The Mysterious Stranger
| Luke 24:13-35
||Sun, April 18, 1999
Rev. Ed Searcy
|"Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem." On that same day ... on Easter Sunday ... two of them are on their way out of town. Did you notice that? They are headed out of town. This after hearing the remarkable news from the women that the tomb is empty and that Jesus is alive. Are they leaving town on business? Have they got better things to do than to see what will transpire in Jerusalem? Maybe that is just it. Maybe they have better things to do than to get into more trouble. They have seen too much trouble this past week. Time to get out of town.
Yet they cannot leave it behind. Their past haunts them. Cleopas and his travelling partner ... (his wife? Yes, his wife, I think) ... pour the story out to the first stranger who comes alongside. You know how it is. When you are traumatized by loss you find yourself telling the story over and over ... to anyone who will listen ... even perfect stranger: "I went into work and found a memo on my desk asking me to see the manager right away ... and right then I knew that there was going to be trouble." Or: "It happened so quietly. The rest of the family had slipped out for dinner in the hospital cafeteria ... and I was just holding her hand and humming softly when she just stopped breathing and slipped away." It is the same in the public realm. Kosovar refugees cross the border with desperate tales of devastation and torture. On the road out of Jerusalem, seeking to escape the horror, the two of them can’t help but pour it out. They tell about the mighty prophet Jesus who has been lynched in a horrible weekend of violent treachery. "We had hoped", they say, "that he was the one to redeem Israel".
"We had hoped". This is the reason that they leave Jerusalem. They leave because they can find no hope there any longer. And they tell the story of tragedy hoping that somehow in the retelling they might discover something that they had missed ... might find hope where there seems only despair. And then the stranger ... the mysterious stranger ... begins to tell the story in his own words. The stranger starts way, way back ... at the beginning ... long before these past few days ... and reminds the two of the bigger story within which these events make sense. At the beginning of their journey together Cleopas and his travelling partner had set out to explain everything to the stranger who seemed to know nothing. By the end of the day it is the stranger who has done the explaining.
The mysterious stranger. One author has said that Easter "occurs when we find in Jesus not a dead friend, but a living stranger". A living stranger who comes alongside and listens to our story that ends in resignation and despair. "We had hoped. We had hoped." The mysterious stranger who then begins to retell the same story in a way that strangely warms the heart. A week ago Bob Smith, Susan Lindenberger and Paul Davis of the Residential school Task Force that I chair attended a Native gathering in Quatsino on the north tip of Vancouver Island. They went to listen as survivors of Indian Residential Schools told their stories and sought healing together. They went because the leaders of the First Nations know that their healing and our healing are tied up together. They know that the healing of the scars and wounds of the past will only come with reconciliation for the future. All of us, native and non-native, find ourselves fleeing from the pain and suffering of the past, heading out of Jerusalem ... trying to escape yet unable to forget ... telling the story over and over ... hoping that somehow in the telling we can find out what went wrong and how we lost our hope.
We are all travellers on that Emmaus road. We come to worship ... fleeing, in a way, the problems and griefs of the week. We leave behind Jerusalem with all of its disasters and head to the serenity of Emmaus, of the Chapel in the woods. Yet, even as we try to leave it all behind it is all there ... running through our minds over and over again. And then there is something in the scripture ... something in the sermon ... something in a hymn or a prayer ... that changes everything, turns everything around, opens us up to a living hope. The stranger. Perhaps that is the role of the ordained in our midst. Perhaps we preachers are meant always to be strangers. We come alongside of disciples who journey down the road, wondering at what they have seen and heard. Then we retell the story, trusting that it has the power to evoke new hope in the power of God revealed in Christ. Perhaps this is, in fact, the role of Christ’s church in the world. Perhaps we are all called to come alongside those who travel the Emmaus road, without hope. Yes ... that is what it means to be a minister of Christ. It means to listen to the story of despair ... and then to reframe that ‘so-called’ reality in another, larger story.
Another, larger story. When the two disciples urge the stranger saying: "Stay with us through the night" they invite themselves into another, larger story. By inviting the stranger to stay they invite the Kingdom of God into their midst. That is why our emerging congregational vision of welcoming each and every stranger is much more than a strategy for growth. We do not welcome the stranger because they need us and what we have to offer. Nor do we welcome the stranger because we need their gifts ... especially their financial gifts. We ask the stranger to stay with us and to eat with us because it is in the stranger that we meet the living Christ. This is the one constant of all of the Easter stories: Jesus’ disciples do not recognize him. He is, they think, a gardener, a ghost or a stranger. The Risen Christ meets us in the unexpected because the resurrection transforms him. More than that, the resurrection transforms us.
Faced with the prospect of welcoming strangers our first instinct is to bar the door. But this is not the instincts of Christ’s church. Writing about the current refugee crisis in Kosovo in the current issue of Macleans Magazine (April 19/99), Peter C. Newman reminds us of an Easter hospitality: "The most bizarre arrival of refugees on our shores occurred on a foggy morning in July, 1987, when Vernon Malone, a fisherman from Charlesville, Nova Scotia, found himself surrounded by strangers. They were 174 East Asians, mainly Sikhs, who had climbed out of their leaky boat and waded ashore. Wet and confused their spokesmane asked Malone where they could hail a taxi for Toronto. The fisherman invited them back to his house for a hot meal and refreshments. The Sikhs’ obviously illegal entry triggered a crisis that included the recall of Parliament to deal with the issue. Asked why he had shown such hospitality to strangers, Malone quietly replied: "I can speak on behalf of the people of Charlesville, because I know everyone who lives here. You read in your Bible: Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares".
The resurrection transforms us. It shapes a community that welcomes the stranger because we have found a living hope ... and because we have discovered that living hope embodied in the very strangers who we ask to stay the night. For when the Mysterious Stranger breaks the bread we see with our own eyes that Christ is risen indeed. And in that very moment Christ vanishes from sight and we are left at table with one another. Who do we see? We see strangers who embody the living Christ. We glimpse companions, whose life is lived ‘com-panis’ <with bread> ... literally people with whom we share bread. We give thanks for fellow disciples who, along with us, leave the experience of Emmaus behind and journey back into the turmoil of Jerusalem. For to our surprise and wonderment we have become believers ... a people whose life is no longer marked by deep despair but is, instead, empowered by the lifeblood of hope. A people unafraid to walk with strangers on the road.
<Hymn #182 - "Stay with us through the Night">