Anne Howard: A Word in Time: Stay with Us


"Stay with us."

Just as they understand, just as they put all the pieces together and make sense out of what has happened, what they are seeing and hearing, he vanishes from their sight.  It's like Magdalene that morning in the garden: she recognizes that the one she sees is not the gardener, but Jesus, and yet she does not get to touch him.

"Stay with us."

Just as they get it, it's gone.

We reach, and it's beyond our grasp. Why can't the good times last? Why did she have to leave? Just when life is sweetest, just when we want to make that moment last, it vanishes before our eyes. Just when feel our hearts burn like those disciples gathered for that meal, just when we get it-it's a line in a hymn, a brush a of a hand, a sunset, a birdsong, a dream--that fleeting and fragmentary glimpse that God is real, everything will be alright, it's all true. And then it's over. The moment passes. We return to the ordinary, no bright lights, no revelation, no angel song. Just the ordinary, with some vague uncertainty, maybe the nagging little questions we keep inside, the way we hold back from the wholehearted faith we imagine belongs to someone else, or  perhaps we claim the outspoken doubt of Thomas: did it really happen, Easter? Show me.

Even this week's story about the road to Emmaus: is it just the work of the early church, seeking to justify itself after the humiliation of the crucifixion?

Sometimes I think we figure that doubt is a modern invention, something that happened as we became "enlightened"with the insight of modern science and post-modern revisioning. But I believe our ancestors in the church told this story from their own place of doubt. They had seen the crucifixion. They felt the death of their hope for a deliverer from foreign occupation and persecution. And they didn't know what to make of resurrection. So they told this story, this remarkable story of the journey to Emmaus.

They told this to get it all down in one place, in just a few short sentences: Who he was, this Jesus, what he said and did, what happened to him, what happened to them. What intrigues me about this story is not that they told it-after all, this story contained their very reason for being, the very reason for the new church's being. They were recording the elements of faith-word, sacrament, bread, wine, all the ingredients of church are in this story. As John Dominic Crossan wrote: "They tried to express what they meant by telling...the metaphoric condensation of the first years of Christian thought and practice into one parabolic afternoon. Emmaus never happened. Emmaus always happens." No, it's not that they told it, it's how. It's the way they tell this that makes it far more than a rational bit of church doctrine.

Look who's in the story. The Emmaus story is not about Jesus appearing to Peter or another of the 11, or to Magdalene, or to Paul or anyone else of historical merit. This story is about somebody named Cleopas, somebody we haven't heard of elsewhere in scripture and don't hear of again--Cleopas and an unnamed companion (unnamed people in scripture are often women). Two insignificant people walking down the road, away from Jerusalem, getting out of town.  They were leaving the scene of high drama, headed for an obscure village long since vanished from any map. Emmaus could be anywhere.

And these two are sad, deep in grief, so absorbed in what has happened to them that they cannot imagine that this stranger doesn't know about the events of the past few days. Their world has collapsed; hasn't everybody's? They are lost in their own little world, and they do not recognize the stranger who falls into step beside them.

They tell the stranger their story, and then they hear him tell it back to them, this time in and through the familiar cadences of their scriptures. "...was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer...beginning with Moses and all the prophets..." And they begin to hear something in their own scriptures.

It is not clear what they hear, but it is clear what they do. They offer hospitality. "Stay with us" they say. Join us, rest, eat, then journey on your way. Their defeat and discouragement are put aside for the moment at least, and they offer a meal and a place to stay. Even in their state of despair, their confusion, they offer hospitality.

And then, in the bread blessed and broken, they know. And they are changed. Out of their grief and their confusion, they have new purpose, new mission, new possibility. And they take off down the road to Jerusalem, to tell their remarkable story again and again and again.

 And with each telling of this lovely story, the early church would have everything needed to celebrate eucharist.  They would take and bless and break the bread together, pass it round the room, around the tent, around the campfire, and remember again that they were followers of Jesus.

