St. Augustine’s Episcopal Parish, April 30, 2017
Family trips are often the source of important memories in our lives. Whether it’s a short car ride to a neighboring state or a voyage to somewhere that requires crossing an ocean or two, our experiences while traveling with our families can become vital touch points for us as children and as parents. John Christiansen, one of our elder statesmen, told a story a couple months ago at coffee hour about driving a long distance with his family in the 1930s, a trip that entailed changing the oil every 1000 miles and several blown out tires, as was common in those days. My mother tells similar stories about trips with her parents and sister in the late 1940s and early 50s, how driving 100 miles with my Swedish immigrant grandfather behind the wheel would usually involve at least two stops for coffee as well as a tire change.
I’m sure many of us have traveling stories from our childhood or from our time raising children that share certain characteristics. There are experiences to recount of the destinations we visit, like the Grand Canyon or Disneyland, and there are experiences of the ways we relate to each other while we travel, games and jokes we share, fights we wage in the back seat, significant events we witness. I can’t tell you how many times our family has told the story of hiking over the top of White Hill in Ireland when a microburst nearly knocked us off the railroad ties into the bog and left us with the right side of our heads red and wet from the stinging rain while our left side was completely dry.
When we trade our stories like this with others who have had similar experiences it nourishes a sense of community. Placing our story in dialog with other stories helps to build something greater than our own experience alone. Placing John’s story about road trips in the old days in relationship with my mother’s story about her similar experiences as a child helps to paint a fuller, more lively picture of what it must have been like to travel long distances by car before the interstate highway system. And anyone who’s ever walked the Wicklow Way over White Hill has a story to share about the experience, which usually has some element of danger or difficulty due to the weather. I had heard stories about White Hill from other pilgrims long before I ever stepped foot on the island.
This practice of trading stories about similar experiences is central to our Christian tradition. The Gospels themselves are a version of this practice, collections of stories about encounters with Jesus in narrative form. Sometimes we see this practice occurring within the Gospels narratives, as is depicted at the end of our lesson this morning from Luke. The disciples who encountered the risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus and recognized him in the breaking of the bread run back to Jerusalem where they trade stories with the eleven about their mutual encounters with the Lord.
There is an almost immediate transition here between the personal experience of encounter and the practice of bearing witness to that encounter with others. Everyone has their own story, their own testimony to share about meeting and recognizing the risen Jesus, and by doing so they nourish the community and build something greater than their own experiences alone.
This practice of bearing witness to encounters with the risen Lord is a primary apostolic act, and telling our stories of encounter in relation to the stories of others is a large part of what apostles are sent out to do. On a much larger scale than the scene in our Gospel, it’s what we see the apostle Peter doing when he addresses the crowd in our lessons from Acts over the last two weeks. He’s telling the bigger story that has been collected from all those who have borne witness to the resurrection and joining it to the even greater story about God’s movement in generations past.
But as we see in today’s section of Peter’s address, the apostolic proclamation has some serious implications. For those who encounter the risen Christ, a wholesale change of life is in order. If God has raised Jesus, who had been crucified by humanity’s most powerful forces, then all our assumptions about how the universe works are upended. Might does not make right. Fear and violence do not win the day. The domination system is a fraud.
Instead it’s the Paschal Mystery that is at work behind all of Creation, the mystery that death is the way to new life. The truth of this process of dying and rising is hidden at the center of our world, not business as usual, the ways of empires and markets and wars. When the Paschal Mystery is operative in our lives and relationships, we find, in the language of 1 Peter, that it purifies our souls and frees us to truly love one another, to seek each other’s best interest. When I am no longer bound by the domination system, I am free to love genuinely, with pure motives, deeply from the heart, despite the risk and vulnerability that love entails, trusting that my well-being is safe with God. Living in light of the Paschal Mystery creates a whole new kind of community, humans living in true harmony with God and each other.
This new kind of community, this vision of humanity re-imagined all begins with encountering the risen Christ and with trading our stories of encounter. This is what triggers the process of changing our world, what builds our stories into a greater story that has serious implications for the way we live and relate.
So I ask, where and when have you encountered the living presence of the risen Lord? With whom have you traded stories of your encounter? It may just be that your participation in this age-old practice will be the thing that transforms your life and changes our world.