Unity in diversity

Written by: Rev. Edwin Arrison

Luke 24:13-35 New International Version (NIV)

On the Road to Emmaus
13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles[a] from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.
17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?
They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
19 “What things?” he asked.
“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”
25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.
30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?
33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

Today’s meditation was initially inspired by the rather chilling words of a dominee in Cape Town: he writes:
“ sekere denke en woorde word koeels en bomme”. Certain thoughts and words become bullets and bombs
We have just celebrated Good Friday and Easter and we are now in the 50-day period towards Pentecost. (The word Pentecost simply means “fifty”) We are also two days away from celebrating Freedom Day in south africa.

Some of us who lived through the 1980s have a light burden to share with others, and i think we do not share it enough. We have to give an account of the hope that was within us. I remember my mothers words to me then: she said: this system has been around forever and will be around forever. And my response and the response of many of my peers were: no, this system will and must come to an end….I still believe in those words today. We said this in the midst of death, in the midst of repression, in the midst of bullets and bombs. Where we got the confidence from, heaven only knows. One of the experiences we had then was to lose all fear, even fear of death. Easter was not simply a story or a theory: it was an ever present reality even in the midst of death. That is why some of the deepest understandings of Good Friday is that it is a day of glory where it only seems as if death has the last word but actually love overcomes death.

We did not see ourselves as individuals…. We were united with each other and we promoted the spirit of unity.
Of course some of us saw ourselves as united to God and to the cloud of witnesses who had gone before us and were now cheering us on to cross that final line of freedom. We came to understand and experience God is a God of love and relationship and unity and this God wants to be in relationship and united with us. More than that, we were utterly convinced that we were made in the image of this God. This is our deepest understanding of God and of ourselves.

We understood that God suffers when we suffer and God rejoices when we rejoice. God suffered when people were killed in New Zealand and equally, God suffered when people were killed in Sri Lanka. God suffers today when the deserts and the seas become graveyards.

On the other hand, God smiles and rejoices when former adversaries begin to build authentic relationships. God smiles and rejoices when people truly listen to each other’s story and even make it their own.
Part of our story then was to deliberately build non racial relationships. It was then that I would meet Steve de Gruchy and he would take us to his house in Rondebosch… And where we would be served hot soup in the De Gruchy household.

We live in a world today where many people are not in relationship with each other. Sadly; some are not even united within themselves. Some people talk about each other and listen to stories, usually negative stories, about each other but they seldom talk or listen to each other. They seldom try to understand and enter into the perspective of the other.

There is no or very little deliberate sharing of common space with each other and therefore mistrust between people and groups continue to build up and a world of them and us begin to develop.
Out of this comes prejudices and hatred and lack of community. We are hearing how many people in Europe fear that Europe will become Muslim if refugees are not kept out of Europe. And God forbid that Europe should become too African! Locally, stories about Nigerians or Chinese and others float around and whole groups of people, including their children are demonised in this cycle of non-relationship and non-love.

For those who live these kinds of lives, Unity in diversity is a foreign concept to them or even one that should be opposed at all costs. Some of these people even call themselves religious or Christian or Muslim or Jewish or even Buddhist.

And so in response to the dominees words, we can ask: “Kan sekere woorde liggaam en bloed word?” Can certain words become or lead to community and understanding and trust? The resurrection of Christ is the permanent hope that we possess that continue to energise us towards the beloved community. In order to truly claim and own this, We have to move away from religious and other group certainties and rituals towards vulnerable love.

A Christian congregation like this one that gathers week after week either chooses to become a hub where relationship and community is built or it can become a place where the seed of hatred is planted. There is a Taize chorus that says: Lord Jesus Christ, your light shines upon us. Let not my doubt nor my darkness speak to me. Lord Jesus Christ, your light shines upon us, let my heart always welcome your love…

As the message of bullets and bombs and hatred continue to reverberate throughout Gods world, it becomes ever more urgent to deliberately build community. We must understand that these hateful actions have one purpose: to try and break hope and to break community and trust.

They know nothing about hope and love. They think that hope is optimism and that love is sentimental, here today and gone tomorrow. We have to teach them that no bullet or bomb can dispel the hope of the risen Christ. Death, actions of death and words of death, has no power over us.

How do we therefore speak about hope in the midst of hatred and bombings and bullets? You don’t only speak about it… You act in love and hope.

We therefore cannot leave things to chance. In the same way that actions of hate deliberately break community, we have to deliberately build community.

Why? Because of the image of God our creator within us. This remains fundamental and the gates of hell will not be able to overcome it. So let’s give hell hell by constantly creating the heaven of community, even in embryo. Let the bullets and the bombs not have the final say but let the image of God, the light within us, always welcome Gods love within us…
Written and delivered at Volmoed Chapel by Edwin Arrison, 25 April 2019