Tuesday, April 25, 2017

City Notes '17: Moving Towards Emmaus: Jesus' Loving Care and Pursuit of Us is Relentless

The Road to Emmaus by Daniel Bonnell  


The Road to Emmaus Reveals that Jesus' Loving Care and Pursuit of Us is Relentless


Chapter Three | The Unknown Christ: Dispatches from the Emmaus Road

Name: Tatiana Goricheva

Biographical Information: Brilliant Russian scholar and philosopher who grew up and was educated in Leningrad during the Communist era. In the 1960s, when it became possible to obtain existentialist literature in the Soviet Union, she began reading the works of Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre and found their descriptions of human alienation in a world without meaning corresponded with her own experience. Together with many Russian intellectuals under Soviet rule, Goricheva experienced a religious conversion the led her to the Orthodox Church. She was part of a group which founded a seminar in Leningrad for the discussion of fundamental philosophical and religious questions, was active in the feminist movement, and helped set up an underground newspaper. Prior to the Moscow Olympics in 1980 she and many of her colleagues were given the choice of imprisonment or exile; Goricheva chose to move to the West and during this enforced exile she developed a penetrating critique of religion and culture in the context of great material prosperity.


" ... in a Yoga book a Christian prayer, the 'Our Father', was suggested as an exercise ...  I began to say it as a mantra, automatically and without expression. I said it about six times, and then I was suddenly turned inside out. I understood – not with my ridiculous understanding, but with my whole being – that he exists. He, the living, personal God, who loves me and all creatures, who has created the world, who became a human being out of love, the crucified and risen God. At that moment I understood and grasped the 'mystery' of Christianity, the new, true life. That was real, genuine deliverance. At this moment everything in me changed. The old me died. I gave up not only my earlier values and ideals, but also my old habits. Finally my heart was also opened. I began to love people. I could understand their suffering and also their lofty destiny, that they are made in the image of God. Immediately after my conversion everyone simply seemed to me to be a miraculous inhabitant of heaven, and I could not wait to do good and to serve human beings and God. (1986, 90-1)"
"When Christ preached, to reach the souls of men and women he had to transform the experience of fishermen. To penetrate the soul of modern people he has to melt a whole iceberg of impressions; he has to overcome history, education, politics, the trivialization of life, the collapse of morality, aestheticism, the revolution – think of all the things that humanity has piled up over these two thousand years! And it is necessary to return to the clear and sublime commandments for blessedness: 'Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God'. (1986, 38)" 
"I saw my first religious broadcast on television. I thank God that we have atheism and no religious education. What this man said on the screen was more likely to drive more people out of the church than all the clumsy chatter of our paid atheists. Dressed up in a posh way, the self-satisfied preacher had to talk of love. But ... (he) was a boring bad actor with mechanical and studied gestures. He was faceless. For the first time I understood how dangerous it is to talk about God. Each word must be a sacrifice – filled to the brim with authenticity. Otherwise it is better to keep silent. (1986, 90-1)"
"I'm now trying to love the well-to-do and self-satisfied church, which is in all things opposed to what proves to be the original idea of the church ... Difficult times have dawned for the church in the West, more difficult than for the church in the East. Eureka! I have the solution. Not those who have seen but those who believe are more blessed than those who have seen and then believe. So even the authentic Christians in the West must be more blessed than those of us who have come to faith in Russia. There, like Thomas, we have seen his wounds and touched concretely and visibly his now immortal body. We felt God, and we understood that He is more real than all the world around us. But here I meet hardly anyone with a comparable experience. And nevertheless I have met true believers. (1986, 96-7)" pgs. 55-57

Chapter Four | Epiphany!

