Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Perfect Stranger

Who do you break bread with?
Who do you invite to stay with you?
Who is the perfect stranger?
How will you know him?

It was a long time ago – it was earlier today. On the Emmaus road two of us were walking – and a third man came alongside. Who was the third man? They did not think to ask. They were preoccupied, overwhelmed, with troubles of their own.

Our news, the good news, was hidden in a maelstrom of fear and anxiety – even terror: for it was an act of terror that set their feet on the road, drove them from Jerusalem. Jesus of Nazareth was crucified under Pontius Pilate. And then, on top of that, the truly incredible news the women were telling: the tomb was empty. He was not there. Angels spoke to them.

When the disciples set out down the road to Emmaus they did not know where they were going. Sure, they knew where the road led – but they did not know what adventures the future held. They were talking with each other about what had happened, trying to sort out what was really going on. What did it mean?

The third man approached, and walked along with them. They did not recognize him. And at his inquiry they rehearsed for him the events of those days, almost like a creed, beginning with the words and deeds of Jesus, a prophet mighty before God and the people. They spoke of his betrayal and death, the empty tomb, and the angels’ message. But they didn’t get it – they did not know what it meant.

The disciples did not see him – had not seen him – not yet.

O you foolish Emmæans! How slow you are to grasp it – this is what the prophets were talking about – that the Messiah must suffer, must pass through passion and death and resurrection, before he can reach his glory.

The passion, the death, the resurrection – these are all part of God’s plan, and now Jesus can enter into glory.

As they reached the village he made as if to go on. But they stopped him, offering hospitality.

Stay with us, for evening is at hand, and the day nearly spent.

So he went in—

“But let me tell you, that to approach the stranger
Is to invite the unexpected, release a new force,
Or let the genie out of the bottle.
It is to start a train of events
Beyond your control. So let me continue.”

[“The Cocktail Party” by T. S. Eliot, The Complete Poems and Plays 1909-1950 (Harcourt, Brace & World, 1952) p.306]

And there in that place the guest became host. He became host, as he must always do, when we invite him in. When we take Jesus in, as guest, as host, we are transformed, we are enlightened.

For now the stranger – for it was he – took, blessed, broke, shared the bread; and they knew: this is his Body, and we are in his Kingdom, now. We are at his Table, fellowshipping with him.

And he is the Bread; he is the Life.

As he left them, they were no longer afraid. They turned to each other and said,

Our hearts warmed
as he taught us
on the road, opening
to Word to us
to our understanding.

Word and Table –
in these they knew him –
in these we know him—
as we break the bread
and tell the tale,

of the marvelous events of Jesus, Lord, God with us.

They returned immediately to the City and to their company, to tell their friends, to share the news, the good news, that all the world soon should know, that Christ is risen from the dead, Alleluia! That he arose, that he is made know to us in the breaking of the bread.

And so we ask— how is Christ known among us?

Who do you break bread with? Who is it that you see at the table? Is Jesus there? Jesus, who told us, I will be with you. Jesus, who said, when I was hungry you fed me. Jesus, who said, I am the bread.

Is he there at the table?

Yes— for whenever we bless the bread and break it and share it, whenever we take the cup of wine and share it, we remember his death until he comes. And we know that he is risen— that he is alive and among us— that in this action he becomes known to us.

Do we walk with him on the way? Do we welcome the stranger? Share our table fellowship? With whom do we, now, break the bread? Do we know, in them, friend or stranger, the fellowship of Christ? Do we hear him teaching, are our eyes opened, do we see him, as we study the Scriptures?

Open our eyes to your presence,
open our hearts to your love,
that we, openhearted, open-eyed, open-handed,
may share the bread and tell the story,
that you may be present
in the midst of us,
and that we might share
that good news with all those we meet on the way.

Travel with us, Lord, show us the truth;
stay with us, Lord, show us your love;
send us, Lord, forth from this place,
newly strengthened by Word and fellowship
with the knowledge of your love,
and full of news, good news,
to share, in word and deed, with the world.

Elusive God, companion on the way,
you walk behind, beside, beyond:
you catch us unawares.

Break through the clouds of doubt,
the disillusionment and despair,
that obscure our vision,

wide-eyed with wonder
open-mouthed with awe
we may find our way
and journey on
as messengers
of your good news.



No comments: