Easter 3 Year A 2020
And he vanished from their sight
Acts 2.14a, 36-41, 1 Peter 1.13-25, Luke 24.13-35
Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.
There is a well known saying, “If you see the buddha on the road, kill him”, that came to mind when I read the gospel this time round. The meaning of that saying is, that we must never make an idol of God; that when we think we’ve ‘got’ God then we better think again! The reality of God cannot be captured in the same way that we might understand that 2 plus 2 equals 4. The mystery of God is beyond our comprehension
Yet, at the same time we can ‘know’ God. Another paradox perhaps. But essentially the saying reminds us that we too often make God in our own image rather than knowing God through the ‘image’ of God in which we are made.
One way of describing this difference might be, that it is the difference between taking a photo of someone and thinking that the photo is actually the person, and the reality of the actual person with whom we are in dynamic relationship. God’s image in us is the deepest reality of who we are; not a static picture but rather a centre of energy alive within us. And our knowing this reality is not of the kind of knowing that 2 plus 2 equals 4. The knowing of God is God’s knowing in us. Because through the crucified and risen Jesus, God’s life becomes intimately present at the human and earthly level. The human and divine become inextricably connected. Our eyes are opened and we recognize Christ through sustained relationship at the level of our humanity. This relationship is not one that can be tied down by a list of beliefs that we are meant to adhere to in order to join the club of Christianity. Christian faith is about venturing more deeply and fully into dynamic relationship with the crucified and risen One.
So, in the sense that I am meaning it, belief can become an idea about God which remains static and devolves into an idol of our own making. Faith is about allowing God to reveal Godself to us in any given moment, often in new and surprising ways.
The disciples on the road to Emmaus are surprised. Jesus of Nazareth is gone. They are in grief and bewilderment. And it is at just such times, when life opens some vulnerability in us, that we may be more receptive to recognising God in a new way. Walking along the road with this stranger they tell him the story not realizing that this stranger lives the story from within. Eventually, having spent time with him, they recognize him in the breaking of the bread. And then he vanishes! Just as Jesus says to Mary in the garden, do not cling to me, he will not allow these disciples to hold on to him.
We can become very rusted on to ideas about God. Yet the journey of faith calls us to be always letting go of our own ideas and images, our own construction of God, so that the living God can rise afresh within us continually. And, sometimes its only in retrospect that we recognize that God was living through us. Its quite common for instance in the process of spiritual direction, as we share our experience with another, that we see those God moments that we might otherwise have missed. Yes, we might say. As I walked on the beach and noticed the sun glistening on the water, I felt myself drawn to stopping and attending to that light; something was happening below the surface. “Were not our hearts burning within us, while he was talking to us on the road?”
And he vanished from their sight.
He kept coming and going. First, he appeared being baptised by John. He began teaching and healing and disappearing up a mountain or into a boat. Then he was killed and his body lay in a tomb. But then he was gone! And now he reappears to the disciples in various ways before vanishing again. Yet he leaves this promise that they will never be alone. He will be with them. With us. And lo, the Holy Spirit is breathed into them. The Hoy Spirit breathes in us.
Is God simply playing hide and seek with us? Or is it that we are meant to be always in this faith process, this journey of letting go of our set ways of seeing God? And if that’s the case then how can we ever know whether the promise that he is always with us is true?
“Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God.” (1 Peter 1.21). Our faith and hope are founded in the God who is always giving up life for us. Jesus, who died on the cross, now lives through us, through the Spirit. That life is not something we can prescribe or coerce or control. We must give ourselves up to that life within us. Jesus’ vanishing, forms and informs our understanding. We can only grow in faith as we let go of the ways in which we hold onto the God of our own making. It takes faith to allow our ideas about God to fall away so that we can begin to know God from within. That is to say, there is a difference between talking or thinking about God as an abstracted notion of some-thing about which we speak as though that God is not a living reality in and amongst us; there is a difference between that, and the encounter that ‘opens our eyes’ through lived relationship. We are called to give ourselves into this lived, faith filled, relationship with the one who comes to us as friend or as stranger, yet whom we somehow know to be the one who died, who vanished and who lives again.
But they urged him strongly saying, ‘stay with us.’ So, he went in to stay with them. He took bread and broke it and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.
As we commemorate Anzac Day this year, I am given to reflect on one of my uncles who served in WW11. My mother’s brother Lieutenant William Boydell died, or rather disappeared, was lost in action, at Sanananda, PNG when his battalion, the 49th, was utterly outnumbered by the Japanese. His body has never been found. And so, he has the words ‘No known grave – known unto God’ ascribed to him. His death of course left its life- long mark on those who loved him, as is the case for so many. Yet, there is something, perhaps surprisingly, comforting about those words – known unto God. He disappeared from those who knew him, yet he was and is always known to God from whom no one actually vanishes.
Jesus gave himself up to the hands of violence, to death. But the power of God, which is the love we know in Christ, cannot be contained by death. “You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.” (1 Peter 1.22) The seed of God, the image of God in which we are created endures beyond our individual set of personal characteristics, our possessions, our status, our ideas, concepts, images and beliefs about God. How then can we know this God who keeps vanishing from our sight? By love, through love. And through that particular love by which we recognise Christ; that love which gives itself into our human frailty’s and flaws and failures; the love beyond measure that keeps giving into our broken social systems, our violence and greed and possessiveness and which cannot be contained by them. Peters letter exhorts us to holiness by way of this purified love,’ by genuine mutual love, that we may love one another deeply from the heart.’
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THE BALANCE POINT
The Assistant Priest, Rev'd Rebecca Newland, has a weekly blog where she reflects on spiritual disciplines including the practise of silence and contemplative living. She also occasionally writes about social, environmental and political issues. For those who are interested please click on this link below: