Saturday, May 07, 2011

It's How We Respond That Matters

A reflection on the readings for Easter 3A, Luke 24:13-25

Recently I attended a worship service, as a member of the congregation, at the church where a friend of mine is the rector. When it was time for the peace my friend greeted me and my husband Dan and moved on. It was clear to me that my friend did not recognize me.

Now, I wasn't surprised by this, my friend hasn't seen me in person for 13 years. We do “talk” on Facebook but otherwise we have lived in different states. Actually I have grown accustomed to people not recognizing me. If I change the way I wear my hair people won't recognize me. If I pull it back, wear down, let it go curly or blow it dry and straighten it, or change the color, or the length, some people will look right past me.

So I was neither surprised nor concerned about this. Later, when the service was over we joined the group of people leaving the church, and then I had the opportunity to tell my friend who I was. Then of course, she recognized me immediately.

I imagine we all have had similar experiences when we either failed to recognize someone or have not been recognized ourselves.

And so perhaps this universal experience is one reason that our reading today is so well known. Every year on the third Sunday after Easter we hear the story of the couple on the road to Emmaus who encounter Jesus but fail to recognize him in his resurrected state.

This is just one of a series of stories about people who fail to recognize the resurrected Jesus. Scripture tells us that his body still showed clear signs of the trauma he'd been through. Our reading last week had Thomas asking to see those wounds as proof that the man speaking to him really was Jesus. The woman at the tomb thought he was the gardener. Even though he carried the wounds, his appearance changed just enough, that people didn't recognize him. Well, that and of course, no one expected to see him. In the reading it is still the first day of Easter. Only a short time had passed from that tragic Good Friday to these resurrection appearances, and a lot had transpired in that time.

A lot has been going on our world too. Take for example what has happened just since March 9, which was Ash Wednesday. My husband and I drove to Dearborn that morning for our final round of meetings with the search committee, vestry, and Bishop. And, we had a great time meeting people we knew from phone interviews or the site visit, or by name only. Two days later, the meeting and greeting completed, we prepared to return to Chicago. Do you remember that morning of March 11? We woke to the news of the earthquake and Tsunami that hit Japan and was moving toward Hawaii.

A few weeks later, having accepted the call to come here, my husband and I drove back. The car was loaded with a few belongings, our three dogs, and our two cats. The moving truck brought everything else. It was Holy Week, just before the arrival of the Rev. Terry Jones. As Dan and I unpacked we watched the local news, intrigued by the trial. Shortly thereafter the rash of deadly tornado's hit the south, impacting people I know in Little Rock, Arkansas and Huntsville, Alabama. Then Terry Jones returned to Dearborn, there was a royal wedding, and then, last Sunday, bin Laden.

It's only been 8 weeks since our visit for Ash Wednesday – but even in that short time much in the world has changed....some parts are now unrecognizable, not likely to ever be quite the same again.

Monday I began my first week here. Part of my work in these early days is to learn as much as I can about this church, who each of you are, and the work that has gone on before me. Sometime on Monday I opened the Rector's email and found a long email thread from the Dearborn Interfaith Community, their responses to the death of Bin Laden.

Here's a bit of what was said in that email thread:

I just ask Everyone to Pray, Be Safe, and Remain Cautious as You Pray!! 

And Remember The Military and others who are still out there in The Middle East. 

Obviously the death of Bin Laden is not necessarily the total death for Al-qida nor terrorism.

We all need to work together to promote the message of peace and justice and returning to the true teachings of the Lord, brought to us through Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Mohammad (peace be upon them)....

Terrorism and extremism should have no room in any religion, of course neither injustice and oppression.

Yes, Let's Continue to Pray. And Let Our Actions Be Peaceful and Positive. 

Speaking again With "One Voice"

Now is a time to build in unity.  "

I don't know any of the people who wrote these emails. I am included in the thread by virtue of being the rector here. I was able to gather that they represent a range of clergy from both Christian Churches and the Muslim Community. I have no idea if any of those who commented are Jewish.

I am struck by the level of compassion and care everyone expressed for everyone else, a gracious response. No call for celebration, but a call for prayer and unity. In fact a couple of days later the Ayatollah invited all the clergy to attend a thank you dinner at the Islamic Institute of Wisdom. An invitation to gather as a group, break bread, and share our common faith in a gracious and loving God.

The recent events in our world, and this snippet of an email thread, point us to the message in today's Gospel reading. Life is unpredictable. Stuff happens. Tragedies happen. Blessings happen. Moments of feeling clear and certain are fleeting. Inspiration comes and goes. Health is temporary. “But, God is in each detail, filling it with holiness and then moving on the next and inviting us to follow. Faithfulness is in the remembering but also in movements that create new memories and new possibilities. As the Emmaus story notes, hospitality is the open door to creative transformation and an expanded vision of possibilities.” (Bruce Epperly, Faith and Process blog).

In truth, what happens is often less important than how we respond to what happens.

This couple, walking down the road, did not recognize the man who joined them on the journey. They are grieving from so great a tragedy. But their sorrow did not prevent them from being gracious. Sad as they were they reached out to this stranger and invited him to share a meal with them. Their response to loss and sorrow and tragedy, was grief, indeed, but it was also gratitude and gracious hospitality.

Here at Christ Church we have a lot to be thankful for and much to celebrate. It is a great joy for me to be here with you. I look forward to coming to know each of you by name and by face. Over the next few weeks we will have occasion to celebrate and rejoice the hard work of the search committee and vestry and the coming together of this new relationship between me, the next rector, and you, the congregation. Let us rejoice and be glad as we begin this journey together. And may it be for us and those we touch in the world around us, a journey filled with graciousness and hospitality to friend and stranger, alike.


Robin said...

You've done a beautiful job of weaving all these threads together. Your new congregation will be delighted.

ramona said...


Although I was so overwhelmed by your exceedingly lovely blog picture that I almost forgot to read the sermon. What a wonderful image for God, mothers and faith!

Gaye said...

One day I would like to hear the words you write. Blessings to you and your new congregation.

Rev SS said...

I agree ... excellent weaving job! Blessings as you share it tomorrow.

Processing Counselor said...

I agree with the other posters.
Although you will miss the scorpions etc., I think this church will 'get' your gifts.

Wendy said...

Beautiful sermons... Praying for you at 6:30 a.m. PDT as you are in the midst of this first Sunday morning...

angela said...

What a great start! Unity and peace for all God's children. Of course it can't be done or even imagined in our world...and yet, here we are doing it. A bit at a time.

Diane said...

hurray! i love you picture, too.

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