The Gospel According to You
Garrison Keillor says that the two disciples on the road to Emmaus were happily the victims of one the greatest practical jokes ever. They had been in Jerusalem and had witnessed all that went down there over the past few days. Jesus was betrayed after having had a meal with his disciples. He was arrested. Some of those close to him fled and denied him. Jesus went on trial and received the death sentence. He was killed by crucifixion.
And then in the pain and fear, there were reports that Jesus had risen from the dead or at the very least that the tomb was empty. An empty tomb proves nothing.
The two from Emmaus (one was Cleopas) decided to go home. They journey together in fear, anxiety, and with many questions about all that had happened. Their hopes had been crushed. Would they, as followers of Jesus, be next? Best to beat it out of Jerusalem. To their surprise a stranger accompanied them along the way. (Shh…it was Jesus, but they didn’t recognize him.) The stranger asked, “What are you discussing with each other as you walk along?” The two couldn’t believe that this stranger was unaware of all that had happened over the past few days. The things that had happened to Jesus of Nazareth were told to the stranger with this telling comment, “But we had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel.” They concluded with the unlikely story that Jesus was alive.
The stranger chided them for their foolishness and how slow of heart they were to believe. The stranger told them about Moses and the prophets and all that the scriptures had to say, and then as they arrived home, the stranger walked ahead as if he were going on. They invited him to stay. Then it happened! Jesus was known to them in the breaking of the bread. “Ta-da! Here I am!” Then he vanished out of their sight.
Immediately, the two had to return to Jerusalem. They had a story to tell! Good news to share! The two who were so downcast and afraid were on fire. “Didn’t our hearts burn within us?” Their life had turned around and now full of courage and joy they make that seven mile trip back to Jerusalem. There is a new gospel according to Cleopas and his companion.
I enjoy hiking. The group I hike with is never the same twice. As the hike begins people often pair up. I tend to attract the chatty hikers. Conversations begin with hikes we had been on before, the current hike, and all that we are seeing and experiencing along the way. Yet, for some, the conversation becomes personal. Once a woman was telling me more about her personal life that I cared to know. This was way too much information. What did I do? I acted like I was out of breath, and said, “Go on; I need to stop and catch my breath.” She replied, “Oh, that’s ok. I’ll wait with you.” Me? “Well, excuse me but I need a bathroom break too!”
Another time, I was walking along with a macho kind of a guy, and he was describing all his “exploits” especially when it comes to women. I didn’t appreciate what he was saying and definitely didn’t appreciate the dominate-male-misogynistic tone. I told him as much. He was taken aback by what I said.
Then he asked, to change the subject, the inevitable question, “So, what do you do?” “I’m a minister in the United Church of Canada.” He was really taken aback! He began to apologize for his language and even the things he had said. I looked him in the eye and said, “You are forgiven my brother.”
Journeying with others creates stories. Perhaps the first hiker went away saying, “I met his wonderful guy who really listened to me.” Perhaps the second hiker said, “That minister challenged me. I should think about changing my ways.” Haha! But who knows?
The two on the road to Emmaus had a life transforming moment. A new story to tell.
Two men walk into a bar. Let’s change that. Two black men walk into Starbucks. They take a seat as they are waiting for a third person. A worker at the Starbucks becomes frightened and calls the police. The two are arrested and detained for nine hours. (Why were they even arrested?) The worker never asked them if they would like to place an order or if they needed any help. (Starbucks has apologized.) Apparently, the police never said, “You should either buy something or be moving on.” These two black men have one more sad story about racism. But perhaps, their story becomes a story of renewed desire to fight racism and injustice. I bet their hearts burned within them!
As the story has gone viral, perhaps many might be encouraged to tell their stories and to share their new found resolve to grow and overcome racism and prejudice.
Everyone has a story. Today it is said that to deepen conversations and build relationships we should be asking people, “What’s your story?” We are people of a story – the Christ Story – the Gospel – the Good news.
There is the Gospel According to the Samaritan Woman who Jesus met at the well. She went back to her village transformed by one who welcomed her, heard her story without judgment, and gave her kindness and understanding. Her story had changed. No longer was she the sinner woman who had had five husbands, and who was currently living outside of marriage. No longer was she self-loathing and ashamed. She held her head up high. She walked with a skip in her step. She had been accepted for who she was. She has a gospel!
There is the Gospel According to the Woman caught in adultery and about to be stoned to death. She was encircled by her executioners – the men of the village. Into that circle, steps another man, Jesus. At great risk, he becomes a human shield for the woman. Jesus challenges the men gathered around, “The one without sin, let him cast the first stone.” Slowly and one by one, they all walked away. I imagine the last one standing before turning away too. I imagine that he made eye contact with Jesus and the woman. I imagine that he and the other men have a story also, and I hope a gospel or good news story from that strange encounter.
There is the Gospel of the Roman Centurion whose servant is “home paralyzed, suffering terribly.” Jesus heals the servant. So, there must be a Gospel According to the Healed Servant too!
And you too have a Gospel According to You. You have your stories of healing, forgiveness, new life, and grace. You also carry your stories of hurt and pain.
As the two disciples walking the road to Emmaus, you have, in this community, and an opportunity to share your stories – those stories of pain and sorrow – those stories of guilt and shame – those stories of fear. We are people of stories and in telling and sharing our stories, we are often transformed.
And like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, another presence is experienced. In sharing and traveling together, the spirit of Christ is with us. The spirit of love, grace, acceptance, and hope surround us. We share tears. We embrace each other. Love is shared. Welcome is felt. We’ve come home.
The two on that road to Emmaus realized the presence of Jesus in the “breaking of the bread.” That’s why we share the bread and cup in our worship. It’s why we often have potlucks and shared meals. Gathered at table in our common need for food and friendship there is a both an immanent and transcendent presence of love – of the Risen Christ. Companion means with bread.
The best practice we can do is to break bread together, share our stories and witness to the power of love, grace, and a holy presence.
There is a Gospel According to You coaxed out by friends and companions’ along the way.
I don’t know if the Road to Emmaus has a name other than the Road to Emmaus. However, I’ll give it another name – Companions Way. I invite you on that journey. To find your story. To live your Gospel – your Good News!