Remembering the story

Frances writes on the Readings for next Sunday :- Human beings are those who tell stories about ourselves and others. In and through this process of continual recalling of ourselves and past events, we find our identities and discover who we are and what we are all about. Jews of course were pre-eminently story tellers, as the five books ascribed to Moses at the start of the Old Testament show so vividly; and we Christians have not simply inherited their pattern, but have taken it on and developed it, to set forth the pattern of our salvation history in Christ.

I suspect that this is partly behind the many and various accounts of encounters between the different disciples and the risen Jesus, which in many ways suggest journeying, something so critical in the Old Testament for the formation of Israel. In our Gospel (Luke 24:13-35) we meet two unnamed disciples on the road to Emmaus who initially fail to recognise the risen Lord. Indeed they have poured out their grief to him on the road, a grief and incomprehension which blocks their recognition of Jesus. So great is their sadness that they do not even listen to him when Jesus reminds them that his passion had been forewarned by the prophetic writers of their past. It appears nothing he can do will lift them up so that they can see his risen, glorified and changed reality. But then Jesus responds to them at the level of their real need, for food. They, following ancient Eastern custom, had pressed their stranger fellow traveller to stay overnight and eat with them. Jesus accepts, but then does not do the ordinary Jewish thing, but subverts it, just as he had at the Passover meal. ‘He took, blessed and broke’ and gave the bread to them. Finally, through what was so deeply ingrained in their very bodies, the need to eat, they could recognise who the stranger was. Now his actions over the bread and wine would finally become part of his and our story, the place where we meet him, the one who offered himself as the perfect and final sacrifice for the sin of the world, and in those signs become a present reality throughout time and for all believers. With their recognition, the bodily Jesus departed, indeed, it was necessary that he did, or else they and we would be eternally stuck in a time warp and we, through Jesus’ gift of himself in his risen body, must continue on our journey to Christ along with every Christian.

What we have to remember is that by the time Luke wrote his Gospel and Acts, the Jewish Revolt was a thing of the past, Jerusalem was no more and Christians had separated, or at very least were becoming increasingly detached, from Judaism. Nevertheless, for him and for us, the story of our origins was and is important; so in the early part of Acts (2:14. 22-33) Luke writes part of his story of the early Church, explaining how he and the rest of the disciples witnessed to the resurrection on the very first Pentecost in 33CE. First of all, he works to bring out the continuity between Judaism and what would ultimately separate and become Christianity. Luke does this by many references to Old Testament prophetic writers and to the psalms. His point is that Christianity has an origin; it did not simply spring into being as did the worship of some of the pagan gods. Moreover, for many hundreds of years previously, Rome had respected Judaism because of its antiquity; and the earliest Christians deliberately hung on to these Jewish links to shield themselves from persecution. Only when separation became inevitable after the Revolt, would they truly part company, but of course retained the Old Testament with its stories of our origins in Judaism. In our Acts passage, we observe precisely the human rootedness of Jesus, born into the Davidic line, emphasising his true humanity, and making clear that he was not like the pagan gods who sometimes took on human form – usually to wreak havoc amidst society. No, our Jesus, it is made very clear, is one of us and one with God, as foretold by Psalm 16: he is God’s holy One and the one who rises from the dead.

By the time of the Petrine Letters, (1Pet 1:17-21) written around the turn of the first century CE, we know from Pliny’s letters to Trajan his Emperor that things were very different. 1 Peter speaks of ‘persecution’ of Christians, and this is graphically rehearsed by the ever diligent Pliny. Yet the writer of 1 Peter still retains throughout those letters that sense of rootedness in a past made eternally present. He does this in our passage by recalling Christian minds to their whole salvation epic, one rooted in Judaism and its Passover lamb, and now wholly surpassed in the sacrifice of Christ. It is only in and with and through Christ that we have a future wholly fixed in Christ, in God ‘Who raised him from the dead and gave him glory for that very reason – so that you would have faith and hope in God’. Everything we do, everything we are is rooted in the story of our redemption in Christ. Truly, we are the people of the story.