Some years ago there was a craze for war games, when grown men stalked around the woods with paint guns. As far as I know, the craze may still be alive, you perhaps know better than I. If you have never taken part in such games, I am sure you know the routine — pellets of paint are shot from guns powered by compressed air. If someone gets you with a paint blob, then you are out. It is a more sophisticated form of the game of tag that children play at school.
A friend of mine, who has two growing sons, joined in and bought one of these guns with the idea that he and the boys could go and play soldiers without being shot dead. However, after a month or two, the novelty wore off and the gun lay unused in cupboard. Then one day one of his sons came across the gun whilst looking for something else and crept up upon his father and fired it …but without the paint. He stood only about a foot behind him.
- Now these guns go off with a very loud bang and hiss as they let out a jet of compressed air.
The boy’s father (another Roger) had been standing on a chair in the family room of his house having just replaced a light bulb, he was unaware of what was to befall him. One minute he is screwing in a light bulb and the next thing he remembers is lying on the floor — but he could not piece together what had happened.
When you get a severe shock, your mind cannot make sense of the events. I have never been in a major car accident … I do recall a minor one, but I do not remember the impact. I remember before and after, but not the moment of impact or what happened.
We are traumatized by the shock of the event and our minds sometimes will not allow us to see what has actually happened. It is a way of protecting us.
The trauma that surrounded the ending of the earthly life of Jesus, and the news that he was not as dead as they believed he should be, may have had a paralyzing effect upon the minds of his disciples.
That is how I believe it was for them, because, if we don’t possess a framework for understanding what is happening to us, then we can’t truly grasp what is going on. We may even wonder if we are dreaming it. Afterwards we may even doubt that we were part of the event at all.
I want you, if you will, to think about what the two disciples said to the man they met when they traveled on their way to Emmaus. They said “We had hoped he (Jesus, that is) would have been Israel’s redeemer, but he has been killed which rather proves we were wrong, and now some of the women are saying he is alive and the tomb in which he was buried is empty. What can all this mean?”
Here we are with two millennia of study and thought, debate and meditation to our advantage and we are still surprised by the events that took place in Judah. The gospels suggest that the disciples were a bit lacking in the brain department but we should not think that the followers of Jesus were either slow-witted individuals or that they had all the facts staring them in the face.
Like us they were limited by their own knowledge, and experience, and understanding, but they were not stupid.
Some things they believed, because it was what they had been taught, and at the time seemed plausible and reasonable, and there was no reason to doubt it. One of these was that the Messiah of God could not be killed because God would not allow it.
That is why the two disciples walking to Emmaus declared that they were wrong in thinking that Jesus was Israel’s Redeemer. This he could not be if Jesus had been killed and they were to follow the teaching they had been given from their youth up. Of course, if it could be shown that Jesus was alive, then the whole of the event would be turned on its head.
I am a great advocate of talking through our own personal problems with someone else who is not involved in them. I think this is an important way of constructing a framework in which we can make sense of our lives and what is going on in them.
I therefore promote counseling as a very useful tool in managing the way we live. At its best this is what the confession and prayers are in our liturgy, a means to set our lives within a known frame of moral and spiritual values.
It is not always easy outside worship to get regular opportunities for us to assemble the facts of our lives, and the world in which we live, in order to view our place in them and … if we discover that there are shortcomings in what we do … what we need to do to put our life right.
On the road to Emmaus the two disciples talked through the events of their recent lives with this stranger just as would to a counselor. He helped them create the spiritual framework through which they could understand how God could function in this world.
Suddenly it all began to make sense and finally, at the breaking of the bread, it came together and they saw, perhaps for the first time, what it all meant. They had understood Jesus message about Israel and its suffering and they may well have gone on to know that Jesus was the one to liberate them from that suffering and set them free.
What had fooled them, misled them, set them on a false trail, was the death of this liberator anointed by God. They were so tightly linked to this world that the teaching they had that if God anoints a Messiah, he doesn’t allow that Messiah to be killed … they could not see beyond it and look for the life that must be there.
They were close to the truth, and to understanding, but being close isn’t the same as being there and they needed someone to help them understand.
When they got that help they were set upon a new path that was to change the world.
That same path may be waiting for us to tread it also, but I can assure you that if you want to find it you will.
sermon by The Very Reverend Roger Dawson,
Bishop of St. Mary’s Anglican Catholic Cathedral, Caracas