" ... they now 'urged him strongly' to accept their hospitality and remain with them overnight. To be sure, the reason stated for this invitation is that 'the day is almost over' and to travel alone in the gathering gloom would be an act of madness. Elsewhere Luke has recorded a story told by Jesus in which the extreme dangers of travelling alone on the roads of ancient Palestine outside certain times of the day is vividly illustrated (Luke 14:30)."  pg. 58


"When the Emmaus walkers urge their new friend, 'Stay with us', this is a decision for change; to invite him into the house involves an intellectual and spiritual openness which has the potential to result in truly revolutionary transformation. ...
Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard:
'Father in Heaven,
well we know that it is Thou
that giveth both to will and to do,
that also longing,
when it leads us to renew
the fellowship with our Saviour and
Redeemer,
is from Thee
Father in Heaven, longing is Thy gift
but when longing lays hold of us,
oh, grant that we might lay hold of the longing!
when it would carry us away,
that we also might give ourselves up!
when Thou art near to summon us,
that we also in prayer might stay near Thee!
When Thou in the longing
dost offer us the highest good,
oh, that we might hold it fast!' 
 ... When Luke records that Christ 'acted as if he were going further', he underscores a fundamental principle concerning the manner in which genuine faith and hope are communicated. In Kierkegaard's terminology, the moment of longing is given as a gift, but it may be spurned and then lost. The longing has to be taken hold of, held fast. Real faith is not something conventional and self-evident, even less can it be imposed or retained by force. Christ might have blinded his companions with a blaze of resurrection glory that would have had them falling in the dust at his feet, but instead he respects their freedom, offering them opportunity for the radical reorientation of their lives and the recovery of hope."  pgs. 59-60

"The Christ of the Emmaus road, who elsewhere in Luke's Gospel is said to have depicted God himself in a revolutionary manner as 'the waiting Father' (Luke 15:20), largely faded from Christian memory, despite constant celebration of rituals involving bread and wine which, it can be argued, contain distinct echoes of this very narrative. ... Christians in Western Europe and North America must learn, recognizing their Emmaus road situation as a gracious opportunity to encounter the God who, while absolutely not at our beck and call, still waits to be invited to remain with those whose hearts he sets on fire."  pg. 61


"'When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them'. The guest has become the host; those offering hospitality find themselves on the receiving end of the gift of grace; the seekers are surprisingly transformed into the sought! Something in the action of the stranger at this climactic point brings about a sudden, life-transforming moment of recognition: 'Then their eyes were opened and they recognised him'."  pg. 64

"It is worth recalling here that when Luke describes the events that led up to the death of Christ there are unmistakable references to the political dimension of the charges made against him. He is accused of 'subverting our nation' and opposing the 'payment of taxes to Caesar' (Luke 23:2). Later, Jesus is said to have fomented trouble 'all over Judea' and now to pose a threat to civil order at the very centre of power (Luke 23:5). Of course, the charges made against Christ were perverse in that they implied that he was guilty of the usual forms of insurrection, depicting him as simply the latest in a long line of political revolutionaries. But this should not lead us to ignore the fact that the sheer goodness of Jesus, his endless compassion for the suffering and the oppressed, and his bold and courageous declaration of the ethical demands of Israel's God, were indeed subversive of a society built on greed and structured in the interests of the privileged and powerful. As Richard Horsley and Neil Asher Silberman point out, there were alternative forms of execution in the ancient world, including beheading or stoning to death, and the fact that Christ was crucified is eloquent testimony 'to the depth and clarity of the threat that he posed' (1997, 86). How else shall we explain the fact that when the Roman governor Pilate offered to set free either Jesus or Barabbas (who is said to have led 'an insurrection in the city', and to have been a murderer, Luke 23:19), the religious and political leaders of the nation chose the violent revolutionary, shouting in chorus for the release of a terrorist whose threat they understood and could cope with. By contrast, the challenge posed by the Rabbi from Nazareth was of an altogether different kind and, as his following grew and a revolution of love and justice began to spread, this was a threat to 'normal politics' that was simply too great to tolerate. On the road to Emmaus Jesus had pointed out to his broken and despairing disciples that the experience of the crucified Messiah was absolutely consistent with the message and the biographies of the prophets who had preceded him. Their invariable experience had been of rejection and suffering; as a later Christian writer was to say, true prophets were tortured, flogged and imprisoned, during their lives they were 'destitute, persecuted and mistreated  the world was not worthy of them' (Hebrews 11:36-38). And these same prophets, anticipating the coming of One who would represent the culmination and fulfillment of the tradition to which they belonged, recognized that his victory over evil, and the bringing into history of a different order of things, would inevitably involve rejection, suffering and death: Christ had to 'suffer these things and then enter his glory'."  pg. 67-68


