A Selfie Wont Quite Do It
I guess we have all noted the current craze for selfie pictures. For the serious addict, the must-have accessory is the selfie stick, whereby the aspiring star of every photo can have themselves in every tourist snap. See the photo of Tower Bridge – look there it is as part of the insignificant background, Oh and look, who is that in the foreground? Or see the famous person. There I am right beside him. I’m the one in focus.
Yes I admit I have done it too. A doctored photo of me with the Royal family waving to the crowd from the balcony at Buckingham Palace, and the snap of my wife cuddling up to Hugh Grant (at Madame Tussauds) And no, apart from amusing us, no one mistakes us as genuinely part of the scene.
Selfies are not a new phenomenon. Way back in history some of the less important emperors had their statue placed as part of a collection of statues of famous Gods. Perhaps the most inappropriate statue was that tyrant Theodysius whose main memorable characteristic was forcing people to become Christian or face execution, even executing children who dared to play among the ruins of non Christian statues he had ordered to be destroyed. Theodysius’s selfie was the thirteen apostle statues he commissioned, twelve minor figures of the accepted twelve apostles with the large statue himself. Is it surprising that despite the statues these days nobody accepts Theodosyis as an apostle.
Which brings us to the set of readings laid down for the Sunday’s following Easter. My question to you is, because Jesus was recorded as being in the frame with the disciples…did that automatically make them disciples?
You may have noticed in a recent news item from Australia, that Prince Harry when meeting some of his admirers who wanted to take selfies with him, he declined saying that in his experience selfies are a bad thing. Being in the same room as Jesus doesn’t necessarily mean you will react in the right way, or notice the things you are meant to notice. A bit like going to Church perhaps…
Doubts about the resurrection as literal flesh and blood truth are not new. Mark is supposed to be the gospel for our current lectionary year but Mark couldn’t bring himself to write about Jesus appearing to the disciples so we have to use Luke instead – and in fact the Gospel Mark wrote originally finished with the women fleeing in panic and confusion from the empty tomb. ( In my NRSV version of the Bible it calls this “the shorter ending” ). Yes I know there are some verses at the end of Mark (Ch 16 which are post resurrection but there this was the early Church leaders who solved the problem on Mark’s behalf by adding a few more verses about a clearer form of evidence. That this addition happened sometime in the second century does at least bring Mark somewhat more in line with the other gospels even if it does raise serious questions about the status of apparent eye witness reporting.
We can only speculate why Mark appeared so reluctant to discuss details of what happened after the resurrection. Perhaps he didn’t quite believe the reports he must have heard, because remember by tradition he was writing his gospel in Rome and it is popularly thought with the help of Peter.
So this brings us to Luke and his post resurrection account. While Luke may well have believed what he recorded, he also is at pains to point out the confusion of the disciples. The disciples’ puzzlement is also even of help to remind us that there will always be questions and uncertainties, even for those closest to Jesus.
In an age when our Church services, originally grounded in the gritty realities of the day, have gradually absorbed layer upon layer of religious language and custom, it is good that Luke frequently reminds us that Jesus was discovered in the ordinary activities and day to day encounters with real people doing real things.
Think for example, of how Jesus uses the humble meal as a means of making genuine contact. In Luke 14 7-11 he even suggests that the right attitude to approach a meal is with humility rather than seeking to be honored in the meal. The Last Supper may well be the most famous of the meal encounters but there were also so many others that Jesus was accused of eating with sinners. Remember the tax collector seen up the tree called down to share a meal with Jesus, the meal shared with a prostitute, the feeding of the crowd – and then there were the parables Jesus told like those called to the wedding feast, the prodigal son welcomed home with the feast of the fatted calf, the Good Samaritan who rendered aid…so many meals reported that we cannot say that they were incidental to Jesus message. Food was even seen as part of healing as for example with the 12 year old Jairus who Jesus restores to life, then immediately insists she be given food (Luke 8.55). Indeed the story of the two disciples encountering Jesus on the road to Emmaus goes further and makes it plain that as long as the disciples were simply talking with Jesus they did not really recognise him – but when they invited him to a meal, it was at table they understood they were meeting the Christ.
This particular meeting of the disciples with Jesus in today’s reading has two features which have relevance for us today.
