Resurrection and the City

by Brian Walsh

(We’ve sat in Easter Saturday for three weeks now. Not a bad thing to do considering how quickly we want to get past the horror of Good Friday. Maybe it is time for us to now proclaim the resurrection. Because without the resurrection, there is no remixing of the empire. This is my Wine Before Breakfast meditation on the Road to Emmaus story in Luke 24.13-35)

It wasn’t surprising that they had decided to leave the city.
Jerusalem had again failed to live up to its name.

Bloodshed, not peace, had been raining in this city for years,
and the last couple of days had been just more of the same.

Another round of arrests,
more beatings and corrupt trials,
another group of crucifixions,
more violence in the police state,
yet another repression of anything that could be a threat to the city
and its religious, political and economic elite.

This city that had held their hopes and dreams,
this city that had been the bearer of the promises,
this city where they had hoped to see the redemption of Israel,
this city where they had longed to see streets for dwelling,
justice in the gates,
jubilee in the land,
the protection of orphans, widows and strangers,
refuge for the vulnerable;
this city that they had hoped would be the capitol for the Kingdom of God,
… this city had failed them again.

So they made their way out of the city in order to go to a village.
Any hope for urban renewal had been dashed.

They left the city because the one in whom they had put their hope,
the one who had come into this city with such fanfare just a week earlier,
the one who had proclaimed a vision that resonated so deeply with the promises,
the one who had said that Jubilee was at hand,
the one who had come to clean house
and to establish nothing less than the Kingdom of God …
that one, had been left hanging on a cross on Friday.

And now the women were telling stories of a missing body.

No wonder they left town.
There was nothing to keep them there.
It was all too much.
Disappointment, shattered dreams, and now the indignity of a stolen body.
Time to get the hell out of Jerusalem,
maybe to try to get the hell of Jerusalem out of their systems.

Jerusalem had become Babylon and Babylon it would remain.
It was just another round in the losing fight,
out along the great divide tonight.

They drank their fill and still thirst for more,
asking if there’s no kingdom, what is this hunger for?

They had lifted up their prayers against the odds
and  now fear that the silence is the voice of God.

But it was into that silence that the voice spoke.

“What are you talking about?”

They stopped dead in their tracks.
The question itself had dumbfounded them,
froze them to the spot on the road where it was asked.

“What are we talking about?
Are you the only stranger around Jerusalem who hasn’t heard the news?”

“What news?” the stranger asked.

“The news of Jesus of Nazareth,
the news of this prophet of mighty power and liberating teachings,
the news of how the chief priests handed him over to the Romans
– to the Romans! –
and they crucified him.
And we had hoped that he would be the one to redeem Israel,
we had hoped that the promises would have come to pass,
we had hoped that Jerusalem would be restored.
And to make it worse, the body is now gone.”

“You really don’t get it do you?” the stranger replied.
“You don’t understand that it was necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory.”
Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets he interpreted to them the things about himself in the scriptures.

Beginning with Moses and the prophets he interpreted to them the things about himself in the scriptures.

That would have been the Bible study of all Bible studies.

Their hopes have been demolished because the story
has not turned out the way that they thought it would.

So he retells the story to help them to see
that this is exactly where this story had been going for a very, very long time.

It was necessary that this story would go to a cross,
it was necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things,
because this is what this story has always been about.

From the very beginning when God made covenant with a violent partner,
this was going to be a story of suffering – divine suffering.

By entering into covenant,
God made the choice to suffer because of the violence of humanity,
indeed, to suffer from the very violence that has been at the foundation
of human city-building.

By entering into covenant,
God made the choice to suffer with his people
when they were subjected to the violence the city-building projects
of Egypt, Assyria, Babylon and even Israel’s own kings.

By entering into covenant,
God made the choice to suffer for his people
as a servant who defeats the violence of evil by bearing it,
allowing the fury and violence of the city to expend itself on his very body.

The dream for the city might be one of shalom,
but the reality continues to be one of violence.
And what the cross tells us is that the evil of violence
cannot be defeated on its own terms.

The city of God will not be achieved
through a battle of strength against strength,
enmity against enmity,
power against power.
Any city erected on such strength, enmity and power
will just repeat the sad story of Jerusalem/Babylon all over again.

No, the New Jerusalem,
that better city that we seek,
that city of refuge,
that city of safety and hospitality,
that city of justice and restoration,
that restored city of shalom,
that city where God will dwell,
is a city built on the foundations of suffering love,
or it is not built at all.

Something like this, I think, is the story
that Jesus told those disciples on the road to Emmaus.
It is this story that makes sense out of the devastating events of the last couple of days.
It is this story that makes sense out of a Messiah hanging on a cross.

But it is not what opened the eyes of these two dejected and disappointed disciples.

The retelling of the story was essential,
because only in hearing the story anew as a story of suffering,
could the story be opened up again and hope could be reborn.

But it took more than a story,
it took more than a good sermon,
to open their eyes to the reality of resurrection in their very midst.

For that, they needed to break bread with Jesus.

The city that we long for is not a city of mere words.
The city that we long for is rooted in a story,
but that story must be enacted if it is to be true.

And so Jesus took bread, blessed it and broke it, and gave it to them.
Then, and only then, were their eyes opened.
And that is all that was needed.
A resurrection appearance in which there is a telling of the story
and the breaking of bread.
Word and sacrament.
That’s all that was needed.

So Jesus slips away.

And recognizing that it was Jesus who had been with them,
confessing that their hearts had been burning when he
retold the story to them on the road,
these two dejected, defeated and disappointed disciples,
take to the road again …
back to the city.

Back to the city of death with news of life,
back to the city of disappointment with hope,
back to the city of bloodshed with news of shalom,
back to the city of crucifixion with the reality of resurrection.

My beloved sisters and brothers,
every week we have gathered in this chapel
to tell this story and to break the bread.
Every week we have gathered around the word,
and often enough, our hearts have burned inside us.
Every week we have enacted this story with bread and wine,
and often enough we have recognized the risen one in this sacrament.

We have spent a year together reflecting deeply on a biblical understanding of the city,
a biblical urban imagination,
a vision for an urban ministry that encompasses us all.

This is our story, this is our song.

And because of Easter,
because the stone was rolled away,
because the tomb was empty,
because evil had done its worse but could not hold Jesus down,
because of the resurrection,
the risen one is in our midst,
hope has broken through despair,
life has conquered death,
and the New Jerusalem, that restored and renewed city of shalom,
is a sure hope, and a present reality.

Welcome home. Welcome to the City of God.

Alleluia! Christ is risen.

Practice resurrection.

Brian Walsh
Brian is an activist theologian, a retired CRC campus minister, the founder of the Wine Before Breakfast community, and farms with Sylvia Keesmaat at Russet House Farm.He engages issues of theology and culture, and has written a couple of books you might want to check out. His most recent offering is cowritten with Sylvia Keesmaat and entitled Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire, Demanding Justice.

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