Jesus and Social Distancing
JESUS AND SOCIAL DISTANCING Luke 24:13-15
13 That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them.
This business of ‘social distancing’ seems odd and unnatural to us, doesn’t it?
Is ‘social distancing’ inhuman, we wonder? Yes, it is. No handshakes, no hugs,
no kisses, no closeness, no-reaffirming touch on arm or shoulder.
Is it un-Christian? How can it not be when ours is so incarnational a Faith.
The apostle John never got over the stunning reality of it all:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—
God’s Son has embodied himself in our humanity and embedded himself in our destiny. He has ‘skin in the game’ – as the sociologists say. ‘We cannot save what
we cannot touch. It was skin that clothed the eternal nature and made our high command touchable’ (Calvin Miller).
So Jesus ‘drew near’ to the two disconsolate disciples on the Emmaus Road – failing
to observe the two metres rule perhaps!
Ø He walks with them and talks with them and draws out of them their sadness and confusion and faint hopes that things might be otherwise (Luke 24:16-24).
Ø He gently chides them for failing to see how the prophets mapped out a path to glory for the Messiah through suffering. Then, remarkably, he gives them an in-depth Bible Study on the whole saving story told in all the Scriptures that sets their cold hearts on fire again (24:25-27,32; cf. 44-45).
Ø He then accepts an invitation to a late-night supper with them and as he breaks bread their eyes are opened to recognise him (24:30-31).
If only we could freeze the film at this point and step back into it ourselves.
And yet, and yet… the appearances of the risen Jesus are shot through with mystery. When he was physically visible to the two disciples on the road they didn’t recognise him. Later, over supper, when they did recognise him, he immediately vanished
from their sight!
So the next forty days are a tantalising blend of presence and absence, of the seen and the unseen, of appearing and disappearing!
And what those first disciples had to learn, as we do, is that this is how it was meant to be.
In those extraordinary forty days Jesus was doing two things: giving proof of his real resurrection in bodily form, and, at the same time, preparing them for his return to the Father and the coming of the Spirit (see Acts 1:1-5)!
As he had told them earlier, it was ‘better’ this way, ‘better’ that he left them so that the Holy Spirit might come (John 16:17).
This is how it is to be post-Easter, Ascension and Pentecost. He leaves so that he is no longer confined to one location and one time. Physically absent, he will become truly present by the power of the Holy Spirit to every believer in every age and situation including ours!
As James Loder puts it in reflecting on the Emmaus Road story, ‘I am making
the assumption that what the Risen Christ does in the narrative articulates what
the Holy Spirit does in the contemporary transformation of human beings.”
Dare we believe this, especially in these days of ‘social distancing’? Yes, we may.
Ø We too may look for Jesus to fall in with us on our journey. He walks with us and talks with us. He entices us to open our hearts to him. We find ourselves telling him how sad or fearful we are feeling, how puzzled we are and whether any good can come out of the difficult days we are living through.
Jesus is a wonderful conversation partner. He intrudes on our endless self-isolating discussion about what is going in. He interrupts the ceaseless bad news on the media, and draws us back to what God has been doing to us - and in our world. By the Spirit, we embrace the real presence of Jesus. We can talk with him and listen to him. The Spirit will bring to our minds what Jesus has said and promised.
And we may be ‘surprised by joy’.
Ø We may well re-discover that true solace comes not from therapy but from biblical theology. Jesus wants to take us through the big story of salvation told in the Scriptures. We take heart that Jesus is the centre-point of it all – and especially that the ‘black hole’ of the cross is in fact the key to the unfolding saving purposes of God.
His rising has vindicated him in every way and made our salvation sure. Death no longer has dominion over him nor over us who trust in him. And we feel on fire as by the Holy Spirit he expounds the Scriptures to us. Blessed thoughts deepen into lasting convictions.
Ø We may even dare to take the bread and break it, and pour and drink the wine in his presence and in his honour. Mary and I have been doing this at home each Sunday. By the miracle of the Holy Spirit we, too, may recognise the real presence of Jesus in these material things and physical actions.
We may celebrate communion with Horatius Bonar and say
“Here, O my Lord, I see thee face to face; here would I touch and handle things unseen, Here grasp with firmer hand the eternal grace, and all my helplessness upon thee lean.”
Dare to believe, as you do this, that you are feeding on the Bread of Life, and imbibing the royal wine of heaven! Let your eyes be opened to recognise Him again as your Lord and Master, Saviour and God.
Remarkably, the fact that Jesus vanished from their sight did not plunge the Emmaus Two back into sadness. Quite the reverse: it inspired them to overcome their fears, to go out into the dark and threatening night, to retrace their footsteps all the way back to where this same Jesus had recently been rejected!
So, it is to our advantage that he vanished and finally left. He does this so that he can come to us again and again in the person of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit makes the presence of Jesus as real to us as his bodily presence was to them. So we may resume our journey and face the darkness with fresh courage and hope.
We cannot know him in the localised bodily form his first followers did; and we are not meant to: it is better this way. They are his appointed witnesses (Luke 24:48). Their witness is credible, and authenticated. This truth is for ever established. And it is brought home to our hearts by the Holy Spirit through the apostolic preaching of the gospel. As the apostle John later affirmed:
— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. (1 John 1:1-4)
Remember: What the Risen Jesus did for the two on the Emmaus Road, he will, by the Holy Spirit, do for you right where you are today.
With the confidence of the apostle James, therefore, let me encourage you to ‘draw near to God and he will draw near to you’.
Once more with Christian love and prayers,