"As literary critic Jack Miles puts it in the brilliant opening of his book, Christ: A Crisis in the Life of God: ' ... mankind is forgiven, but the Lord must die. This is the revolutionary import of the epilogue that, two thousand years ago, a group of radical Jews appended to the sacred scripture of their religion. Because they did so, millions in the West today worship before the image of a deity executed as a criminal, and – no less important  other millions who never worship at all carry within their cultural DNA a religiously derived suspicion that somehow, someday, 'the last will be first and the first last' (Matthew 20:16).' (Miles, 2001, 3) In discussing the impact of the story of the crucifixion of Jesus on the Western conscience, Miles argues that it has resulted in an almost subliminal conviction, lodged 'deep in the political consciousness of the West', that 'the apparent loser may be the real winner unrecognized'. He suggests that it is because of this that 'in the West no regime can declare itself above review. All power is conditional; and when the powerless rise, God may be with them' (2001, 3). ... The same writer we have noticed insisting that the death of Jesus provided forgiveness 'for the sins of the whole world', immediately goes on to remind those who have recognized this fact that they 'must walk as Jesus did' (1 John 2:6). The letters of Paul, so profoundly influential within the emerging Christian movement in the great urban centers of the ancient world, have been described as containing 'a frontal assault on the empire', providing the followers of the crucified Messiah with the resources to 'reimagine the world as if Christ, not the powers, were sovereign' (Walsh and Keesmaat, 2004, 84). Perhaps most striking of all is the fact that the New Testament ends with an extraordinary work that explicitly summons Christians to withstand the seductive power of Roman propaganda and, even at the cost of their lives, to remain faithful to the Christ whom they confessed as the true saviour of the world. Richard Bauckham describes the book of Revelation as a 'thorough-going prophetic critique of the system of Roman power' and 'the most powerful piece of political resistance literature from the period of the early Empire'. He adds that the author of this book understood very clearly that the confession of Christ's Lordship led to an inevitable clash with 'Rome's divine pretensions' (Bauckham, 1993, 38)." – pgs. 69-71

" ... the world may be, as Camus saw so clearly, 'absurd', but genuinely humanistic values can survive this discovery and sustain people in lives that are truly good and life-enhancing. That such a reaction to the threat to meaning posed by death is possible is demonstrated by countless examples of humanists who have indeed lived exemplary lives, full of compassion and mercy and tirelessly committed to justice and equality in this world. However, the question must be asked whether this kind of 'heroic dedication' can survive in a historical and cultural context in which the spiritual resources for such a life have all but withered and died. As Ernest Becker observed more than thirty years ago, the one-dimensionality of late modern culture has unleashed upon the world an ideology of commercialism unprecedented in human history, resulting in a situation in which modern man 'is drinking and drugging himself out of awareness, or he spends his time shopping, which is the same thing' (Becker, 1973, 284). ... our Emmaus dialogue is more needed now than ever and offers hope that another way ahead might be found for the human family in which death is no longer denied, suppressed or trivialized. Such a path must go via the house at Emmaus where two despairing people looked into the face of the risen Jesus and bore testimony to the fact that they had been witnesses of the death of death.– pgs. 72-73


