Easter 3 April 30, 2017
Acts 2, 14, 22-33 + Psalm 16 + 1 Peter 1, 17-21 + Luke 24, 13-35
St Peter and St William Church, Naples, FL
We believe that the Word of God is a living Word that speaks to every age and time, to every person and to every church. This is not history in this book. This is not some well-known old story that we tell every year after Easter. It is not just a scene that has fascinated and inspired artists of every style throughout history. (I say that because last week I spent a little time exploring paintings and artistic representations of this scene on the internet). There are a lot of them, and they all express a different piece of this story that I suspect spoke to them and provided some inspiration just as it speaks to us and can provide inspiration again.
So, as we pick up the Word of God today, and God speaks to us this year and in this place, there is a challenge to our faith just as there was a challenge to the community for which Luke wrote this story passed on to him by others. There are two details that I believe God would have us ponder: there was a conversation going on; and they were willing to welcome a stranger.
The other day I was having lunch in a local restaurant, and at the table next to me there was a couple that I presumed were husband and wife. At least I hoped so. She was looking at and poking the screen of her phone the entire time, and he had an iPad and was doing the same thing. For a while I wondered if they were texting each other, but given the fact that now and then one would smile and tap all the faster with no response from the other, I decided that this was not the case. They never said a word to each other the whole time. In fact, they spoke to the server more than to each other. The sad fact is that this example is not too unusual or surprising. It is not just a matter of technology and our addiction to it. It is the fact that we are losing the ability to have conversations, and our children are even more unable to converse with anyone. Too often what we assume to be conversations are really simply a series of announcements, and often when not speaking, we are not listening. We are just waiting our turn to talk. Discourse and the art of a real conversation that involves listening, seeking understanding and responding is a lost art in this day and age. What might start as a conversation avoiding some unpleasant topics easily turns into a shouting match or cold silence.
Conversations require reflective empathetic listening and responding with charity and some degree of honesty and intimacy. Conversations that are real often result in conversions, which is the whole point: a change of mind and turning toward another not just with the head, but with the heart as well. Those two walking to Emmaus were having a conversation, and because of it, something happened that brought them great joy. They changed their minds about what had happened. Someone joined them, there was another presence that entered that relationship because they were speaking, listening, sharing their feelings, disappointments and hopes.
Then comes the second detail. They welcomed a stranger. In a world that is becoming more and more hostile toward strangers, a world that is less and less hospitable, God speaks today raising a question about how we shall ever really experience the presence of Christ when we hardly ever converse with each other, and refuse to welcome strangers.
We should not be romantic or defensive about this second detail. The world in those days was dangerous. Perhaps more dangerous than our own times. Travel at night was even more dangerous as there was lawlessness, banditry, and danger everywhere especially for those alone outside a city in the dark. Yet, they joined in a conversation with someone they did not know, and they welcomed that stranger into their midst and to their table.
Luke passed this Emmaus story to us inviting us to share in this astonishment and recognition. He points out that as long as they converse and debate among themselves they make no sense of things. Only when they encountered a stranger with different ideas do their hearts begin to burn with understanding. As long as we talk only with people like ourselves who say what we want to hear and share our own view points and limitations, we too will suffer from “slowness of heart.”
Moreover, it was only after an act of hospitality, their invitation to Jesus to lodge and eat with them, that they came to recognize Jesus in the breaking of bread. In this story we see the effects of Luke’s Greek education, which held that truth can best be found through extended dialogue. As long as we talk only to ourselves, there will be a barrier that well may keep God from speaking to us. As long as we resist welcoming strangers we shall probably continue to long for and not find the presence of Christ and the Peace his presence always brings.
God says to us this year and this place: “Start talking to each other again and listen, and when a stranger comes along with new ideas, welcome them and know that I am with you bringing the gift of Peace once again.”