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“Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven”
“Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing”
“Be Still My Soul”
we know your presence through love,
when breaking bread and sharing with each other,
you are among us.
you meet us when we do not expect you,
on roads we think will take us far away from you,
in people we think cannot be you.
kindle in us the fires of your love,
so that as we walk down our roads of life,
we may stop for the stranger,
show hospitality to the other,
and in such a way know that God is with us.
Through Jesus Christ our risen Lord,
who lives and reigns with God our Parent
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God now and forever. Amen.
Every time the disciples meet Jesus after the resurrection, it’s in a place or time that’s symbolic of how they don’t expect to meet him. They’re huddled in a locked room, so even if they believed Mary’s tale, they wouldn’t expect him to just be able to enter the room. Or now they’re going way from Jerusalem, where it all happened, so they don’t expect to meet him randomly on the road.
In Luke’s recounting, this is the first appearance of the risen Christ. They’ve heard from the woman at the tomb what happened, how the body wasn’t there and there were angels who said, “Go ahead to Galilee,” but this is the first time that they see him, and they don’t even recognize him.
Was something different about the way he looked? Is this less of a resurrection and more of a reincarnation? The gospel doesn’t say. It says, “Their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” You can fill in the gaps with your own imagination, it doesn’t actually matter all that much.
What does matter, at least what jumps out at me right now as I read this text, is that they’re walking away from Jerusalem, away from where they think God is. And they meet this stranger, talk with him awhile, and then offer him hospitality.
If you read a lot of stories, not just in the bible but throughout history, one of the most common stories is someone meets a stranger either knocking at their door, or on the road, and offers them hospitality—the hero of the story gives a beggar food, or invites them to stay the night—and the stranger turns out to be God, or a powerful fairy queen, who rewards the hero for their hospitality. Conversely, you have stories where the main character abuses someone because “they’re just a beggar,” and are punished for their lack of hospitality when the stranger’s identity is revealed. Think of the opening to Beauty and the Beast, for instance. Or in the bible, you have the story of God and two angels visiting Abraham, and then the two angels visit Sodom. Abraham treats them with hospitality, and the people of Sodom do not.
The moral of these stories is to always show hospitality to strangers. Personally, I don’t think we should just because one person might be God or an angel or a fairy queen, but rather because other people deserve kindness no matter who they are. But the moral of the story still stands.
So this gospel story is another in this tradition of hospitality stories. It is an unexpected time, place, and person to be meeting Jesus in. But all the same the disciples welcome this stranger, and thus they meet the risen Christ.
If the risen Christ is unknowable at first to the disciples, who spent three years with this Jesus, knew him intimately, then he might be unknowable to us.
We meet Christ on the road every day, but like the disciples God’s face is often hidden from us. But we meet him in people in need, people on the road, strangers in our lives. That’s how Jesus lives for us, 2000 years after he died.
We have this image of Jesus, behind me if you can see through the light: white, beard, long brown hair, remarkably clean, and looking nothing like a Palestinian Jew from the first century. It’s unfortunate that for people of colour, women, and others who do not look like this, they are not given an image of Jesus who looks like them. This Jesus was forced on people through colonialism and patriarchy. But what’s sad about that is that this image of Jesus developed in northern Europe, in stained glass through the middle ages, because he was what people looked like. If his image had been allowed to develop in other places, we would get an Asian Jesus, a black Jesus, a First Nations Jesus.
The most essential thing about the risen Christ is that he looks like us. Like any of us. Ordinary enough that Mary and the disciples can mistake him for a gardener, or a random passer-by on the road.
They finally know him in the breaking of bread, in the sharing of a meal, the ultimate act of hospitality. This is how we too become closer to Christ; not through acts of piety, but through love and kindness to people we wouldn’t think deserve our love and kindness. Jesus . . . God’s love is the most ordinary thing in the world, you can walk right by it every day, but that’s what makes it extraordinary. It’s for everyone, even the most ordinary of people.