"'Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?' The reference to 'burning hearts' forms a contrast with their unknown companion's rebuke that they had been 'slow of heart' to believe the revelation granted to Israel's prophets. In other words, during the journey to Emmaus an unseen, inward transformation was already under way, triggered by a fresh understanding of the meaning of those Scriptures with which the disciples were so familiar. To use the language of the Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann, prophetic texts that had 'lingered' across the centuries, revered, lovingly preserved and constantly read, had suddenly exploded into life. The exposition of these texts by Jesus revealed a depth of meaning and a startling contemporary relevance that his followers had never previously dreamt of. ... Are we here brought face to face with the crisis of modern Christianity, especially in its Protestant form, in that preaching and teaching has become so predictable and boring that the last thing expected by those who continue to subject themselves to it is that their hearts might be warmed! Nearly fifty years ago, one of the great preachers of the twentieth century observed that most Protestant sermons involved 'the mere grinding out of a routine vocabulary  God, grace, sin, justification  which produces a kind of Christian gobbledegook that never gets under anybody's skin and at most elicits the reaction: 'Well, that's the way the minister has to speak, but what's it to me?' (Thielicke, 1965, 2-3). However, perhaps the modern Emmaus road, the place where death appears to reign unchallenged and life is reduced to creating strategies designed to avoid confronting reality, is precisely the context within which ancient texts and seemingly redundant narratives are likely to explode into life. ... it will demand the hard work and utter dedication of a new generation of prophetic teachers gifted with what Brueggemann calls 'a capacity for imagination and intuition, coupled with courage' and a determination to demonstrate how these ancient texts may be 'concretely relocated and specifically readdressed as illuminating and revelatory in contemporary contexts' (Brueggemann, 2000, 18). pgs. 74-76  

Chapter Four | Epiphany!: Dispatches from the Emmaus Road

Name: Edith Black

Biographical information: A brilliant American academic with a great gift for languages, Edith Black was a recognized expert in cuneiform studies at University College at Berkeley, California. In the 1960s she became involved in radical politics but eventually suffered a breakdown that led to a deep personal crisis. The text below is taken from an article with the title 'A rediscovery of the Christian Faith', and describes a pilgrimage that has all the hallmarks of the 'Emmaus walk' that we have discussed in this book.


"When I was at Union Theological Seminary I encountered God in the liberation movements of which I was a participant – in the civil rights, anti-war and student movements and in woman's liberation. The God of the biblical faith was for me the one who heard the cries of the oppressed and delivered them. I saw the dialectic of judgment and grace being worked out in the midst of social upheaval. I steeped myself in the prophets and developed, by exhaustive reading of Marxist theory, a sharply analytical, prophetic critique of American capitalism. But for me in those exciting, march-filled days God was always out there, fighting an oppressor who was out there, an oppressor in the evil structure of society, the principalities and powers. I had little understanding of the oppressor inside the deepest part of each of us.
My deep involvement in the movement enriched me tremendously and in no way do I look back on it with regret. But like so many other dedicated radicals, I quickly burned out ... I initially dropped out because my health broke down, but it wasn't this that kept me out, for had I known a loving, empathetic response to being sick on the part of my movement friends I would have regained strength to come back fighting. But that is exactly what I did not experience. I was sick and few visited me, hardly anyone from my family, my academic and movement friends ... If it wasn't for the love of my husband who stood by me and provided for me, a husband who learned how to love growing up in a missionary family, I think I would have gone stark raving mad. ... 
It was in my darkest hour, in the moment of deepest despair, that faith began to well up in me life a bubbling spring. In the midst of my greatest awareness of the tragedy of the human condition, the inevitability of human sin, I began, miraculously, to hope ...  I realized now that I had laid expectations on others that only a transcendent God could fulfill. I saw clearly for the first time that the gospel message is the final solution to the human dilemma, the only real answer to the agonizing question: why is truth so often on the scaffold and wrong so often on the throne? In Christ I saw embodied the suffering love which does not succeed on worldly terms (cross) but is nonetheless victorious (resurrection), the paradox which is beyond all human understanding.
What I experienced in the 'hour I first believed' can only be described as 'amazing grace', as a mighty onrush of love, as God's unconditional acceptance ...  Coming to know Christ can be likened to culture shock when the old ego-props are knocked down and the rug literally pulled out from under one's feet. A maturing relationship with God involves the pain of continual self-confrontation as well as the joy of self-fulfillment, a continual dying and rising again, a continual rebirth, the dialectic of judgement and grace. For the first time in my life I have begun to have the strength to face myself as I am, without excuse but equally important, without guilt. I know that I am sinful but I could not bear this knowledge if I did not also know that I am accepted.
One of the weaknesses of Marxist thinking is that love is not central to it. I have always treasured Che Guevara's words: 'At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that a true revolutionary must be guided by great feelings of love'. But why is it that he almost had to apologize? 'He who does not know love does not know God, for God is love.' That sums it all up for me. Loving care for each other, real sensitivity to each other's needs is the mark of true Christians, not right doctrines, right ritual etc., etc.
 I know now that struggle to humanize the world, the revolution, is a continual process without final resolution until that day when God acts decisively to pull it all together. But as a Christian I can participate in that struggle without succumbing either to despair or to a false optimism ... I know that I will always be one of Jesus' zealot disciples, with the disciples' question at the ascension forever on my lips: 'Now Lord will you finally deliver power to the people?' I will always walk the delicate tightrope between an idolatrous tendency to absolutize revolution and a pietistic copout. But it is on that kind of razor's edge that a Christian must always stand, living in the tension of being 'in the world but not of it'. (Black, 1973, 18-20). pgs. 78-80

