Change Silence

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. . . . As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
Luke 24:13-20, 28-35

In Luke’s story of the two disciples’ post-resurrection encounter with Jesus while traveling on the road to Emmaus, the events of the crucifixion are recalled by the travelers for the unknown stranger—a stranger who turns out to be the risen Christ. We may make an interesting observation from reading this story. In the story, the “Christ-stranger” is not known through his mere presence nor do the disciples come to some greater knowledge or insight because of the events they recall. Rather, the stranger becomes the recognized Christ when his words are paired with his actions. This word-in-action makes God known. The Greek word in the text translated as the English phrase “made known” is a form of gnosis, meaning “knowing” or “knowledge”. (We regularly use this word as the base for terms like “diagnosis” or “agnostic.”)

This story and the knowing it produces is, in many ways, a summation of the gospel. First, the gospel is not principally about what we know or can learn. Second, the gospel is not merely about God being present. Rather, the gospel is about what God does in the active Word found and experienced as the person Jesus. In this merging of the Word with active presence, God makes God’s very self known.

It is interesting that this notion of God’s self-revelation is articulated in a story that is essentially the first re-presentation or celebration of the Last Supper, because the word chosen by the early church to describe this Last Supper is precisely about disclosing the undisclosed. The early church chose the word mysterion to describe those practices that we ultimately would name as sacraments. Mysterion shares some characteristics with our word “mystery.” Like “mystery,” mysterion assumes that there is something that is not known. However, unlike our word mystery, mysterion includes an active effort on the part of the unknown to make itself known. It seeks to be revealed. It seeks to be intimately, personally known—if not cognitively, then experientially.

For this every reason, the early church resisted efforts by groups to act in secret or claim to possess secret knowledge of the true faith because the faith of the church is not about what is kept concealed. Rather, the very nature of the “good news” is its active revelation. The hidden-ness of God, while vast and ultimately incomprehensible, nevertheless seeks to be known and made known, experienced and related. What seeks to remain concealed is antithetical to the essence of the faith. In addition, what is kept secret, eventually, divides the community between those who “know” and those who do not. And, divisions between people is precisely one of the outcomes the gospel seeks to overturn. This posture by the early church seems less than coincidental given that such divisions and secret knowledge go hand-in-hand. The effort to divide the body is prevalent in all groups, large and small. Yet, as the mysterion of God implies, such division is, ultimately, pernicious.

For similar reasons, the early Methodist movement forbade membership in secret societies for its adherents, fearing that such societies created divisions within the community and operated counter to the efforts of the good news of God’s in-breaking kingdom of inclusivity and self-revelation. This does not mean that everything, at all times, should be disclosed. We are sophisticated enough thinkers to adjudicate what needs keeping private and what demands disclosure.

What I am suggesting is that our “default setting” should be toward disclosure rather than concealment.

Yet, in a world of WikiLeaks, extraordinary rendition, and the Cornel’s secret recipe, we still do not seem to get the balance right. Maybe we are not as sophisticated as we hoped. This week in chapel, we will examine the difference between secrecy and silence, the former about actively hiding and the latter about waiting quietly to be found.

Have a great week.

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