Summary: Father Dave’s sermon on the Road to Emmaus and an encouragement for those who are searching for God, and are still searching.
I’ve had some pretty intense pastoral encounters this past week. I think that’s the right term - ‘pastoral encounters’? I’m referring to those dialogues I have occasionally with people that are deep and spiritual, and I’ve had quite a number of them in this last week. And most of these intense pastoral encounters have taken place where most of my intense pastoral encounters do take place - after Fight Club.
You might assume that my most intense pastoral encounters with people would take place here in church - perhaps after Sunday morning worship, but the truth is that after Sunday worship we tend to talk about the footy or about fighting. On the other hand, after we’ve been fighting, that’s when a lot of us seem to be ready to address the deeper issues, and I’ve found that I’ve been doing a fair bit of that of late.
Listening to people’s stories, it’s always encouraging when someone shares with you how God was with them during the darker moments. For many of us, that is exactly our testimony - that when we thought we could not carry on any longer, we found that Christ was with us and He carried us through the dark night! That’s my testimony.
What I’ve found lately though, talking to people about their very real experiences of pain, is that lots of people do not have testimonies like this. They did not find Christ to be with them during their time of crisis. They did not experience any Divine healing or have any transcendent experience of spiritual comfort when they were in the middle of it. Indeed it would appear that in some cases, not only did Jesus not come to them in their time of pain, but when they went out desperately searching for Him they could not find him!
I must admit that this sort of testimony does not sit easily with me, though I accept that such a depiction is quite consistent with the Gospel stories in the New Testament, where Jesus is regularly elusive.
Think about it: how often in the Gospels, during the earthly life of Jesus, do you see people looking for Jesus when they don’t have a clue where He is! The trend starts when He’s a boy, you may remember. His parents loose him! The more commonly recorded experience though is that Jesus’ disciples loose Him, as He has headed off to some remote spot to pray, and they have to go out looking for Him!
And think about these resurrection narratives that we’ve been following. One of the common lines that we keep hearing from both men and angels is, ’You are looking for Jesus. He is not here’, which prompts the obvious question, ’well, where is He?’ and it’s not clear that even the angels always know exactly where He is.
They are fascinating - these resurrection appearances - as you get the impression from these stories that the resurrected Jesus had things that He had to do.
Do you know what I mean? When Mary grabs Jesus, He says to her, ‘Don’t hold me’ because He’s got to go to the Father! Similarly, when He meets with the disciples, it seems that He didn’t stick around for too long because He has other places He has to be! Where? We don’t know!
In the final chapter of Mark, in the original version of (what was probably) the earliest resurrection narrative, the disciples are looking for Jesus and they are told ‘He is not here, but He has gone ahead of you into Galilee’. And that is helpful for the disciples, as it gives them a starting point as to where to look for Jesus, but at the same time it’s pretty mysterious! Why did Jesus choose to go to Galilee, and what He was doing there prior to the arrival of the disciples?
Remember, Galilee was a rough place! Indeed, what self-respecting Rabbi would go to a place like that? But more importantly, what was the resurrected Jesus going to do there? Clean up the streets a bit? Start a youth centre for at-risk kids perhaps?
I don’t mean to sound cynical when I say this, for I’m guessing that Jesus had real reasons for being in Galilee. We just don’t know what they were. And it’s quite possible of course that those reasons are not at all relevant to us. Maybe that’s why they are not recorded?
This is interesting in itself, of course, because I think we so often get caught up in the idea that the work of God is whatever we are involved in. The truth is of course that the work of God goes well beyond the scope of anything we can imagine.
Perhaps the disciples did ask Jesus, ‘what have you been doing in Galilee?’ and He said, ‘None of your business’ or at least ‘sorry, it’s not relevant to you’. We don’t know of course. In truth, we don’t know a lot about the movements of the resurrected Jesus.