The first is that the joy of meeting Jesus is sometimes discovered in the context of shared food. In a typical Sunday service the formal part of the service can easily take a form which precludes a genuine sharing and meeting with one another. Even the perfunctory hand shake at the door, the passing comments about the weather or even the complaints about the length of the sermon don’t exactly assist mutual communication. It is strange that we come inspired by one whose practical ministry saw the shared meal as central to his means of sharing and accepting with others, yet we see the cup of tea after the service almost as an incidental extra.
The ministry of hospitality has a good fit with our claim that caring about our neighbors is a central part of Christ’s ministry. It is shifting the focus from ourselves to others.
Let me illustrate with the story of a woman whose death was a great sadness for our district. If our minister ever gets to be promoted to be the first Methodist Pope I am going to ask him to consider a local woman for the first Methodist saint. Her name was Kay Wicks and she attended a small Church as a deacon in a small country town called Tuakau. Kay might seem at first sight to be anything but significant. She was not a prominent leader or great speaker. She was not a sophisticated theologian. On the other hand she had a great affection and concern for those who were facing difficulties in life.
She had adopted a Down’s syndrome girl, linked a number of unwed mothers with the Plunket baby care organisation, helped organize Sunday school work and ran a music and dance programme for preschoolers. She was a life-line counsellor and a great organizer of church hospitality. At her funeral (back in 2012) we heard about her hospitality. For example on Christmas day her family including grand children would turn up for the meal – but more than that. There were always some extra chairs at the table in case anyone she met at the Christmas morning Church service didn’t have anywhere to go for lunch – and there would be extra presents under the tree for the visitors. Shortly before she died she was visited at the hospice by a young man who had taken the trouble to come from the other end of the country – and why? – because when he had been a troubled young delinquent she had helped him turn his life around. It would have been no surprise to anyone who knew her that the large hall was absolutely packed for her funeral.
In the same way the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus and today’s story of the disciples about to eat when they were gathered together, unexpectedly encountered Christ at table, I want to suggest that something of Jesus was in those encounters with Kay.
But to return to Luke’s closing story of the encounter of Jesus with his disciples. The disciples found joy in the encounter but in part it was a joy rising from confusion. I can relate to the sort of disciples who, despite having met Jesus, and having lived with him and seen his actions in practice might still be confused about what such encounters might mean. This is of comfort because it means there might still be hope for us if we too find ourselves bewildered by what we encounter.
There is mystery in the story, perhaps even that deeper magic present at the beginning of time, but Luke reports Jesus as being insistent that the encounter with him is more with the ordinary, the flesh and blood, rather than the mystery of the Spirit. For me this is a metaphor to remind us that ultimately Jesus will be encountered at the deepest level not in the high blown mystical encounters even those engineered by the finest of liturgists but in the midst of real life. Because real life is not neatly packaged in convenient sections it is almost expected that the disciples, despite having met Jesus, lived with him and seen his actions in practice might still be left with questions about what such encounters might mean.
With lots of different denominations and views on the scriptures it is unlike we are all going to agree on how much of the resurrection story is literal truth. Where however we might find agreement, is to suggest that a tomb is no place to confine the spirit of Jesus.
There is much of metaphor in the New Testament accounts of resurrection and calls to mission. Yet the metaphor rarely directs us to focus on where custom suggests it should be focussed. Like it or not, Jesus is not recorded as focusing on what we might for want of a better term call Church activity.
We might well get our inspiration for action in the liturgy and sermons of our Church service but to lift Christianity from the banal selfie of turning up just to be in frame ultimately it is in the situations of urgent need we are called to feed the hungry, to bring justice to the persecuted, to show hospitality to the lonely – and in short – to live the gospel we claim we find in the place we call church.
And more than that, we have Jesus example and teaching to remind us that others will encounter him when those who seek to follow his words, minister in practical flesh and blood situations.
So the question for each one of us….. In our encounters, will others experience the warmth and welcome of the Love of God? In our encounters, will others find the same attention to the place of hospitality and acceptance that Jesus demonstrated? In our encounters, will others get that tantalizing and puzzling glimpse of the same Spirit that appeared to be so hard to kill – and yet which always seems a little beyond understanding even by his closest disciples?
Resurrection means life, and remember, the tomb is a most inappropriate place to contain the spirit of life.
Christ is risen
He is risen indeed!