And when they did that, perhaps they would remember that to be followers of Jesus meant they could not get him to "stay with us," but rather to follow him out to the road. Maybe they told this story and remembered that in the midst of their despair and confusion, in their mourning for the secure and sublime, in their tiring and sometimes tedious walk down their daily road, they could turn to the stranger, say "stay with us".  They could offer something of themselves, and be astonished again at the presence of the Holy. And the words "stay with us" would become not words of pleading for the old, but an invitation to share the best of themselves, an invitation to share the best of what they knew about God. And that sense of vitality, that liveliness expressed in the Emmaus story, would bubble up again. They might feel their hearts burn within. And that would be enough to send them out to the road again, ready to meet the next stranger, ready to offer what was needed and to share what they had. And each time they did it, they could see the ordinary infused with the holy, they could see every gesture of hospitality as an expression of the sacred. Each time they did it they met Jesus again. Each time they did it the Emmaus story was true again.

 It's a story, the Emmaus story, that sums up for us the reality that we won't meet Jesus, we won't touch God, when we muster up belief enough, ore settle on a right doctrine, when we've read the right book or signed up for the right workshop. We will meet God when we hear those words "stay with us".

So, as we walk our road, we might practice saying "stay with us."  At first, we might say it with Magdalene's longing to hold on, with Thomas' desire for the scars of proof, with our own longing to make it all concrete and sure. And then we might say it with a bit of hope, that we have something to share, or maybe that stranger coming our way has something to share. "Stay with us." It's an invitation to belonging, a recognition of communion.

And when we say it to the stranger, it might echo deep down inside us, and we might be surprised at who gets fed. 

Echoes from the Edge

Season of Listening

By Emily Scott, Beatitudes Fellow - April 29th, 2014

Beatitudes Fellow Emily Scott once again leads her congregation, St. Lydia's Table, in a "Season of Listening."

She shares about the project: 

Last Spring, St. Lydia's embarked on a Season of Listening that was focused on one-on-ones, and that helped us learn to reach out to our neighbors. This Spring, we are listening again, this time focusing on the neighborhood around our new storefront. In addition to listening to our neighbors, we will hear what census data, demographics, and the news have to say about the area.

We will use three methods to canvas the neighborhood: one group will be knocking on doors of residences and businesses; another will be gathering input at listening stations; the third will be a noticing team, walking around the neighborhood, noticing the neighborhood layout, care of public space, and where resources are distributed. Finally, we will gather again to reflect on what we've heard. What we expect to emerge is a deeper understanding of where our community and neighborhood resources lie, and where the greatest needs might be. 

To learn more about the Season of Listening at St. Lydia's, visit At Table.  

Emily M D Scott is the founding Pastor of St. Lydia's, a Dinner Church in Brooklyn. 

Finally, the Poet

The House of Belonging

By David Whyte - April 29th, 2014

I awoke

this morning

in the gold light

turning this way

and that

thinking for

a moment

it was one


like any other.


the veil had gone

from my

darkened heart


I thought

it must have been the quiet


that filled my room,

it must have been

the first

easy rhythm

with which I breathed

myself to sleep,

it must have been

the prayer I said

speaking to the otherness

of the night.


I thought

this is the good day

you could

meet your love,

this is the black day

someone close

to you could die.

This is the day

you realize

how easily the thread

is broken

between this world

and the next

and I found myself

sitting up

in the quiet pathway

of light,

the tawny

close grained cedar

burning round

me like fire

and all the angels of this housely

heaven ascending

through the first

roof of light

the sun has made.

This is the bright home

in which I live,

this is where

I ask 

my friends

to come,

this is where I want

to love all the things

it has taken me so long

to learn to love.

This is the temple

of my adult aloneness

and I belong

to that aloneness

as I belong to my life.

There is no house

like the house of belonging.

From the Beatitudes Society blog.