Even though it feels to me like I have come back to MSUC, I don’t think you could call once every 17 years a routine . . . so it might be more accurate to say I have done this once before! Either way, I’m glad that being here means your minister (and my friend) is being renewed on sabbatical and I wish her and you every blessing in this important time.
Of course you realize that the fact that I am looking at a camera and not a congregation means I am relying on my memory of your 2004 faces. You’ll be pleased to know that you haven’t aged a bit!
In all honesty, I know there have been many changes in your lives and in the life of this community, over these years. Fortunately, it isn’t actually necessary for me to have an accurate picture of you in my mind’s eye. There is something about Christian community that is more than a sum of its parts, something in the whole of you that made you who you were then and makes you who you are still. Maybe it’s that face, that collective face, I’m recollecting. So, even though I can’t see you, I greet my remembrance of the whole of you.
I’d love to know what images come to mind for you when you hear the story of the two men walking the road to Emmaus. This story usually provokes a great exchange of remembered journeys, of holy strangers, and spontaneous eucharists. I have a vivid memory of the first day my friend and I set out to walk on the camino de Santiago. On that first day, in the early morning rush hour as we left the city of Porto, a passing car lurched to a stop, the driver leaned across the front seat, rolled down the window and called to us in Portuguese with all the enthusiasm of a long-lost brother, Buen camino, caminantes! (Blessed journey, walkers of the road!) And then he was off. Swallowed in traffic. There was something in the word caminantes that reminded me of another name I’d been given by strangers, many years before, when a community in Central America had referred to me as a companiera, which means literally, ‘the one we share bread with.’ Sisters of the road; friends of shared bread. → Not something we call one another here on any occasion, I don’t think, but beautiful names, and names that spill right from this Emmaus story into our lives, names that evoke a common journey and a shared table. Stories like the road to Emmaus are more than a sum of their parts; they gather us up in the big story about the whole of us.
Some stories are written that way.→ Written to show us something about ourselves that we haven’t yet come to realize; some are written almost to prepare us in advance for a life-shaping something we haven’t had chance to encounter but the author knows is inevitable. I remember reading my children stories about school before they began kindergarten, stories about hospitals in case they ended up in one, stories about being scared, about being lonely, about being sad. None of these stories made those experiences easier. They didn’t even prepare them, honestly. Who can prepare for sadness? But it was my way of rolling down the window and blessing their journey, welcoming them to the road we all share, my way of calling them to the table, sharing the bread of our common life – it was my way of offering them the Companionship that gathers us up, raises us into a bigger story, into a bigger life than the sum of our own private journeys.
The first hearers of Luke’s gospel were afraid; they were in hiding; losing hope. And not for the first or the last time. The story of the friends heading home to Emmaus is a story of walking the road that has come out from under you. It takes place in the dead stop of all that was meant to be rolling out ahead of the disciples. Jesus was meant to have made all the difference. And now he was gone. We don’t need spectacular imaginations to walk a mile in those shoes. And because there’s no hierarchy of despair in this world – whether we have been shattered by things we didn’t see coming or by the slow erosion of reasons to believe things will get better – loss of hope is loss of hope. What do you do when your community begins to lose hope?
No one could say that Luke wrote a “preparedness” gospel. That would be a misreading. But it would be fair to say that thanks to Luke, the church has what it needs when it needs it. Everything in Luke’s gospel is dedicated to building the community – to raising it up, giving it faith, strengthening it for when hope begins to falter, which it had.
Luke as good as rolled down the car window, called to his community, blessed them with a story of a companion on their road, →a resurrected Christ who shares their journey and feeds their hunger. He gave them resurrection story after resurrection story: Christ’s resurrected presence in the garden, in the upper room, Christ’s felt presence on the beach, on the road, his felt companionship at the table. The theme seems fairly obvious: encountering the risen Christ could happen anywhere, anytime, and it does.
The best English teachers never badger their students unnecessarily about the plot and the characters and the setting. They don’t care where the story takes place: the garden, the beach, the house, or the road; they care what difference the story makes to us, if it does. They set aside the outer landscape of the story and ask whether we recognize the inner one. Not the garden where Mary was, but her grief, not the upper room where the disciples were, but their fear, not the beach but the loss, not the road but the utter shattering of hope.
