MAY 4 EASTER 3 REFLECTION

 ‘Companions on the Journey’

3rd Sunday of Easter (May 4 • 2014)

ROCKINGHAM UNITING CHURCH

 

BIBLE READINGS

Luke 24:13-35

1 Peter 1:17-23

 

REFLECTION

It Takes a Village is a children book that is based on an African proverb. The book tells the story of a family who live in a West African village. During a market day, the girl from the family, Yemi, is entrusted to look after her younger brother, Kokou, while their mother is selling mangoes.

Even though she is still young, Yemi believes that she is old enough to look after her brother. So, as soon as her mother sets out her mat and mangoes next to the other vendors in the market, she and her brother leave their mother to wander around the market. Unfortunately, when Yemi's attention was distracted for only a few minutes, Kokou disappears from her sight. In panic, Yemi goes from stall to stall, searching for her brother, but she can’t find him.

Little does Yemi know that, as she searches for her little brother, Kokou is eating rice with a woman who is selling food in the market. He then moves to another stall this time to keep a potter company before he moves to yet another stall and falls asleep on a mat under the watchful eye of the matt vendor. By the time Yemi finally finds Kokou, different vendors and people form the village have looked after him. The whole event reminds Yemi about the saying that her mother often told her that indeed “it takes a village to raise a child.”[1]

Humans are social creatures. We cannot survive without the support of others. Many baby animals can survive into adulthood without the support of their parents or community. A baby sea turtle, for example, can swim into the ocean and look after itself immediately after it hatches. Not with human baby. Human babies need adults to live and grow. Human babies are dependent on their carers. From our infancy, we need others to survive.

But we live in a culture where being independent is something that is highly valued. (Losing one’s independence, for many, is tantamount to losing life itself.) What we often forget, however, is that we are never fully independent. To a certain degree, we are always dependent on others to have our wellbeing nurtured. Interdependence is a better word to describe our existence than independence. We are all dependent on others in our independence.

It is the same in matters of faith. Our faith grows in community. Our faith cannot survive alone. Our faith has to be nurtured by the faith of others who also walk on the same journey with us. “Faith flourishes in a community. There is something about faith that it needs to be carried out “in the presence of all God’s people” (Psalm 116:14) in order to thrive.”[2]

Yes, the risen Christ appeared to individuals (like Mary Magdalene or even the apostle Paul), yet, more often, the risen Christ appeared to a group of believers who gathered to support one another in the uncertain time after his execution on the cross. Last Sunday, we heard the story of how Jesus appeared to a group of his disciples who were hiding behind closed doors.[3] In another time, he appeared to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias when they were fishing.[4] In yet another time, he appeared to more than five hundred believers at one time.[5]

Today, we hear the story of how he appeared to a couple on their way from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus. At first, when the risen Christ joined them, they didn’t recognise him; “their eyes were kept from recognising him (v. 16 - NRSV)”. It was only after Jesus’ exposition of the Scriptures and, ultimately, his sharing of the meal with the couple that “their eyes were opened, and they recognised him (v. 31 - NRSV)." Indeed, the description of Jesus taking, blessing, breaking, and giving the bread in our story today is reminiscent of what he did when he fed the 5000 (Luke 9: 16) and when he had his last supper with his disciples (Luke 22: 19). [6]

The message of the story is clear: the risen Christ is encountered on our spiritual journey with others. The risen Christ is amongst us when we study the Scriptures with others and when we break bread together.

One of the couple is not named in the story. Some people say that the person was Cleopas’ wife (after all, women’s names are often excluded in ancient stories). Yet others believe that it may have been an invitation for us to include ourselves in the story. The unnamed person is anyone who hears this story. Everyone is invited to walk together to Emmaus and to encounter the risen Christ on the journey.