Chapter Five | Return to the City

" ... it is precisely when the dreams we have trusted are exposed as fantasies that are powerless to deliver what was promised, or worse still, turn into living nightmares, it is then that the search for deeper foundations for life may begin in earnest."  pg. 82  

"We recall again Goricheva's searching comments concerning television evangelists who are 'boring, bad actors' and her conclusion that we have no right to speak of God unless every word is 'a sacrifice – filled to the brim with authenticity'. I suggest then that, although Christians confess that Christ is risen from the dead (and this confession is fundamentally important to the survival of the faith), they too need a fresh epiphany, a renewed sense of the presence of the One so confessed, and a transforming vision able to renew hope, reinvigorate faith, and prepare them for what is likely to be God's surprising ... future in the twenty-first century. pgs. 82-83


"With the epiphany over, the two companions rise from the supper table, put on their coats and go out into the darkness of the night: 'They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem.' Despite the fact that the food on the table had been blessed by Jesus, it looks as though they leave supper uneaten, or perhaps take what they can from the table to sustain them on the journey. Epiphanies have a tendency to stimulate abnormal behaviour. What makes the action of these two people astonishing is that it runs flatly counter to the reasoning they had employed when trying to persuade the stranger to remain with them overnight. Then they had pointed out the dangers of travelling on the road when the day was 'almost over' and, it will be remembered, had urged this as a reason why he should accept their hospitality. Now such reasoning does not appear to enter their heads. The decision to go out into the night, when twilight has given way to complete darkness and the hazards on the road are massively increased, seems to have involved the minimum of discussion. It was an instinctive reaction to an experience that has utterly transformed their world and it leads them to disregard the dangers that had previously loomed so large. We should be warned: when religion ceases to be merely conventional and, resulting from life-transforming encounters that break apart people's existing view of reality, is infused with a passionate sense of missionary responsibility, it produces forms of behaviour that are bound to appear irrational and reckless to normal, well-adjusted people. Those who have 'seen the Lord' come to view themselves and the surrounding world in a completely new light: 
  • Values that previously seemed of paramount importance become relative, replaced by a fresh order of priorities derived from allegiance to a new Lord and Master.
  • Fears that paralysed action and set limits to the way in which a 'reasonable' life might be lived are relegated to become necessary risks in the pursuit of life-goals that far transcend the aim of merely surviving.
  • Perceptions of what constitutes 'sanity' are radically revised: the socially constructed consensus that the 'good life' can be described in purely material and economic categories is seen to be a dangerous falsehood and the unchallengeable axioms of a culture build on such assumptions come to be viewed as ideological justifications for multiple forms of hideous idolatry.
... All of this, I suggest, is to be seen in the extraordinary actions of the Emmaus two as they begin their 'crazy' walk through the darkness of an eastern night. Not only are the real, physical dangers on the road ignored, but little prior planning is in evidence in relation to the challenge of gaining access to the city of Jerusalem in the dead of night. Remember that not many hours before this, these people had retreated from the city, slipping through gates where, one assumes, there was every possibility that they might have been apprehended as people posing a grave threat to national security. Now those gates will be locked and barred and anyone approaching in the darkness would be easily spotted and automatically come under suspicion. While we must be careful not to read too much into this narrative, the point to make here is simply this: from the perspective of normal politics and power the actions of these people are absurd and pathetic. However, things are not always what they seem to be. What if these 'religious crazies' are in fact people who have 'come to their senses'? What if these marginal characters are actually people in possession of a form of knowledge that is literally world-shaking? ... the journey to Emmaus involved a retreat from the city. The urban centre, the place of terrible violence, where the claims of the Messiah have been categorically rejected, is abandoned, left behind. At the same time, the walk to Emmaus is a journey to the suburbs, to relative peace and tranquility, where life moves at a different pace. As we noted earlier, for the despairing disciples this was a necessary retreat; these were people in urgent need of healing and recovery. However, once that healing has taken place (and taken place far more quickly than was anticipated) the disciples resolve to retrace their steps and re-enter the city. The experience they have known and the revolutionary knowledge they now possess cannot be confined within the suburbs but must be announced within the metropolitan centre. pg. 85-90