Grief, fear, loss, hopelessness: these are resurrection landscapes. The gospel of Christ’s constant presence, the good news story of new life, has nothing to do with the setting of our lives – nothing to do with where or how we’ve managed to set our lives up, set them in place, set them in motion, but about the moments when those lives have slipped or shattered. These are the inner landscapes which give way to new life. You know this because you’ve lived it – lived it in moments →when you’ve chosen to let-go and in moments you’ve had no choice.
Luke wants the community to know where its strength lies, what hope looks like, where its faith comes from. Nothing prepared the first followers of the crucified Messiah for what they were experiencing. But preparation is not the issue. Luke’s stories are not for preparing people for loss; they are for raising them in hope. Luke’s stories, in that way, are just like yours.
I have been listening over the past few weeks to the stories of resurrection-and-new -life you are telling one another on Sunday mornings. I have heard you weave your own lives between the lines of Luke’s accounts of the risen Christ, assuring one another that Easter is not a one-time historic event but a life-long journey. I’ve heard you tell of the way endings and beginnings, regret and renewal, sorrow and forgiveness – don’t arrive once a year in three-day Easter sequence, but come all-of-a-piece over and over again, across the varied and sometimes treacherous landscape of our lives.
Over these weeks you’ve broken open the scripture (to use Luke’s phrase) for the community, blessed one another with stories of letting go and loss, of starting again and of rising up. You’ve shown one another the way on-going Easters mysteriously give us the grace to receive life and the challenge to choose life even in the most painful circumstances of our lives, even when the tide is going out on hope.
People are grasping for hope all around us: hope for the vaccines to win against the variants; hope for the outcome of the Glasgow COP26 talks; hope for a new consciousness about privilege, race, accountability, and justice; hope for safe supply, safe housing, safe homes. And among you, in ways only you know, you hold hope for someone you love who is struggling, hope for someone’s suffering to end, their heart to mend, or torment to heal.
How do you gather up hope and give it away? How do you offer it to the ones you might overhear on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Or on the way from Prince Rupert to Prince George; on the way home from Minneapolis or from the Lynn Valley library? What does hope look like on the road from life as it was to life as it never will be again? What do you do when the tide is going out on your community’s hope?
I have heard you this month, blessing one another’s journey with signs of the Risen life among and between you. Telling one another about life rising from the end of a chapter, from the death of a relationship, from the scraps of forgotten faith, from a call to face the truth and to reconcile with it. With every story you tether this community to the long journey, breaking open the scriptures for one another until you fall into them together and catch a holy glimpse of your belonging to one another and to the One who made you to be companions of the journey and of the broken bread.
These are not stories to prepare or warn one another. Preparation is not gospel. Hope is gospel. And hope cannot be conjured from within a single story because it has been written across the whole of them, →paved along the road we share, →offered at the table where we gather.
The risen Christ recognized the way the world had grown dim around the two men walking on the road. The way it grows dim around the ones you know when unimaginable events befall them – when the treatment has no effect, when the phone call comes in the night, when the bottom falls out from under an ordinary life and all you can do is watch it fall. And while they were talking, while they were grieving, those two men on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus, Luke writes, Christ came alongside them unfolded the map of the long story →of God’s blessing that stretches out like a road, he unwound miles of mercy and freedom, forgiveness and belonging. He opened the story wide enough for them to walk right in, to be collected up in its promise and raised by its hope. And the men felt the story calling them home, Luke writes, felt the story feeding them like bread. “You are journeying with him,” Luke is saying to his community, “because he has never left you.”
When the bottom falls out from under our lives, when the Messiah doesn’t return as expected, when the virus gains strength, somewhere a community like this one, a community of ambassadors of hope – walkers of the way, companions of shared bread – are holding vigil, are keeping Christ’s risen life embodied in this world,→ the promise that love does prevail, that death is not the last word, that every broken piece is held in the safe-keeping of a boundless restoration of all things. Somewhere, maybe here, a community remembers that the name of Christ is the name we become together, the way we become greater than a sum of our parts, the way by the grace of the Risen one, we become companions on the road that holds and raises all our lives and the whole of our lives →in a communion of storied hope we walk into together.
May it be so. Amen.