Xenophobia: a fear or hatred of the one who doesn’t belong, of the other. Regrettably, most of us have just enough religious xenophobia to dismiss, discard and despise the stranger in our midst.
Luke 24:13-49 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.
How does this text teach us to practice Easter?
Walk in the opposite direction of the institutional church, the seat of power that is Jerusalem.
Trust the Jesus you can’t see.
Listen to the women.
Look for new life in the spiritual disciple of just going about your day.
Susan, a lay speaker, was invited to preach at a nearby church. The morning of, she put on her Sunday worst, didn’t do her hair or makeup, showed up unannounced and found the back pew. The service started and the peace of Christ was offered. Backs were slapped, and hands were shook and smiles were exchanged. But none came her way. By sermon time, the liturgist and choir director were frantic about the missing preacher. The silence lingered until Susan stood up from the back and walked to the pulpit and began, “Many of you are my friends, but today I went unrecognized, ignored. Today I experienced how this church treats strangers.”
Judas betrayed and Peter denied, the disciples reached for their pillow in the Garden and refused the to carry their crosses to Golgotha, they didn’t understand the scriptures and they ignored the women’s witness, but they did remember, “the Hebrew Bible in one verse commands, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ but in no fewer than 36 places commands us to ‘love the stranger’” (Jonathan Sacks).
There was an ancient Christian custom in the earliest church that when a knock came at the door, before names were exchanged or pleasantries were passed or questions queried, the host would kneel to wash the feet of the late arriving traveler, usher him inside for a seat at the dinner table, robe him in clean clothes and show him to the guest bedroom. At departure the next morning, the next week or the next month, provisions for the road were packed, a guide was hired and a vow was sworn to do exactly the same for life. That custom started here with the first disciples.
No geographer or mapmaker could ever locate its location, and the disciples never did arrive in Emmaus. Perhaps that’s because faith is our response between here and there to the passerby in our midst, the one echoing in our heart, the one tapping on our glass, and the one stumbling into our story.
When you welcome the immigrant or alien, the outsider or interloper, the trespasser or derelict, the cast away or queer, you’re welcoming none other than the risen Lord. The one who doesn’t belong is the one we claim as the Christ.
So may we be blessed and broken by the encounter, and may our eyes be opened to the Savior we don’t recognize.