reflections on MLK Day
In my sermon yesterday I spoke about transformational community – a community that is committed to gathering in and unity, which is in itself, healing. There’s one part in particular that has lingered in my thoughts as I reflect on MLK Day. The text was Luke 24: 13-35 which is the story of the road to Emmaus. Jesus of Nazareth had been crucified and two men walked along the road together and tried to make sense of all that had just happened. Can you imagine what their conversation was like? Then someone came along and asked what they were talking about. They must have felt that this guy had been hiding away under a rock to be so unaware, but they told him all about what had happened to Jesus. This stranger began to talk to them of what the Prophets and the scriptures had said about how Messiah would suffer and die. They were stunned.
After they had offered hospitality to this stranger it says that he took the bread, gave thanks, broke it and gave. Then, Jesus was recognized by them and He disappeared from their sight. They went immediately to Jerusalem to where the other followers of Jesus had gathered and told them how Jesus was revealed to them, in the breaking of the bread.
Though there were several points about this story, the one that I am lingering with this morning is that the stranger was revealed to be Jesus. He has said that when you feed and clothe the least of these, and visit those who are sick and in prison – you do it to Me. As so it follows that the mark of God- the revelation of Jesus in an inhospitable world -is care for the stranger. This had long been a theme throughout scripture. Hospitality was literally a matter of life and death back in those times. It was the godly person who welcomed the stranger.
This is truly transformational not just for the stranger as he/she learns to receive God’s welcome, but for the rest of us as well. God’s hospitality enlargens us because there is only one Table from which our heavenly food is given. We are tempted to think there’s a table for conservatives, one for liberals, one for Catholics, Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists, gay Christians, Pentecostals (I can’t list every group out there but you get the idea) and even in 2009, different ethnicities. And we secretly or not so secretly believe that ours is the right Table. But just as we all stand on One foundation, there is only one Table. One Lord, one faith, one Baptism. One Body- broken and given for all. When we have dinner with Jesus, we learn to sup with the stranger. Or even more simply, with someone who is merely different.
The Table offers hospitality to the Stranger in that it teaches us that no-one “deserves” communion. All are invited freely. This is in complete opposition to the corrupt world order which says, just take care of your own, seek your own needs first, create an exclusive club. This world order loves the center stage, the power, the success, entitlement, special honors and privilege. Jesus loves the margins, the least important, the voiceless, the outcast, even, as Kathleen Norris says, the surpassingly strange. He teaches us how to gather them in.
All of the electric excitement that we feel on this day by remembering Dr. King and by anticipating the history-making inauguration tomorrow reveals the deep longing in us all for real community, for oneness, unity and welcome. People long for communion. I believe the meal that Jesus serves to us has offered that all along. But we miss out if we do not get the point that it is not truly received if it is not shared. He is still revealed in the breaking of the bread.
Dr. King was truly a prophet. He spoke of a unity and brotherhood that we couldn’t begin to imagine in those days. Of course we have a long way to go but what can we imagine for community now?
We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.
1 John 4:19-21