The Emmaus story as a model for ministry
The Emmaus Road experience is more than a story of what happened once upon a time, writes John Weaver. It is a blueprint of what being a follower of the post-Resurrection Christ means.
The fifth and penultimate piece in The Emmaus Road Experience, the series from John and fellow Baptist minister John Rackley
Let us begin where Jesus does in the story.
In our fellowship life together, and in our part in the mission of Christ, we might learn from Jesus’s way of dealing with people, his interest in them, his understanding of their way of life.
First of all, Jesus gets alongside and listens. Jesus never forces his ways on us, and on the journey to Emmaus he says ‘What are you discussing together as you walk along?’ Tell me about it; what's your story? (Luke 24:13-35)
He then asks them to tell their own story, which they do, including their disillusionment and all their dashed hopes. Then Jesus begins to explore their story in the light of the Scriptures and the promises concerning the Messiah. Finally, he sits down to eat with them, where they recognise him and respond by returning to Jerusalem to share what they have learnt with the rest of the disciples.
One of the intentions of the project that John and I share is to describe and address the all too prevalent disillusion among many Christians in and beyond the formal borders of the churches. The Emmaus Road story, we believe, provides a powerful key to how disillusionment can be turned around and become again for many a pathway with God toward the rewards of hope.
For many people it is a long journey.
It is a journey through experiences and places where God is close but may seem hidden.
It is a journey away from the oppression we may feel in the light of other people’s certainties.
It is a journey away from ways of belief and faith which can no longer hold their trust in God.
It is a journey that will offer resting places where Scripture will be re-examined through the eyes of Christ.
It is a journey toward a new community of belief whose mission is defined by the grace and truth of God in Jesus.
This is the journey that the risen Christ shared with those two companions walking into the sunset over the space of a few hours. We can build on the model Jesus presents to us on the road to Emmaus.
Jesus models for us a way in which to understand people. Jesus himself shared life in a village, in a small local synagogue, where he would have learned the Torah; obedience to parents; work in the local building trade as a carpenter alongside his father. And for us this upbringing and life experience was extremely important. This was self-emptying (Philippians 2:7); this was the place where Jesus learned about people and life in the raw; this is where Jesus entered into the people’s stories.
Jesus is obedient and committed to God’s self-emptying, God’s incarnation among ordinary human beings. This is the way God shares each of our lives and understands what it means to be a human being. And at his baptism in the Jordan Jesus receives his Father’s affirmation: ‘This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased’ (Luke 3:22).
Here is a model for our ministry and involvement in the mission of Christ. Understanding people, sharing their lives, drawing on our own experience of living the life that our friends and neighbours also live. We know our neighbours’ lives and questions, their joys and concerns, because they are ours also.
We understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, or the latest terrorist atrocity, or the latest pointless killing of a young person on our streets or the tensions in politics and economics, because we share the feelings of sorrow, anger, fear, anxiety and despair. But we are also able to speak of how our faith in Christ, suffering with and for the world in love, has supported and strengthened us through all this, and given us peace. This is part of the unending conversation that John Rackley refers to in a previous article.
For this reason, it is often the congregation who are the experts on the mission of the local church, rather than the pastor. They share the same life as their neighbours and are in the best position to be the Church’s evangelists.
So, as we think about all those people with whom we are in contact, we remind ourselves that for many of the people we will meet life does not make sense. For many people Jesus is a character in history (perhaps) or simply an expletive to express exasperation. We know lots of people who are asking questions, expressing their view that the world is a terrible or even terrifying place, or simply struggling through a life which has no hope (except a win on the lottery), and which is controlled by fate.
How do we share the Gospel with such people; how do we minister to them? Like Cleopas and his wife, with whom Jesus walked on the road to Emmaus, they probably have some knowledge of the ministry, crucifixion and claims of an empty tomb, but this is not helping them. So, how do we help people to understand and to find the meaning to life that we have found in Jesus? The answer is that we must follow Jesus’ pattern:
First, we listen to people; we invite them to tell us their story; to recount their experiences of life and the world; to tell us what they understand about those experiences; what they mean to them and for them.
Second, we share with them what we know of Jesus; how his story and God’s story in the Bible makes sense; how his word to us has made sense of our lives; how we have experienced Christ in all areas and aspects of our life.
Third, then we stay with people whatever they think or believe; we are not put off; we demonstrate our care, interest and love; we eat with them. This is the Jewish way of hospitality - feeding and housing the stranger. Jesus accepts their invitation, and joins them for supper in their home. The best way of getting to know people is around a meal table. We are encouraged in this approach through the success of Alpha-type meetings.
Last, he did not dominate the occasion, insisting that they agree with him and accept his interpretation. As he had done in his ministry bound to one place and time so he continued in his unfettered Resurrection life – he left them with the experience and to seek the meaning. A meaning which needed the support and guidance of a community called together in his name. This was the experience of the Emmaus Road which the couple shared, when they returned to the group of disciples in Jerusalem (Luke 24:33-35), and the further confirmation, when Jesus reveals himself to them all (24:36-43).
The Emmaus Road story is more than an event in time and space. It is an experience for any time and any space. It provides a pathway for anyone who wishes move from disillusion to hope. It is a journey of repentance, in the sense that it requires a change of mind and a willingness to let go what has lost its power to set hearts afire.
For many churches which may have become communities cut off from society, there is a need to listen to others who we meet on ‘the road’. There is a need for participation, interaction, dialogue, reflection, debate, argument and the support of others.
John Rackley and John Weaver explore such reflection in their final article.
Baptist ministers John Rackley and John Weaver have been working for four years on a project entitled 'Faith Journey as Theology', exploring how their lived Christian lives shape their theology. They first presented this at Theology Live at Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church in January 2019. From this meeting others have joined them in reflecting on faith journey as theology.
They are now at the stage of putting these discussions together. The six part series includes:
Jesus the Emmaus Road Companion
Faith, God and Story - the principles of faith as story
Travelling together - the story of our conversations
The unending conversation
The Emmaus story as a model for ministry
Faith Journey as Story: an invitation for self reflection
John Rackley: firstname.lastname@example.org
John Weaver: email@example.com
Image | The Road to Emmaus | Claes Corneliszoon Moeyaert | Wikimedia Commons
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