In these post-Easter weeks, we have stories that speak of people’s encounters with risen Christ – they recognize Jesus, they don’t recognize Jesus, he apparently says `Touch me, I’m flesh and blood’, but he also apparently walks through locked doors, and disappears without a trace. Very puzzling if you are trying to make sense of it. But holy encounters don’t worry about making sense in a world that wants all data to be measurable and visible. Holy encounters go beyond our heads.
How do these holy encounters happen? How do we recognize them when they do? Sometimes we might be so preoccupied with or angered by our own concerns or grief that we don’t realize that God is amongst us. “God comes to us disguised as our life,” writer Paula d’Arcy has said. We may spend years failing or refusing to recognize God, believing we are on a road of our own making. We can be blind to or ignore the signposts yet, when we look back, we see – like the disciples en route to Emmaus – that God was there all along our road. (Seasons of the Spirit)
Is God there even in the events/people etc. that we don’t want? What happens when, like Cleopas, Jesus doesn’t live up to our expectations? One of the most poignant moments in this week’s gospel story of the travelers on the road to Emmaus is this statement by Cleopas: “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). Cleopas and the other disciples had invested so much of themselves in their relationship with Jesus. After the crucifixion, their hopes seemed dashed.
I expect we can all relate to Cleopas in some way, knowing the feelings that come when something does not happen as hoped or planned, and the time and energy needed to figure out what to do next.
And it does take time and energy. The first disciples, eventually `get it’ that the stranger they welcomed is Jesus, but it is as they look back and say, “Were not our hearts burning within us, while he talked to us on the road? They are checking with each other – this was my experience, does that resonate with you?
How do we know that we are encountering God, or Jesus, or the Holy Spirit – however we connect to this `Holy Presence’? Generally by hindsight, just like our forebears in the faith. Like Jacob wrestling all night with the angel and in the morning light sayings, `Surely God was in this place.’ Like the disciples saying, `Where not our hearts burning with in us when he talked to us on the road? Like the soldiers standing at the cross of Jesus, moments after his death and saying, `Surely this man was the son of God.
The insights, and hind-sights often take much longer than waking up the next morning and saying, `Oh, that’s what that experience was about – well thank you, Jesus.’ Insight and hindsight are generally a little slower, especially if the experience we have is not very positive.
14 years ago, I went through a very nasty divorce. I was in the process of losing my home and, it felt, much of my sanity as well in the `great divide.’ One wintery day, I was driving along, railing at God about how unfair it all was, and when suddenly I was struck by a flying piece of…scripture! I recalled Jesus sending out his disciples, telling them to take nothing extra, pack light, travel light, where you are not welcomed and loved, shake the dust off your feel and travel on.
There in, the middle of winter, just past the Y intersection of the highways leading to Bella Coola, or P.G. or Vancouver, I experienced a wild moment of celebration. I may have lost my home and had to start over, but I still had my vehicle – ironically called a Pathfinder, and it had a good heater and a good stereo! Yeeha! I suddenly felt alive again. Travel light… I send you out to travel light. And I knew absolutely in that moment that I did not travel alone, that God was traveling with me. I was also blessed by the companionship of friends, family and colleagues.
I ask you today, who has companioned you in tough times on your spiritual journey? How has the Risen Christ/the Holy Spirit been present in these encounters? How, even when alone, have you sensed the presence of God?
I invite you to take out the little paper `footstep’ you received with your bulletin this morning – take a few moments of silence to bring to mind someone who has been a companion/ has accompanied you through a difficult time. It may have been someone who was part of your life for a very brief time, a teacher, a counsellor, a doctor, a stranger…. It may be someone who has been there over the long haul – a dear friend, a parent, a partner, a person still living in the flesh, or someone beyond death. You may have several people come to mind… Write the name(s) on the foot – symbol of your traveling companion…
If you wish to share briefly – their name, or how they made a difference to your journey – I invite you to share that now….
We have been blessed with companions on the journey, with the presence of the Risen Christ. How and where can we be/are we being the presence of the risen Christ for others?
(we shared some ideas/recognition of the ministry we do, and then I sang Jim Manley’s song: Breaking of the Bread. )