayer service at Binn’s Park that was being communicated in English, Spanish, and American Sign Language.
A tree that had been damaged when the building collapsed on Queen Street is sprouting new buds, with a backdrop of the new building that is going up where the collapsed building once stood.
Dumpsters at McCaskey have been painted (probably by high school art students) in unique and creative ways, turning a symbol of dirt and waste into art.
Where are the places we are carrying shattered hopes? Here is a prayer from the Book of Common Prayer as we walk along the Emmaus Road this week:
“Lord Jesus, stay with us, for evening is at hand and the day is past; be our companion in the way, kindle our hearts and awaken hope, that we may know you as you are revealed in scripture and the breaking of bread. Grant this for the sake of your love.”