So the risen Christ is amongst us when we gather here in our worship and have fellowship with one another. He is here when we break the bread and share the cups together. The risen Christ is also amongst us in other things beyond Sunday that we do as a community of believers. He is present when we meet to pray for one another and for other people; when we sit with others knitting for a charitable project; when we wake up early in the morning to play golf with others and to spend our morning sharing our life with them; when we gather to study the Bible and our faith tradition; when we share our time with other volunteers to recycle and sell second hand goods in the op-shop; when we prepare and give food hampers to those in our community who need help the most; when the children gather to listen to biblical stories told by their teachers, or when they do craft or simply play; when the youths and the young adults gather to share jokes and laughter, spending some quality time together; when we console those who are grieving in our midst; when we make the effort to visit or call those who are lonely; when we send cards and write words of encouragement to those who are not well; when we greet a stranger or a visitor or even a homeless person who visits our congregation ... have I missed anything? Christ is present in those moments. We may often fail to recognise him, but he is there.

Indeed, the risen Christ is encountered in the community of faith, not individually. A spiritual life can only be nurtured in a community.

I lately read an article by an ex-member of a ‘mega’ church in Singapore that has been accused of abusing and manipulating some of its members to gain financial benefits. Some people comment on the article by implying that the article is a proof that being part of a church community is only of secondary importance in our spiritual life; that the most important thing in our spirituality is our personal relationship with God. [7]

While I’m saddened by the fact that some churches manipulate their members to gain personal benefits, I still believe that faith “simply is not something that can flourish in a context where we think we have to be spiritual ‘lone rangers.’”[8] It is through loving one another in the church and others outside of the church that we encounter the love of Christ. It is through helping one another in the church and others outside of the church that we become part of Christ’s mission on earth.

It is no surprise that ancient Christian writers, like Paul, saw the Christian community as the body of Christ. Yes, Christ has no body today but ours. We are his body on earth; we as a community, not individuals. We are the ones who continue his ministry and presence here on earth.

In our reading from the letter widely known as the first letter of Peter, the writer reminds us that we are redeemed not by silver or gold, but by Christ’s suffering on the cross. In other words, we are all redeemed by Christ’s love for the world. What is asked from us is to also love one another, sincerely and genuinely; just like Christ had loved us by dying on the cross, so too we must love one another. This love is the sign of a community that has been born again; a community that has died with Christ and risen again with him into a new life; a life that is marked by our mutual love to one another.

So to encounter the risen Christ in our midst is to become a risen community ourselves. And to become a risen community is to become a community where mutual, sincere, genuine, and self-sacrificing love is the very foundation of our being.

Yes, the risen Christ is amongst us. He is amongst us when we gather together in His name to hear testimonies from the Scriptures, to pray, to worship, to serve, and to break bread together. He is amongst us when we treat one another as people who are worthy of his love and sacrifice. He is amongst us when mutual and genuine love is the foundation in what we do and live as a community.

Let us pray.

God of our journeys, as we follow the way of Jesus who makes sense of our wonderings and our wanderings, open our eyes and our hearts to recognise him in scripture, in our lives, in each other, and when we break bread together. May we live in and share the light of the Resurrection, knowing that we journey with and towards you. Amen. [9]

 

[1] Paraphrased from a review of the book, It Takes a Village, by Jane Cowen-Fletcher (on http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/book/it-takes-village#cart/cleanup - accessed on May 2, 2014)

[2] Brehm, Allan, It Takes A Village - Luke 24:33-35, on http://thewakingdreamer.blogspot.com.au/2011/05/it-takes-village-luke-2433-35-1-some.html (posted on Tuesday, May 10 2011)

[3] John 20:19

[4] John 21:1-4

[5] 1 Corinthians 15:6

[6] Baird, William, The Gospel According to Luke, on The Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary on the Bible (1971: Abingdon Press), p. 705.

[7] From an article, The Revolution of Christianity in Singapore, on http://therealsingapore.com/content/revolution-christianity-singapore (posted on April 24, 2014 at 8.24 AM)

[8] Brehm, Allan, It Takes A Village - Luke 24:33-35, on http://thewakingdreamer.blogspot.com.au/2011/05/it-takes-village-luke-2433-35-1-some.html (posted on Tuesday, May 10 2011)

[9] Burt, Susan and Friends (Eds.), Seasons Fusion for Congregational Life -Lent Easter 2014, New Zealand: Wood Lake Publishing Inc. (2013), p. 134.