On the Road!
It's so good to be back this week. As some of you know, I was out of town - actually, out of the country - last week. My family took a spring break trip to Mexico. We spent a good amount of time on the airplane and in airports, in transit, and you know, there are 2 kinds of people on airplanes - those who look forward to talking with whoever their seatmate is, and then there's people like me, who don't really like flying or traveling very much and so we pull up our hoodies and try to pretend we're somewhere else. I think I feel a little bit of shame about that, because I have had many friends make meaningful connections with people on flights. There's something about being on the road, or in the air - it's a liminal space where important conversations can be had, even with strangers, if we're up for it.
This morning our scripture reading is also about two people on a road - the road to Emmaus, It's a famous story. It happens on the same day that Mary discovers the empty tomb. These are followers of Jesus who are walking to the village of Emmaus and discussing everything that's gone on in the past few days - and remember, these are people who have just been through a terrible trauma. There's likely a lot of grief, anger, disappointment, maybe even shock... and then, they run into a stranger. Well, they run into Jesus. And Jesus seems to maybe even get a little kick out of the fact that they don't recognize him, and asks them to tell him about all of the events that just happened in Jerusalem. So these two begin to talk. Talk and talk and talk about all the things they've just witnessed. (Jesus, I think, would be a very good airplane companion.)
Then, Jesus starts to interpret all of what they've shared through the scriptures -- and they still don't recognize him. This should remind us of what happened with Mary - remember how she mistook Jesus for the gardener? We've had three stories now of people who took awhile to recognize their friend and teacher. First was Mary - Mary recognizes Jesus only after he says her name. Then we had Thomas - Thomas recognizes him after touching his wounds. And now we have the people on the road to Emmaus, and they recognize Jesus only after he sits to eat with them, and he breaks bread and blesses it.
Apparently recognizing Jesus has nothing to do with what he actually looks like and everything to do with relationship.
This story was especially poignant for me this week as there were several incidents - and probably more that we don't know about - of people being shot while doing absolutely normal things like accidentally going to the wrong house to pick up siblings, or turning around in the wrong driveway. One of these, of course, was in our state of New York, and though it wasn't our rural community, it could have been.
Imagine if the disciples on the road to Emmaus had greeted the stranger with deadly force instead of curiosity and welcome. It can be hard to be curious and welcoming when you're afraid, or sad, or angry with the world.
I thought a lot about these stories this week, and the victims and the families who were affected. I also thought about how one gets to be the kind of person who shoots first, before even saying hello or asking questions. And that, of course, is a huge question, but I do think that while human beings resort to violence for all kinds of reasons, at the root, I have to think that most human beings resort to violence when they don't believe or trust that relationship can be a place to work out differences. And that kind of despair and fear is contagious. That kind of despair spreads through the violence itself - to the victims families, to the survivors, and even just a little bit to those of us who see or hear about the shootings on the news. (I think a lot about the people who were there but survived the shootings - teenagers who will likely never ask a stranger for help ever again, since they've seen what can come of it in the worst way.) Despair and Fear - they spread easily.
That could have been the story of the disciples, too. Jesus' death could have hardened them. It could have made them suspicious and angry and fearful. But Jesus stepped in. And though there are the fun miraculous parts of this story - like how he vanishes as soon as they recognize him (again, I think he gets a little kick out of it) - it's actually a very simple, very ordinary story of sharing stories, offering hospitality, and eating together.... very simple things that can fortify us against despair, fear, and disconnection.
It's knowing and saying people's names, like with Mary.
It's sharing our own vulnerabilities, the way Jesus shared his wounds with Thomas.
And today, it's sharing a meal and blessing it - seeing how sacred this simple action can be.
That's what our worship service is meant to re-enact, by the way. We gather, we interpret scripture, we share a symbolic meal. Sometimes the simplicity gets lots in all the words, the books, the rituals. But that really is all we are doing when we come together on Sunday morning.
Then, of course, we are all sent out to make our own little altars in the world - simple sharing that is how we fortify ourselves and those we are in community with against the many forces that would prefer us to live in fear and despair. Thanks be to God!