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Jesus was the stranger this time. Their eyes were kept from recognizing him, the text tells us. Jesus had been the reason disciples were gathered and travelled together in ministry. It was all centered around Jesus...until he died on a cross, like a common criminal. Really, there was little reason to stick around now. This movement they thought might take place, the Messiah overthrowing the oppressive Roman government, died when this Jesus of Nazareth died. Sure, there were some women claiming that Jesus' body was gone, but what did women know? These two disciples, not of the 11 chosen by Jesus, but perhaps from an outer circle that travelled with them, were discussing it all as they headed towards a small town named Emmaus. As they walked, they talked about their disappointment, their sadness. And the stranger joined them and asked them what they were discussing. They were astounded that anyone in the area had not heard about Jesus and his crucifixion. So they told him their version of what had happened.
Early last Sunday we got up, got everyone dressed, and began to gather. We journeyed with Mary, early in the morning, through her grief, her stunned surprise when Jesus, who she thought was the gardener, called her name. And we gathered, sanctuary packed to the hilt, the choir was awesome, leading us as we sang, shoulder to shoulder, "Jesus Christ is Risen today! Alleluia!" It was a fantastic day. Then we went home to a beautiful North Carolina spring afternoon, just enough time to relax, but also, I imagine, just enough time to forget about the power of the resurrection. Just enough time to get back to normal, as if nothing were really all that different.
Early in the morning, while it is still dark, gunshots ring out at a university in Kenya. Somali militants went on a rampage Thursday morning executing 147 students, many of them Christians, while their fellow students huddle under beds, in closets, waiting, so afraid.
Early in the morning, while it is still dark, Iraqi forces continue the work of retaking the city of Tikrit from ISIS. They walk block by block, house by house, looking for booby-traps and improvised explosive devices, deadly threats left behind.
Early in the morning, while it is still dark, a woman rises, alone. This is one of last mornings she will own her home. After decades of children and grandchildren, of laughter and struggle, it's too much to take care of. Even though it is time, this morning there isn't much but the sadness.
Early in the morning, while it is still dark, a couple heads to the hospital. They walk from the parking deck, across the street, up the elevators. At 6:30am, the nurse takes them back. Forms are signed, the doctors walks them through the procedure one more time: "Once we get in there, we'll have a clearer since of where the cancer is, and how we can best treat it."
It has all been moving this direction.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke all note a clear turn in the middle of their telling of the story. "From that time on," Matthew says back in chapter 16, "Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering...." Mark and Luke do the same thing, right around the story of the Transfiguration, Luke giving ten whole chapters - nine through nineteen - ‘the travel narrative' towards the holy city. It isn't clear, but whatever is going to happen, Jesus keeps saying, is going to be difficult.
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The question comes in many forms.
- Maybe it's a new member class, someone who is new to the area and hasn't been to church for many years. Will I find a community that will notice me, he asks?
- Maybe a neighbor meets you as you pick up the paper. She's heard you mention church before, loves the mission we do, but is skeptical of institutional religion, she calls it. Does the church really have something real to offer, even if I bring some hard questions?
- Maybe it's a session meeting. Really, in a session meeting, in the weeds of this purchase of the land next door, and how that fits into our priorities, or the budget. Who are we called to be?