The walk to Emmaus provides us with a great example of the process of reconciliation. It is an account of Jesus journeying alongside two dispirited and disappointed disciples slowly touching their hearts and opening their eyes.
As they journey along the road discussing events, Jesus comes alongside them but he is not recognised, rather he is referred to as a stranger. Jesus asks what they are discussing and while surprised that this stranger is unaware of the recent happenings they begin to recount what has taken place, we hear in their disappointment, and also their disbelief of the women’s witness in verse 21 when we hear “we hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”
Jesus then begins “O how foolish” pointing our their failure to understand, and continues to recount the whole story of Israel, beginning with Moses and the prophets, from the perspective of their crucified leader. As they arrive at their destination they urge the stranger to stay with them, which he did. Then at the table Jesus took bread, blessed it and gave it to them – their eyes where opened, they recognised him and he vanished from their sight. We hear how their hearts burned as the stranger had spoken to them, their hope is restored – their struggle to understand and reconcile the events reconciled in the breaking and sharing of the bread.
We cannot deny the brokenness of this world and while there are systems and structures that oppress or harm others there will always be the need for reconciliation, but reconciliation is not simply about patching up differences, it is a long and arduous process. It is a process of journeying, which means to walk alongside, not ahead but with, of listening as events and memories that bring pain, grief, anger, confusion, disbelief are recounted – it is about speaking with, comforting and sometimes challenging when necessary. This journey can be a journey that seems burdensome, constantly on the move but getting nowhere.
Sometimes the story is recounted over and over as people try to integrate it into their own lives. In this account the disciples have the words but something is missing and in this account the something that is missing is faith – but the stranger provides the key, this stranger that is prepared to journey alongside them, listening intently is able to offer a different perspective by retelling the long story of God in the world which at the moment of breaking and sharing bread restores the missing element!
The challenge for us as Easter people is are we prepared to go on that long arduous journey with people, hearing things that perhaps we don’t want to hear. We have heard the good news, of God’s love for us, we have heard the good news of the resurrection – but the hearing and the believing is not the end of it, because our faith is about the journey.
I feel the first thing I need to do is to acknowledge the recent killing of Osama Bin Laden – do the people of the world and in particular I mention the USA after their displays of rejoice as the news broke, really believe an act of vengeance disguised as justice will bring about peace and reconciliation? I have seen the tirades of hatred flow thick and fast on facebook – good old social networking is perfect for getting word out! Regardless of the fact that he had terrorised many people this was a man created in the image of God, yet so many rejoiced as he was shot dead! Will this bring about any reconciliation for the families of the 1000‘s killed and continue to be killed during the war on terror, will the taking of another life really heal the hurt and pain? Dare we enter into these discussions with people from the perspective of an Easter people? Systems and structures of oppression bring pain and grief in so many ways and on so many levels – reactions to one system of oppression can so easily bring about a new system of oppression.
It’s mother’s day, a day when we want to hear the good news, well the reality is that the good news is news that speaks not only to us, but also into the lives of the poor, the oppressed and vulnerable and if we do not want to hear about the poor, the oppressed and vulnerable – how then can we journey with them working for reconciliation and sharing the good news as we go and how do we share with others the transforming power of the good news?
We need to hear the stories. Today is mothers day, for many a time of celebration but for many others it is a day of grieving and mourning. The Millennium Development Goals 4 & 5 targets are, reduce child mortality rates by 2 thirds for children under 5 and improve maternal health. MDG 4 reduce child mortality – these two goals are the worst achievers last year 8.8 million children died under the age of five, most from preventable causes, 4 diseases account for 43% of deaths they include pneumonia, diarrhoea, malaria and AIDS – it’s suggested that diarrhoea accounted for almost 22% of deaths.
MDG 5, let me share a story – this is an abbreviated story from New Internationalist about a woman in Afghanistan it’s called My Sisters Story – Rahima was having her fourth child, we brought the same midwife, I stayed outside to boil water and look after the other children. The midwife came out and said that my sister and the baby were both well and it was girl. The next night Rahima woke with a fever, here baby had a fever too. She tried to breastfeed but the milk wouldn’t come out. We pressed cold cloths on their heads to try and cool them, but by the morning my sister couldn’t keep her eyes open. We brought the midwife she told us to give the baby some cows milk with water, she said if the fever didn’t go we should take my sister to the hospital in the city. Rhamia and the baby began shivering, but both were sweating. My sister’s husband went to find a car to take my sister and her baby to the hospital. The baby wouldn’t feed, she was shaking and sweating, I was alone and the baby was on my lap – I was horrified when she died but a little happy because I thought she was in pain when she was alive I wrapped the body and placed her on a pile of matresses. It took my brother in law an hour to borrow a tractor to transport my sister to hospital – the hospital was about 2 hours away but it took almost twice as long in a tractor. We were very close to the hospital, she took a long breathe and left this world. The journey back was hell, I read all of the prayers I knew. The next day we buried Rahima and her daughter side by side.
How can we reconcile such events? Where do we find good news? I believe the first step is to journey with and listen to these heart wrenching stories. There may not be another perspective, but there can be good news, if we are prepared to put our faith into action. We can take very simple action, we can complete one of these cards for the Micah Project calling for an increase in Overseas Aid to enable the people on the ground to achieve the targets set by the UN in the MDG’s. We can keep telling the stories until they unfold into a transformed and new story of life – where every birth is seen as a holy birth.
The disciples on the walk to Emmaus desperately needed to see the resurrected Christ to restore their faith, transform their lives and reconcile the events – Jesus’ appearances do just that, they heal, re-establish a relationship, reconcile and confirm a bond of trust. Jesus as a stranger is the future that they cannot recognize that is until the breaking and sharing of the bread.
We are called to be the body of Christ, perhaps the stranger that others do not recognise until we have journeyed, listened to and retold the stories, until we gather at a table united. Trust and believing in another, is fundamental to human life itself, recognising Jesus is an experience of transformation – this is the good news but it doesn’t happen by just believing, it is only when we live and speak the truth of the good news that Jesus becomes present and recognisable and the good news becomes transformative, healing and reconciling.