Today's Bible ReadingTwo of the disciples of Jesus were on their way to a village called Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking together about all that had happened. Now as they talked this over, Jesus himself came up and walked by their side; but something prevented them from recognising him. He said to them, 'What matters are you discussing as you walk along?' They stopped short, their faces downcast. Then one of them, called Cleopas, answered him, 'You must be the only person staying in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have been happening there these last few days.' 'What things?' he asked. 'All about Jesus of Nazareth' they answered 'who proved he was a great prophet by the things he said and did in the sight of God and of the whole people; and how our chief priests and our leaders handed him over to be sentenced to death, and had him crucified. Our own hope had been that he would be the one to set Israel free. And this is not all: two whole days have gone by since it all happened; and some women from our group have astounded us: they went to the tomb in the early morning, and when they did not find the body, they came back to tell us they had seen a vision of angels who declared he was alive. Some of our friends went to the tomb and found everything exactly as the women had reported, but of him they saw nothing.' Then he said to them, 'You foolish men! So slow to believe the full message of the prophets! Was it not ordained that the Christ should suffer and so enter into his glory?' Then, starting with Moses and going through all the prophets, he explained to them the passages throughout the scriptures that were about himself. When they drew near to the village to which they were going, he made as if to go on; but they pressed him to stay with them. 'It is nearly evening' they said 'and the day is almost over.' So he went in to stay with them. Now while he was with them at table, he took the bread and said the blessing; then he broke it and handed it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognised him; but he had vanished from their sight. Then they said to each other, 'Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?' They set out that instant and returned to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven assembled together with their companions, who said to them, 'Yes, it is true. The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.' Then they told their story of what had happened on the road and how they had recognised him at the breaking of bread.
ReflectionEaster is not about something that happened 2000 years ago, it is about our present and our future. Jesus came to show us the way, and as his followers, we need to follow. That does not mean that we need to literally wash anybody's feet - we all understand the washing of feet as metaphorical, as being about
serving others rather than putting ourselves first, but we are far to inclined to get stuck in literal understandings of the cross and resurrection. Just as we are not called to literally wash feet, we are not called to literally find a temple to throw buyers and sellers out of so that someone will nail us to a cross. Nor are
we required to do nothing, on the assumption that everything needful was done 2000 years ago (i.e. Jesus died on the cross to save us, so we are now saved and can live it up, secure in the knowledge that "he paid for our sins"). Somehow, while we find the washing of feet easy to understand, it seems like
more often than not we don't quite get the meaning of the cross and resurrection.
Christians have been talking about sin for centuries, but we generally focus on the actions involved, the rules, what we should and shouldn't do, rather than anything deeper. That is a surface understanding of sin, an oversimplification. Rules and regulations neatly box things up for us and save us having to think,
analyse or understand anything. Perhaps it is this that blinds us; perhaps our desire for neatness prevents us knowing how to follow Jesus through the cross and resurrection.
Guilt, shame, resentment - we've all felt these things, although we may not have stopped to think about what their effects are. Yet, each of these emotions blocks the flow of the most important thing in our lives - love. The Easter story is about moving past guilt, shame and resentment to reclaim love. Paul talks
about dying with Christ and rising with Him as a new creation; taking off the old and putting on the new - but what does that mean? Paul also uses the metaphor of the body of Christ with each of as its members. So, if the body of Christ dies and rises again to new life, what does that mean?
In approaching our own death, or the death of someone we love, what do we do? We grieve. Grieving is the process of letting go of control and accepting a reality that we don't want. We move from disbelief through waves of mixed emotions, predominantly sadness and anger, with lots of "what ifs" running
through our minds, with the size of the waves gradually getting smaller over time, until we reach a place of acceptance, more or less, in which we have let go of our own will and accepted the reality we face. The emotions we experience may include many others than sadness and anger, including guilt, shame
This grief involves a cleansing, because guilt, shame and resentment block up our systems and prevent the flow of love through the veins of the Body of Christ and also through each of us as members of the Body of Christ. Think of a time when you felt guilty, ashamed or resentful - how truly loving were you able to
be in that moment? Trying to make it up to someone or placate them out of a sense of guilt is not truly loving, because the focus is not on them, but on you. Shame blocks us from the sharing of our beings that is involved in love. Resentment buries our love behind an angry barrier.
Our God is Love and Love forgives, so what is it about sin that necessitates the way of the cross? If the sin is forgiven by God as soon as it happens, then the problem lies in us. Sin lingers on in us in the form of guilt, in the form of shame, in the form of resentment. The way of the cross is about letting go of guilt,
letting go of shame and letting go of resentment. It is about accepting forgiveness and re-embracing Love.
What is it that so often prevents us from letting go of guilt, shame and resentment? At base, it is probably a form of pride. Not that we are proud of our sins, but that we are proud of our autonomy - our independence. Like Adam and Eve in the story of the garden of Eden, we seek the ability to be our own gods. We
see ourselves as too important to be forgiven. Our wrongdoings are greater than those of others, so we must punish ourselves and others for them through our guilt. The "and others" in the last sentence is important, because guilt is often a form of passive aggression. In a sense, the line between guilt and
resentment is a blurred one. I did something wrong to you, but somehow it is your fault because you provoked me to do it and I resent having to cop the blame so I punish you with my guilt. Or I am so ashamed that I hide myself away and can't face you, punishing you by refusing to connect with you. Shame
expresses itself as rejection.
So we need to humble our pride, and crucifixion is symbolic of that humbling, because crucifixion was about as low as person in the Roman Empire could get. It is not that our sins nailed Christ to the cross but that we need to nail our own pride, guilt, shame and resentment to the cross in order to rise in the New Life
of Christ, which is Love. The cross, if you will, is the "statin" that our spiritual veins need in order to clear them of the muck clogging them, so that love can again flow through them. Collectively, we need the cross to enable love to again flow through our community.
Once we let go of the pride that holds us to our guilt, our shame, our resentment, we become able to see again with compassion those around us whom we have hurt and who have hurt us. Opening our eyes and hearts to the spirit of compassion is the way to love and to truth and to God.
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