"... when the epiphany comes, when vision and hope are restored and the imagination is purged of false images and renewed in line with God's priorities for the redemption of his whole creation, then it must become impossible to remain in the 'suburbs', sealed off from the realities of a wider world. Christians who have really 'seen the Lord' must retrace their steps, repent of their comfortable isolation, and build bridges which make possible a two-way traffic between the privileged and the oppressed. ... Hispanic theologian and historian Justo Gonzalez ... points out, when John of Patmos experienced his epiphany while incarcerated in a Roman penal colony, he caught sight of another city, a new Jerusalem, beside which Rome paled into insignficance. This coming city is a place where tears and death are eliminated, where the gates never close, and peoples of every race and tribe are welcomed. Such a vision presents a radical critique of Rome, and of every city built on greed and violence, where the public image of success and well-being involves a massive cover-up that conceals from view inconvenient facts about the underside of urban life. But if this vision challenged Rome then, it also challenges complacent, suburban churches now: 'Just as John's vision was a challenge to Rome's vision, so it is also a challenge to our cities, cities of alabaster buildings gleaming over the homeless huddled under bridges, cities where death walks the streets at night, where children live in fear and the most common visions are the hallucinations of addicts and alcoholics. Furthermore, if John's vision is true, and a great city of love and peace is the proper image for describing God's future with humankind, what does that say about those of us who have decided that the only way to enjoy life in peace is to abandon the city to its own misery, to create our own suburban sectarian little 'new Jerusalems' where we can live in peace while our cities burn?' (Gonzalez, 1999, 107) The biblical narrative that has formed the text around which this book is structured leaves us with no alternative but to conclude either that suburban Christians who 'see the Lord' will be compelled to follow the Emmaus two back to the city to share their vision in the metropolitan centre, or that those same Christians, remaining in comfortable isolation and wilful ignorance of wider urban realities, cannot have seen the Lord."  pgs. 92-93

"After the event that we know as Pentecost, the disciples continued meeting every day in the temple courts ... This community drew the admiration of fellow Jews who recognized in the Jesus movement a social model that recalled the ethical demands made upon Israel by her great prophets. The disciples presented, and they intended to present, a new social model for Israel. If the nation, drawn by their example of love and sacrificial care for each other, would turn to Jesus as Messiah, then it would become what it was always intended to be: a light to all the peoples of the earth. When that day came, the flow of Gentile proselytes would, as the prophets had predicted, become an unstoppable flood. ... this should not have been so surprising because there were precedents within Israel's history, crucial turning points at which God broke through existing concepts and traditions in ways that were completely surprising and astonishing. Thus, at one such major point of transition, a prophet is heard warning the people of Israel: 'Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past', because the 'new thing' God was to bring about would break through the bounds of all previous notions of himself and his ways of working in the world (Isaiah 43:18-19). So now, the disciples only gradually, and with considerable difficulty, come to appreciate the extent of the newness that God's future will involve, a future that will astonish and alarm the guardians of existing traditions."  pgs. 94-95

