Toorak Uniting Church

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A traveling companion

Luke 24: 27 – 35
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
6 April 2008

Two men on their way home. Tired, confused, engrossed in the events of the past few days. Not sure what to make of stories some women have told them about an empty tomb. Still wrestling with the disappointment of an aborted revolution.

They are Jesus’ friends, and it is the third day after the crucifixion of a person they thought of as their hero, their liberator, the leader of their revolution. They buried him, and with him the dream of an uprising against the Romans, of being free again, their own people in their own country. And now, this morning, some of the women had returned from a visit to his grave with all sorts of disturbing messages. They’d said tomb was empty, they’d seen him, spoken to him even........ Even John and Peter seemed convinced that there was something in it, that these were not just the ravings of a few overstrung women...... And they are not sure what to make of it.

But it is time to go home, the festival is over and they’ll have to return to work tomorrow. It is time to come back down to earth: dead is dead and dreams are dreams, destined to disappear against the reality of a Roman army that is not in any way ready to lose its grip on their world.

It is at that point a stranger starts to walk up with them on their way home. And they talk, about how it all started, about their dreams, about their disappointment, about their grief, about their confusion, about their attempts to let go and leave it all behind. Because surely, that must be the best way to deal with it...... Go home, start again, forget about what happened.......

But somehow they can’t, and in their conversation with the stranger on the road things get stirred up again.... They tell the stranger about their loss, their dreams, their questions: You know this guy, he was like Moses, like David, like the prophets, all rolled into one. He was a healer, a peace maker, someone who radiated with the love of God. We thought he’d bring the change we have been hoping for for so long. We hoped he was the promised Messiah.... but he wasn’t, can’t have been, he died - but then, these stories.....
They can’t make head or tail of it but while the stranger at their side listens patiently and throws in a comment here and there, they start to see patterns, start to gain some understanding, start to see some meaning where previously there was none. They feel their old friend close, the familiar comfort of his voice explaining and showing what should have been obvious to them in the first place. They look up, even more confused, and glimpse him beside them. Is it him? No, not possible can’t be, a flight of fancy, they are starting to see things.....

Anybody who has ever lost a loved one will know that feeling. Of bringing back memories, of going round in circles and the sudden feeling that the loved one is there, close, near enough to touch, but out of reach nevertheless. Often followed by or accompanied with a moment of revelation and insight about some aspect of life that wasn’t before then clear or understood. Often brought about by the patient listening of a stranger, of someone who is prepared to walk part of the way with you and listen until life has found new meaning, has settled itself into a new pattern.

What Luke describes is something that not only happened to those who wrestled with their grief for Jesus, with their questions, their hope and their despair around that particular, significant loss in their life. It is the story of any of us who go through an experience like that. An experience where we need the support of someone who will walk with us, talk with us, listen to us, and give us space to ask the big questions of life and help us see. Who will read us the scripture and point us to where the stories of old touch on our own. Who will show us how the patterns of our life fit in with the patterns of God’s ordaining. Who will help us move from confusion and doubt to trust and faith.

"Come, share our meal with us..." The take the chance while they have it, to talk to someone who will listen and who seems to be able to help them make sense and find meaning in a world that has collapsed around them.

And while they are setting the table with some bread they brought home from Jerusalem and a bottle of wine that happens to be sitting in the kitchen cupboard somewhere, something extraordinary starts to happen.

They remember. They remember all those times when they have shared bread and wine with Jesus. How he used to take bread and break it, how there always seemed to be more than enough, how he always made everybody feel welcome and at home, even those they would not have invited in a thousand years. They remember his stories, his wisdom, his love. And bit by bit he comes back to them until they see him, sitting at their table, taking their bread and their wine and blessing them like he did on that last night before he died. They see the marks of his suffering, they see him for what he was: Not the hero they wanted him to be, but far more than that. They feel his presence, experience something way beyond the exhilaration the military victory they hankered for would have given them.

Water turns into wine, tiredness and sadness turn to rest and recreation, darkness changes into colour and light. Suddenly the world is whole again, a new light shining on the glum grayness that shrouded it before. There is new life, new hope, new perspective.

They discover the comfort and support of communion when life is hard and grieving. They discover that dead is not dead and that dreams are the seeds of God’s plans for the world that he will lovingly nurture and care for until they flourish.
They discover that God does hold them, does not let go, even where suffering, violence and death take their toll. That somehow from beyond the boundaries of where we can reach God still reaches for us.

Jesus died. Not the death of a hero, a revolutionary who liberated his people from the Romans. But the death of one who was obedient to the end, living God in our midst, showing what we could be if we let ourselves be moulded by God’s will for us.

Jesus rose again. Not as an example of the scientifically impossible, but as a sign of God’s undefeatable and unconquerable love. Not as a freak of history, but as a sure hope for the future: Death will not win, despair will not have the last word.

Jesus lives. In our lives and in our community, becoming flesh wherever we sit around the table and share, wherever we follow the marks his feet left on the road we have to travel through life, whenever we open our hearts and let him in and allow ourselves to trust the glimpses we catch of him traveling beside us, of him sitting next to us, of him patiently accompanying us, of him listening and patiently showing us where it is he wants us to go, where it is he wants us to be, what it is he wants us to see in his Name. Amen.

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2008


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