Yale Divinity School Commencement Communion Service
May 25, 2009
Kristen Leslie, Associate Professor of Pastoral Care and Counseling
Editor’s note: Written version of comments may vary slightly from actual delivery.
I have a very clear image from graduate school. It’s my first year and I’m sitting at a table in a graduate seminar on Feminist Process Theology. Marjorie Suchocki is lecturing and drawing a very complicated schematic on the black board as she explained Alfred North Whitehead’s understanding of concrescence. As she is describing the complexities of this philosophy I have my forehead on the desk in front of me and I am gently tap-tap-tapping my head on the desk. I’m not sure if my classmates are even aware that I’m doing this. Who knows, they might have been doing it as well. You see, I really wanted to understand Whitehead’s notion of process theology. I wanted to care about this philosophical worldview of God. I had a sense that if I could really grasp this worldview, it could make a difference in how I understood suffering and grace (or in process theology terms, God’s novelty). I was sure that somewhere just outside my reach was a metaphor, a word, an image that would open me up to that AHA moment. That moment when the perfect image would suddenly allow for all the words and the formulas to slip into place and I could finally get Whitehead. The problem was, I Just Couldn’t. I did not understand how all these philosophical nuances came together in such a way as to make any difference. It’s not that I disagreed with Whitehead. I simply could not find a way to get the concepts on the black board and in the readings into my head. I was gently tapping my head on the desk in hopes of finding a way to force the Aha moment. In the middle of the lecture, after trying things that seemed logical, I tried that which was illogical. I tried knocking Whitehead into my head. I tried forcing the Aha moment.
The Aha moment. Its that moment when something you hear, something you read, something you feel, in an instant, gives clarity to the assorted mish-mash of details around you. In the carton, it’s the light bulb over the character’s head. In advertising, it’s the head slap “oh, I could have had a v8.” In music, its (Ta-Da). We like to think of the Aha moment as that moment of sudden, explosive clarity. The puzzle pieces suddenly snap into place and the picture becomes clear.
It is very gratifying, the Aha moment. It can be the thing that motivates us, or re-motivates us to keep going. It can be that which we work toward. In the midst of a dense academic puzzle, an emotionally draining personal encounter, a complex hands-on task Ta-Da’s and Ahas, great and small, can keep us going.
In the Christian church we don’t normally call it the Aha moment. We call it an epiphany. A divinely sent insight that clarifies the events and helps the actors in the story understand the events. In the scriptures the source of these epiphanies, these insights, are understood to be outside the grasp of humans (that is, no amount of tapping one’s head will bring it about). They are messengers and messages understood to be of God. As you might guess, if the message is coming from God, its time to sit up and take notes. This will definitely be on the test.
Rosemary Radford Ruether talks about Redemption as the Aha moment. This redemption, she suggests, comes not as a transforming power alien to our very nature, but as an Aha experience that puts us back in touch with our authentic nature, where we are connected to our relationships of reason and intuition, consciousness and embodiment, with others and the earth. And with God.
In the gospel of Luke, it is this very experience, the Aha moment, that the disciples regularly lack. The disciples just keep missing the Aha moment. Jesus tells parable after parable. The Good Sower, The Good Samaritan; the lamp under the jar; barren fig tree, the mustard seed; the lost sheep; the lost coin; the prodigal and his brother; the widow and the unjust judge. And all those stories of healing…. They just don’t see what Jesus is trying to tell them. From our point of view, Jesus is really lobbing them over the plate. And they just aren’t getting it. You have to wonder if, in their own private moments, the disciples too have their foreheads on their desks, gently tap-tap-tapping. “I know he is telling me this for a reason. I just don’t get it.”
And then comes this Lukan pericope on the road to Emmaus. In Luke it’s an essential element for the disciples comprehension of Jesus’ resurrection and it sets up the next part of the story continued in the book of Acts.
You remember the first part of the story. On the same day that the women at the tomb tried to convince the disciples that Jesus’ body had risen from the dead, on this same day two of the followers of Jesus are walking along this 7-mile stretch of road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. They are reflecting on the tragic and confusing series of events that just took place, culminating in Jesus’ body disappearing from the tomb. They even heard that he might still be alive. Joined by a stranger--who we the readers know to be the risen Christ--these two folks are trying to make sense of the events. They knew this Jesus to be a mighty prophet indeed but they were so sure he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. He did all these things and yet he did not do this. He was gone before this could happen. They walked, and talked, trying to make sense of these details. (Can’t you just hear them tap-tap-tapping, looking for clarity?) And this stranger, starting with Moses, interprets Jesus’ life as fulfillment of the scriptures. There he is once again in his old Lukan role, trying to help his followers fit it together. They still don’t get it.
Here’s where we enter the Emmaus story- the middle part- the Aha moment.
The sunset is approaching and this trio is approaching Emmaus. The stranger-Jesus- continues to go on his way when his two companions invite him to stay with them. They still don’t get how the details fit together, but they can extend hospitality to this stranger. And then we hear the words that are so familiar to us: “he took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them.” And their eyes were opened; they recognized him.
They get it. They know who he is. This is the risen Jesus. No more doubt as to what happened to him. No wonder their hearts were a blaze as he interpreted the scriptures to them on the road. This stranger was the risen Jesus. And then he disappears. No time to linger with him or to ponder what it really means that his body is resurrected. He is gone. He shows up just long enough for them to recognize him as the risen Jesus, long enough to have first hand proof, long enough to understand the stories he is telling them. And, (pause) long enough to know what they have to do next.
And then he was gone.
So, What DO you do after an Aha moment? All of a sudden confusion clears, pieces fall into place, doubts are vanished. Stories from the past gain a new clarity. Ta-da. Well, you do what these two did. You get up immediately and go tell someone. In fact, you tell others who will also understand the importance of the AHA. You don’t sit around on the good news. You definitely don’t just write about it in your journal. You run out to find someone who can be as changed by the information as you have been. You look to share the Aha moment.
So that very same hour, the two get right back on that road and return to Jerusalem to find the 11 disciples and their companions. Turns out, the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus leads right back to Jerusalem. To the start. But now they get it. Aha “We have proof. We’ve seen him. He’s the same one that appeared to Simon Peter. He did rise from the dead. He has fulfilled the prophets’ words. We get it. We finally get it. ”
It was in this simplest of daily actions, eating a meal, that they recognized him. He took bread, broke, blessed and gave it to them. And they knew him. They had done this with him before. The remembered. And they understood.
In a moment we will gather around this table and with the very familiar words we, too, will be offered a simple meal. Take, eat. It is an invitation that names you as a member of the body of Christ. And an invitation that comes with a clear expectation. As those who live with a belief in Christ’s resurrection, there is an expectation that we will go and make a difference in the name of this risen Christ.
As you take the bread and cup, may you be open to new epiphanies, new Ahas about what you are being called to do and be. And like the two on the road to Emmaus, once they know, you too are charged to go something with it. Don’t just sit on what you have learned here at the Table or here at Yale. Turn around and walk right back to Jerusalem. Go do something with this awakening. There are people waiting for you. There are countless people who need your strengths, your convictions, and your motivations to make a difference in the name of Christ.
Take and Eat. You’ve worked hard. And now, go make a difference. Amen