"Justo Gonzalez suggests that when John of Patmos is told that he must 'prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages and kings' (Revelation 10:11), a task which the author of the book indicates involved much 'bitterness', he was, in fact, being asked to challenge the ethnocentric nature of existing churches with the vision of the international, multicultural community that God intended to call into existence in the crucified and risen Christ. 'The vision which John the Jew has is of a Gentile church, a church where the Gentiles, the nations, ta ethne, the goyim, will come and take their place right next to the tribes of Israel, and all together will claim the ancient promise made to the people of Israel, that they would be a kingdom of priests. That is a vision sweet as honey, for it shows the fullness of the mercy of God; but it is also a vision bitter to the stomach, because it shows that no people, no tribe, no language, no nation, can claim a place of particular honor in that fullness. And it is bittersweet because it involves radical change in the very congregations where John has served and which he loves.' (Gonzalez, 1999, 92)"  pg. 96

Epilogue

"One Sunday morning in a summer season in 1950s Paris, a visiting preacher from the United States concluded morning worship at the American Church in Quai d'Orsay ... as the members of the congregation emerged in the porch (after the service), one man of striking appearance approached the minister with outstretched hand and said warmly: 'Monsieur, Reverend, thank you, thank you for the service.' When the minister enquired as to the stranger's name, he received an unanticipated reply: 'I am Albert Camus. ... For the past Sundays, I came to hear Marcel Dupre play, but today I came to hear you. Would you have lunch with me tomorrow?' From this initial contact between the American Protestant minister, Howard Mumma, and the great French writer, Albert Camus, there developed a close friendship and a deep and fascinating dialogue ... The two men did meet for lunch the next day and Camus came straight to the point ... 'I am searching for something I do not have, something I'm not sure I can even define.' Thus began a remarkable friendship that extended over a number of years and resulted in conversations marked by great honesty, openness and passion. Mumma found himself drawn into a wider circle of French intellectuals, including Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, where passionate discussions took place concerning the meaning of human existence. In a manner he could never have anticipated, the Christian minister became a dialogue partner to leading French humanists in a way that beautifully fulfilled one of Camus' own most moving requests: 'Don't walk in front of me, I may not follow; don't walk behind me, I may not lead; walk beside me, and just be my friend.' ... At one point Camus told his American friend: 'To lose one's life is a very little thing. But to lose the meaning of life, to see our reasoning disappear, is unbearable.' Mumma responded by suggesting that there were narratives within the Bible that related closely to Camus' anguished questions, and the conversational Bible studies which the two men shared together appeared to provide the writer with a renewed sense of hope. Indeed, Mumma reports that Camus astonished him with a request for Christian baptism with the words: 'I want this. This is what I want to commit my life to.' ... What might be the significance of this remarkable story in the context of our discussion of the walk to Emmaus ... 


  • Howard Mumma was willing to befriend the French philosopher, to simply listen to him and respect his deep and profound questions.
  • It illustrates the grace of God at work within the world, creating the spiritual hunger and 'longing' that we have earlier noticed Kierkegaard describing.
  • When these times come, they will surprise us with the discovery of just how limited has been our awareness of the extent of Christ's grace at work in the world.
  • How might we reimagine and reshape the Christian community so that it ceases to be an obstacle to those who seek for truth? What kind of Church might be able to nurture discipleship within its bounds, while remaining open and welcoming to the evidence of epiphanies within other communities where people who had lost hope and cried to heaven for help have found an unknown Stranger draw near and set their hearts ablaze?"  pgs. 100-103


Emmaus City Church Sully Notes Special Moving Towards Emmaus 2 of 2 Worcester MA Soma Acts 29 Christian Reformed Church Network of Missional Communities
Kitchen Maid with the Supper at Emmaus by Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez (1618)

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