Toorak Uniting Church

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On the road to Emmaus

Luke 24: 13 – 33
Rev. Pr Wolfgang Stahlberg
Pentecost 20
11 October 2015

Grace and peace

One of my favourite stories in the New Testament. As I read it, a parable about resurrection. I don’t think that it actually happened, but that it is a story to explain and interpret what resurrection is about. Like the Native American storyteller who says about a story, "I don’t know whether it happened that way, but I know that it is true." Or as John Dominic Crossan summarizes it: "Emmaus never happened, Emmaus always happens!

Two of Jesus' friends are on their way home from Jerusalem. They are probably a couple because only one of them, Cleopas, is named, while the other one is unnamed, in the Mediterranean custom hinting that it is a woman. These two are mourning, they are still under shock: Their beloved friend and teacher had been executed. They had been on the road with Jesus for a while. Their leader had taught them so much, he had shown them not only a completely new way of life, but he also empowered them to do what he had done –to heal and throw out demons, to preach and teach, and to share food with the people they met.

Then the whole group had travelled to Jerusalem, the capital. Their master had clashed with the authorities through his demonstrative acts, like the prophetic entry into the city. He symbolically destroyed the temple, criticized the Jewish elite for exploiting the people and for collaborating with the Roman occupation. In short, he turned things upside down. The people loved him, they applauded his actions. In the end the authorities arrested him at night, when the public was not around. The Romans quickly crucified him. They saw him as a threat to the Roman law and order. Jesus' friends were afraid that they would be next.

In this parable, the two travellers are discussing what happened. While they are reminiscing and talking about possible meanings, a stranger joins them on the road, as they continue to talk about what is on their hearts and minds. A stranger! The stranger seems to be a wise person, he asks questions, he makes suggestions, and he even involves them in a Bible study! Later they would look back and say that "their hearts were burning."

When we are on a journey, the unexpected can make our hearts jump, can twist our knowledge, or can make our brains take unrehearsed leaps! We can meet somebody we don’t know in the most surprising places – on an airplane, at a bar, at church, or on the road! Meeting strangers can give us all kinds of positive experiences, like understanding different ways of thinking, getting to know different cultures and histories, or being challenged by somebody who is not exactly like us – although, in a human way, exactly like us. New experiences transform us as much as we are open to the movements of the Holy Spirit.

The two travellers in our story are touched, they are changed. So when they get to their place, they invite the stranger into their house to eat with them and share their food. They actually follow what Jesus had taught them to do, and in that way they become open for the amazing spiritual experience of the presence of their Lord. Jesus breaks the bread, and suddenly they recognize him! Their experience of transformation is so strong that they just have to go back and share it with their friends. Instead of having a calm evening in front of the TV, these two are in a hurry to go back to where they just came from, and tell their friends.

We might still find excuses not to invite the stranger, the one who looks or thinks differently. In that case, we fail to see Jesus, and our eyes are still covered by the veil of not understanding. But when we invite the stranger and when we share God’s food, we are doing what Jesus called us to do. "The classic sign of (our) acceptance of God's mystery is welcoming and making room for the stranger, the other, the surprising, the unlooked for and the unwanted." (Kathleen Norris) That is how we can participate in building God's kingdom on earth: in small, maybe even tiny steps, but with the powerful presence of the living Christ at our side!

Where in our individual lives and in the life of our church do we meet the risen Christ? I do not understand resurrection as a one-time, unique event that only happened about 2000 years ago to Jesus. I understand resurrection as an ongoing spiritual process that happens all the time in our everyday lives! The mystery of Jesus can hit us when we understand that God is the creator of the world, and that everything in it belongs to God and not to us. "People use a new spiritual vocabulary to describe it - God is in the sunset, at the seashore, in the gardens we plant, at home, in the work we do, in the games we watch and play, in the stories that entertain us, in good food and good company, when we eat, drink, and make love... Millions of people are experiencing God as more personal and accessible than ever before. This is not a romanticized greeting card divinity, but it is a God who is robustly present in the chaos, suffering, and confusion surrounding us, the Spirit who invites us to save the planet and make peace with the whole human family, and who is a companion and partner in creating a hope-filled future... A God who is not with us cannot be for us. The only God that makes sense is a God of compassion and empathy who shares the life of the world." (Diana Butler Bass) God wants us to be resurrected, to be free, to be forgiving and loving.

"Were not our hearts burning?" is the questions of the couple in our story.

Thomas Merton said about a life of conversation, conversion and communion: "If I allow Christ to use my heart in order to love my brothers and sisters with it, I will soon find that Christ, loving in me and through me has brought to light Christ in my brothers and sisters. And I will find that the love of Christ in my brothers and sisters, loving me in return has drawn forth the image and reality of Christ in my own soul."


© Rev. Pr Wolfgang Stahlberg, 2015

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