“Church, Walking and Breaking”
A reflection by Rev. Dr. Thom Bower
For April 30, 2017, the Third Sunday of Easter
Based on Luke 24:13-35
The walk to Emmaus is one of the core stories in the Christian Scripture: the resurrected Christ joins two disciples who have departed from Jerusalem, but the two disciples do not recognize Jesus. We do not always recognize God’s companionship on the road. We do not always sense “the living and enduring word of God” on our own. Jesus’ words and actions continue to call out to who we are and what we need. Listen for clues on how we may meet the living Christ as we share our journey of faith with one another.
They had hoped. These two admit, they had hoped Jesus was the one to redeem Israel. They had hoped.
Now they are uncertain if their hope will continue. Rationally, all evidence concludes that their hope has ended. And so they have departed from the community they have known. We don’t know how long they had been followers of Jesus. We don’t know how intimate they were with the group of twelve who traveled with Jesus. They are well-known enough to have earned the title “disciple.” Now, because they had hoped but are presently uncertain, they have departed the group, departed Jerusalem, departed for a nearby village and then onward, elsewhere – an unstated, undefined, uncertain future.
What is certain is that things are different than they expected – so different that they have to talk things out, discuss the recent events, try to make sense of all, tossing ideas back and forth. How will we go forward? Where we mistaken? But those events, those activities, made us feel so certain. What does it all mean? Do you remember when this happened? What was the most important thing you learned? What is your biggest regret? What do you think will happen next? These are the kinds of things these two travelers discussed as they walked away from Jerusalem, walking toward an uncertain and undefined future.
It is within these conversations – and I believe because of these conversation – that the resurrected Jesus joins them on their trek. Jesus does not ask if he may walk with them. Jesus does not ask where they are headed. Jesus is on the road. These two travelers are on the road. Now they walk the road together.
Lyonsville, you have had hopes. Perhaps you hoped that Bob von Trebra would stay at Lyonsville until his retirement. Perhaps you hoped that Bob would again find a grant to hire a seminarian, some bright young student who would become Bob’s successor, your next called and settled pastor. Perhaps you hoped that upon hearing of Bob’s resignation a previous student associate would hurry back and ask to be your settled pastor. Perhaps you hoped that the Fox Valley Association or the Illinois Conference knew just the right pastor to recommend to you so that you could short-cut the search process.
I know you had hoped, and I know the days since Bob resigned have not been what you hoped. There have been days of uncertainty, days when the future of Lyonsville has felt undefined, days when this journey has seemed to be taking longer than necessary. I know this may have felt less like the time of walking toward Emmaus and more like wandering in the wilderness with Moses; less like the days when Christ appeared to disciples and more like the days of exile: strangers in a strange land singing songs of Zion now destroyed.
Three’s been a lot of talking. You have been part of conversations, forums, discussions about what Lyonsville should do next, what Lyonsville should be doing now. What does it all mean? Do you remember when this happened? What was the most important thing you learned? What is your biggest regret? What do you think will happen next? Some of those conversations have included me, some of them have been set up by Council or the Transition Team; I suspect most of them have been on the phone or across tables at restaurants and in homes.
It is within these conversations – and I believe because of these conversation – that the resurrected Jesus joins us on this trek. Jesus does not ask if he may walk with us. Jesus does not ask where we are headed. Jesus is on the road. We are on the road. Now we walk the road together.
Like these travelers headed toward Emmaus, we may not recognize Jesus walking beside us. Does that stop the trip? No. Does that prevent us from continuing the conversation? No. Does that remove or diminish our identities as disciples? No. The journey continues. We continue to walk together, we continue to talk together, we continue to work together at making sense of what it means to be the church.
I trust that later we will be able to recognize how Christ has been alongside us. I trust that later we will say, “Were not our hearts warmed?” Even though we do not stop, even though we think it inconsequential in the moment, even though our attention is focused elsewhere – at some future time I trust we’ll look back and say “Were not our hearts being kindled?” This time of journey, this time of transition – it’s a time of transformation.
Like you I would like the instantaneous revelation. I’d like God to set a bush on fire and speak to me – or anyone – with clarity of purpose and command a specific, indisputable course for Lyonsville’s future. I’d like God to send a pillar of fire and a column of smoke to lead us to the next landmark. I’d like it.
In the meantime, we have this more diligent work: to walk together and talk about everything that has happened – because somewhere in that everything is God’s presence being made known to us, helping us understand God’s presence among us, and leading us to a greater way to be the church together.
It’s harder work than we expected, but it is the work of faith we are called to. And I trust Christ will be revealed. It will be a surprise. It will catch us off guard. It will probably be in something familiar, and it will probably be in something with deep meaning. Christ’s presence will connect with what we had hoped, what we have been talking about, and will lead us in a direction we did not anticipate.
It’s a good time to be the church.