I was drawn back to Luke 24 recently, where the disciples meet the risen Jesus on the Emmaus Road, and you don’t get any more unprecedented than that. To those disciples, resurrection was an unknown event and even more of unexpected blessing (to say the least). And all this came at the end of what must have been a long day in a series of longs days for those and the other disciples.
This post-Resurrection story has always been important and formational for me and when I read it, I didn’t think there was anything new I could mine from it. How wrong I was! Something in the story struck me forcefully. Something that’s actually relevant to the COVID-19 crisis that we are all living through and also relevant to our understanding of reconciliation. It’s something that’s apparent from the moment Jesus catches up with the two, sad, uncertain disciples trudging home to Emmaus in the afternoon of the first Easter Day. When Jesus, disguised as a stranger, speaks to them the three stop to gather themselves. Then Jesus interprets the scriptures to them as they walk along. By the time they reach the disciple’s destination, their village, it’s nearly evening and they ‘strongly’ persuade Jesus to stay with them. They all come together around the disciples’ table to eat a meal.
What is it that struck me? I realised that one of the fundamental, basic components of this story is hospitality. Right from the moment Jesus joins them, Cleopas and his friend do not ignore the stranger or give him the brush off when he comes up and, rather impertinently, wants to know what they are talking about. They extend hospitality. They welcome him into their discussion. They listen to all that he says about Moses and all the prophets. On arriving home, they invite him to stay with them and it’s when they sit down to eat and Jesus breaks bread that they recognise the stranger as Jesus, the Risen One, who has been with them all along.
According to the dictionary the word ‘hospitality’ means: the quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way. The word has its root in Latin from which we also derive hospitable and hospital. There have been so many stories about hospitals around the world treating seriously ill people with COVID-19; of their doctors, nurses and other staff being warm, friendly and generous. So generous that they have put their own lives at risk and many have paid the ultimate sacrifice. Little wonder that the public have responded by showing their thanks by clapping, banging saucepans, cheering, playing instruments, anything to show how much they value what front line staff do and have done.
Equally, the basis for any steps towards reconciliation is to treat others with equanimity – guests and strangers – in a warm, friendly and generous way so as to help to establish a sense of trust and to create a space where dialogue can take place and develop. In the Emmaus Road story, the two disciples do just that and by their welcome, their listening and their generous invitation Jesus becomes real to them, revealing that though he reconciles all to himself, others can do the work of reconciliation too.
Lastly, it takes them some time to recognise him. I’m encouraged by their delayed recognition and professions of faith. Sometimes faith comes easy; at others it’s jolly hard and Jesus isn’t always easy to recognise. Either way, Jesus is there, waiting patiently – even in the ICU.