The Road to Emmaus

I’m currently working on my sermon for this Sunday (The Third Sunday of Easter). The Gospel reading is taken from Luke’s account of the two disciples journeying to the village of Emmaus (Luke 24: 13-25).

In my sermon resources folder I have a copy of a sermon on this passage written by Michael Phillips. I suspect that I received this from him via Midrash, a sermon-writing discussion group with which I am involved.

The following paragraphs I read with the current situation in the Scottish Episcopal Church very much at the forefront of my mind (the disagreement about the place of practicing homosexuals in the leadership, and I suppose, membership of the church).

Sometimes, the way we see the world, or our orientation to the world can keep us from seeing what is right before our eyes because we just don’t expect it — it doesn’t fit our worldview; it doesn’t match our tradition; it’s not in keeping with our expectations. And yet, sometimes, a little madness can enter into our certainties, and make us willing to listen to a stranger’s voice, with a strange new perspective, that any rational person — anybody at all — would reject out of hand as improbable or even impossible.

I pray the church would find a little bit of madness. I pray folk would learn to invite each other to their tables, to break bread with those with whom they disagree, rather than just those they agree with. I pray it, because I believe it’s at the table with strangers, or acquaintances with strange views, that we as a church will stop fighting each other and learn instead to dance with one another and with the Lord in brand new ways that will save us all.

That’s probably one of the strangest aspects of the walk to Emmaus. It’s not until they sit together at the table and Jesus breaks the bread that they recognize the risen Christ in their midst. Think about following Jesus for three years, listening to his teaching, preaching, and expounding Scriptures. Then, to walk along the same roads in the same way with a man they thought to be a stranger until they sat down together and shared a meal. The opponents of Jesus noticed the special place that table fellowship had in his ministry. John’s gospel says John the Baptist fasted often, and ate only locusts and honey, and they said he had a demon, while Jesus came eating and drinking, and they called him a wine bibber and a glutton! In other words, they said, “Every time we see Jesus he’s eating and drinking!”

I’ve said on a few occasions that church is the fellowship around a common meal of a community with the Lord in common. Everything else we do is designed to remind us of that, and without that, nothing else we do really matters. Even when we don’t celebrate the Lord’s Supper in worship, it’s the Lord’s Table we are gathered at as brothers and sisters in Christ. You, know, it’s hard to sit down across the table with someone to share a meal, then stand up, walk away, and say something negative about them. That’s because eating and drinking together is one of the most intimate actions human beings can do together, because competition is set aside.

But what do we do instead? We have an argument with someone, and refuse to sit down at a table to have a meal with them. That’s why there’s no healing. That’s why we don’t see Christ in the face of those we refuse to fellowship with — because we’re not offering the hospitality that was central to Christ’s practice — we’re not living in the community that Christ invites us to join, maintain, and share freely with others.

Over the past week I’ve been visiting a number of websites and forums as people debate the issues of the place of homosexual men and women within the life of the church. Much of it has saddened me deeply.

There has been a deep lack of willingness from many on what could be characterised as the evangelical ‘side’ to engage in true dialogue, instead claiming resolutely that their position is ‘sound’ and orthodox and immutable. It is not only that claim to absolute truth without an openness to even listening to any other point of view that has upset me, it is also the terms and expressions which have been used that I have found both disappointing and upsetting, and indeed, at times deeply offensive. Some people have been accused of ‘flaming‘ when all they have been doing is simply expressing their own opinion, or asking intelligent and pertinent questions.

Our words (whether written or spoken) have such power to wound or heal, both ourselves and others. Freud recognised this; Wittgenstein recognised this; Jesus recognised this. I wish that many more would recognise this too. What incredible power we have at our disposal.

What are we achieving in the church by such forceful arguments? Do many (both within and outwith the church) see beyond these carefully packaged and emotively written accusations, attempting to win moral ground by force? Or do they, like me, often struggle to see beyond the expressed anger and self-righteousness of the opinions expressed? Is this Christ-like behaviour, regardless of the actual rightness of an argument or point made? I very much fear not.

What would it take to unite these two sides? That is a question for the Holy Spirit to answer, in God’s time. I suspect that it might involve helping people to move beyond the questions of sexuality as the key test of the orthodoxy of one’s faith. If only more Christians were as passionate about justice, the environment, and mission as they seem to be about trying to protect God from our ‘sinful’ sexual desires. Is that not the sacrifice that God requires?

But it must involve dialogue, dialogue with the stranger at the table. Recognising the face of Christ in the other. Then there will be healing.

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Gareth Saunders

I’m Gareth J M Saunders, 46 years old, 6′ 4″, father of 3 boys (including twins). Latterly, web architect and agile project manager at the University of St Andrews and warden at Agnes Blackadder Hall. Currently on sabbatical. I am a priest in the Scottish Episcopal Church, and I sing with the NYCGB alumni choir.

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