Easter 3A, 2011
A Liturgy is also available
FOOD, AND BECOMING WHAT WE EAT!
“What a wonderful story! It celebrates Easter. It invites participation. It is in the best sense a faith legend...
Whatever actual experience may lie behind the story, it is now an invitation. It invites us to join the journey.” (Wm Loader Web site, 2005)
So suggests Bill Loader, the Uniting Church theologian from Western Australia.
And I reckon the 'Road to Emmaus' story is indeed a wonderful, original story
by the storyteller we call Luke
Especially ‘imagining’, because imagination never numbs us with description
but coaxes us into a new situation.
As the story is told and the plot revealed we can find ourselves engaged in
the questions and the possibilities of the story,
as a different re-imagining of the world dawns.
That’s why I reckon this story is a great story.
But a ‘metaphorical story’ not ‘history remembered’,
as Marcus Borg nudges us and reminds us. (Borg 2001:44)
So I have enjoyed revisiting this story again.
(PS: I am also reliably informed scholars have speculated as to where Emmaus actually was.
Four places seem to have been suggested:
(i) Amwas, near Latrun - approx. 20 miles from Jerusalem;
(ii) Abu Ghosh - approx. 7.5 miles from Jerusalem;
(iii) Qubelba - approx. 7 miles from Jerusalem, and
(iv) Moza - approx. 4 miles from Jerusalem).
But in revisiting I have also noted how many others
have heard and interpreted this story.
For instance, some commentators seek to explain aspects of this story
in terms of an ‘interventionist’ God.
That on the road back home toward Emmaus,
God intervened deliberately, and kept Cleopas (and his wife?)
from ‘seeing’ Jesus, so Jesus could explain the scriptures to them.
On the other hand, others see the work of a ‘supernaturalist’ God in this story.
When Jesus suddenly appears spirit-like, and then later on,
is suddenly whisked away.
And when Jesus can no longer be ‘seen’ with eyes
because he had gone from this world to the ‘Father’,
this new world evades our senses.
Well, I’m not sure for all of you, but none of these attempts resonate with me.
Especially the theology of those suggestions.
Indeed, they become little more than brainteasers
and kill off the story.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t seek to unravel
and appreciate the context of the story.
And to that, I would now like to offer some comments
which I hope might be helpful as well as imaginative.
All stories are very concrete. They ‘live’ within a particular context.
And I am bold enough to suggest this story’s context
may have been some debates about how Gentile Jesus followers
could sense the presentness of the Post-Easter Christ
after the death of Jesus.
Luke tells a story about the most common and important
community occasion these followers had experienced.
The experience is of a meal in community
rather than an ‘out-of-this-world’ experience.
This is a meal story and a bonding story.
Because the storyteller Luke is grounded enough to know
we become what we eat!
From all that we are now discovering about early christian culture,
meals played an important role in both community life,
and in the Jesus tradition.
Indeed, ‘Christians’ regularly ate together,
even before they began to conduct worship services.
And Jesus seems so closely associated with meals
that one of the criticisms levelled against him, you will remember,
was as a ‘glutton and drunkard’. (Matt 11:19)
I reckon Luke heard some of those stories, re-imagined them,
as well as having shared in some of the meals.
He knew the power of story.
So, he tells a meal story at a crucial point in this local community’s history.
And if we continue to accept the findings of modern biblical scholarship,
then I reckon we can affirm that:
• Jesus regularly accepted invitations to attend meals, but as a guest rather than as a host, and
• Jesus used these occasions for re-imagining and ‘indirect’ teaching,
rather than the so-called ‘whiteboard and texta’ kind.
“Words and food are made out of the same stuff”, writes Rubem Alves. “They are both born of the same mother: hunger.” (Alves 1990:77)
For around a meal, food is shared not hoarded,
friendships are made and relationships strengthened. And
“experimentation, adventure and innovation lure us toward new horizons.” (O'Donohue 2003:146)
I'm also of the opinion that the continued celebration of meals
- early christianity often called it ‘breaking of bread’ -
was motivated primarily by the needs of community,
rather than establishing or remembering
the so-called ‘upper room’ meal event.
So for me, this story is not a forerunner to, or about, Holy Communion.
And it certainly has got nothing to do with
the Catholic doctrine of ‘transubstantiation’!
But on the other hand, because all religious language is metaphorical...
When bread and wine and BBQs are eaten, they become body and blood.
Our body and blood.
When body and blood are eaten, they become compassionate deeds.
Our compassionate deeds.
When compassionate deeds are eaten,
they become as Christ in our neighbour.
“Since the beginning of time,” author Robert Fulghum writes,
“people who trust one another, care for one another, and are deeply connected to one another have shared food as a sign of and a reaffirmation of their relationship... Every time we hold hands and say a blessing before a meal, every time we lift a glass and say fine words to one another, every time we eat in peace and grace together, we have celebrated the covenants that bind us together.” (Fulghum 1995:81-82)
Because the storyteller Luke knows we become what we eat!
His Easter stories are an invitation to share, to journey, and to celebrate.
And as his Emmaus story particularly notes,
“hospitality is the open door to creative transformation and an expanded vision of possibilities.” (Bruce Epperly P&F web site, 2008)
Alves, R. 1990. The Poet, the Warrior, the Prophet. London. SCM Press/Trinity Press.
Borg, M. J. 2001. Reading the Bible Again for the First Time. Taking the Bible Seriously but not Literally. New York. HarperSanFrancisco.
Fulghum, R. 1995. From Beginning to End. The Rituals of our Lives. Moorebank. Bantam Press.
O’Donohue, J. 2003. Divine Beauty. The Invisible Embrace. London. Transworld Publishers/Bantam Press.