Every few months, sometimes less it seems, there is another article written, another scientific journal, another theory on memory. How our minds work continues to be complex and often confusing. Where are memories stored? How do our senses influence what we remember? How does trauma? Why do some stay right at the surface and others remain buried until a song or a smell brings them to our fingertips? Why do some memories replay as if they are happening again and again and others are just lost? Where do they go?
How is it that we are so certain of what happened or what someone looked like or what they said, only to be completely wrong? How can our memories be so completely changed by the influence of another? And the past can change its meaning, with new experiences, new lessons, new context. It’s complex and complicated this thing of remembering.
What it’s what we are doing this day. The Gospel writer does in this story what he had been doing all along, pointing back to what had been to point to what is true in the moment. We, together, re-assemble, we re-member the story.
Our story starts with 2 people on a journey. They are heading home for a what started as the festival celebrations of Passover and ended in tragedy. But journeys, we know about journeys. Just finished on our journey with Jesus and his followers, like these 2 on the road home. Jesus was all about the journey and that wild things happen on the journey. Mary journeyed to Elizabeth to find her pregnant, too. Then Mary and Joseph journeyed to Bethlehem and home to Nazareth, having a baby and meeting shepherds. And when Mary, Joseph, and Jesus were supposed to be journeying home from Jerusalem, they realized Jesus had been lost to them in the large city, although not really lost at all. Jesus journeyed around the Galilee, meeting folks, teaching and discussing, healing, welcoming, and reuniting community.
Journeying is part of Jesus ministry, part of who we are.
On this journey home, these 2 travelers meet a stranger. The stranger asks what they are doing about, and so lost in their grief and they don’t notice that the one they are grieving is the one who is already journeying with them.
We had hoped, they say, the saddest of words. We had hoped that Jesus would be the one to set the world right. They way they understand right, which might not have been Jesus’ way of understanding of setting the world right. They had hoped but their hopes were shattered and when the women showed up to tell their story that very morning, they couldn’t bring themselves to hope again.
And the stranger they meet on their journey home, Jesus, opens scripture to them, which is always such an interesting way of talking about what happened, he opened scripture as if it is revealed, uncovered, discovered, even as it is what these 2 on the road would have learned and heard and discussed since childhood.
In the most general sense, one of the ways that the Jewish people understand the scriptures is in conversation, discussion, debating, imagining, and it is done together, in community. And while there are different kinds of Jewish theologies within different communities, there are those who, like us, take the scripture seriously but literally, and always with an eye to how God is at work in the world, seeking life and relationship with creation.
What Jesus is doing with these 2 on the road is helping them remember their history and what the prophets said and called them to with an eye to how God is at work in the world and how Jesus was God’s physical manifestation at work in the world. It’s reminding what they already knew in light of the life, ministry, mission, and resurrection of Jesus the one they call the Christ.
And it’s the way we ought to approach the text, too, with an eye to the love God has for all of creation and God’s ongoing desire to be in relationship with creation, with us. And, it’s better done in community because think of the ways scripture has been used to justify taking live from others, when we haven’t focused on what brings life and love and relationship. And when we study a lot, we can come to all kinds of unhelpful conclusions. Like a friend who thought he should date with the purpose of convert a woman to Christianity. Not helpful that in discussion might come to a different conclusion.
Open up scripture that pointed to what Jesus had been teach all along, even though we don’t details as to what Jesus said, it’s almost like he said: Remember, remember what was said, remember what you learned, remember our history informs our today.
When Jesus finishes reminding them, telling them their stories again in the light of Jesus, the 2 travelers believed they had reached the end of their journey, that they had arrived home. And they did what their culture had taught them to do, what you do for the stranger in your midst, they invited the stranger who had walked with them, taught them, to stay with them, to join them for a meal. We can remember how Abraham and Sarah welcomed three strangers, how Jesus had been refused a welcome as he traveled through some of Galilee. Hospitality was the way of living in the ancient world.
Because they welcomed the stranger, they sat down for a meal, and in the breaking of bread they finally remembered. Maybe they remembered the times Jesus fed the multitudes by breaking and sharing bread. And the time that Jesus ate with Zaccheus. And the time he ate with the Pharisees. In Jesus time they called him a gluten because he was eating with all he time. We might say that he ate his way through his Galilee and Jerusalem. They remembered Jesus. They saw Jesus.
And suddenly the world that the pieces started fitting in to place. The scripture, and the past, and the past 3 days. They were starting to understand. But they realized they couldn’t do it alone. They had invited Jesus to dine with them because it was getting late and dark and it wasn’t going to be safe for him to keep traveling but the 2 traveler’s journey wasn’t over! They got up, they went up to Jerusalem, 7 miles in dark, when it was unsafe, 7 miles! On foot!
Their experience with Jesus drove them back to the other disciples, to the others who had their own experiences of Jesus before and after resurrection. I imagine that they showed up and they all started sharing their stories, at the same time, so overwhelmed that they can’t actually hear what the other person is saying. I imagine them putting together post-it notes of each of their experiences, each carrying a piece of the whole picture but needing each other to better understand it, like detectives trying to solve a mystery, trying to make sure that this time, they miss nothing. Doing their best to remember every detail.
That is vital to this thing of resurrection: it isn’t something that we learn and understand on our own. It is built, it is curated, it is developed by the sharing of each other’s stories, by coming together to study and learn, to discuss and debate. We are re-membering Jesus. We are sharing the stories, putting together the pieces, working out what it means to be the body of Christ in this world. And sometimes we carry the memory for others who can’t, who have forgotten, who think the stories are foolish, and sometimes we cling on to the last bit of hope in another’s story. Sometimes, we only carry one small part of the memory until we can gather together. We are patient with one another, we hold each other in love and compassion, we come together to re-member this body of Christ.
We then become a community that grows and becomes who we are called to be together so that we can be a community that goes into the world to live resurrection, to live new life, to live into the call to love each other that we have been given by God.