I’m a sojourner! I know I’m a sojourner because I don’t know which is the best back street fish and chip shop, and I keep missing the weather forecast through listening in the wrong place. A sojourner is never quite belongs here, they are on the way somewhere else, and for the time being are in between. I didn’t want to be a sojourner, I didn’t chose to be a sojourner, but that is how it has turned out to be. Some people think of sojourners as travellers, and in a way they are; I think of sojourners more in the biblical sense of someone who doesn’t quite belong, who happens to be in a community not their own, someone who is in-between. You will find sojourners all through the Bible, sometimes they are the stranger that is within thy gates, sometimes they are the alien who has settled in your community - and when I walked down the streets of Te Puke I saw a lot of them. Sometimes they are Greek god-fearers who go to the synagogue to worship, sometimes they are people who emulate the Jewish way but are not themselves circumsized.
I’m a sojourner. I’m one of those strange people. Here I am to spend four months with you, when our house and cat are back in Palmerston North. I normally go to church in an Anglican congregation. I preach at that church and lead prayers and read the Bible and act as server from time to time, but it’s not quite home. I’m a stranger within the gate. I’ve been minister in a Presbyterian parish for eight years, but it’s not quite home. And these days I’m not even at home in a Methodist Conference. I’m a serious sojourner - just like the Jews when they were in exile in Babylon. Jeremiah urged them to settle down and be part of that community, but for all that they sat down by the waters of Babylon they wept when they remembered Zion.
Cleopas and his friend, followers of Jesus from Emmaus were going home. What else could they do, now that Jesus was dead? They had joined in the little group who made their way into Jerusalem with pilgrim palms, they had listened as Jesus had taught in the Temple. They had hung round on the edge of the crowd at the crucifixion. Numbed and distressed by the death of Jesus they wait round in Jerusalem, as people do in that horrible time of death, somewhat vacantly, coffee after coffee, to see what happens next. And when nothing happened next they decided to go home, back to Emmaus, there to live, there to stay, no more to roam. They had been sojourners in Jerusalem, now they were on the way home.
But as they travel home they are joined in their journey by a companion, who talks over their recent experiences. He seems not only understanding but knowledgeable, and they invite him to stay a while and join them in a meal. They are home at last. They are glad to offer hospitality, and perhaps they feel an awkward chapter has been closed, however much they regret the death of Jesus, and the closing of their hopes. They set simple food before their guest: bread, wine, salt, olives, according to oriental custom. In the pause as they sit down and take their places, almost before they know it, their guest takes hold of the bread, blesses it, breaks it and gives it to them. And in that same instant they see him as he is: Jesus - friend, companion, prophet, teacher, hope of Israel, saviour. And in the same instant as they know him, he is not there, no longer with them, or at least with them differently. Strangely renewed, energized, eager, they get up and return to Jerusalem to the other disciples. They say wryly to each other as they go: Hit the road, Jack! Sojourners again! They leave home and brief stability with great news: The Lord is risen; he is risen indeed!
This story of the Emmaus road is a very sophisticated and complex story; perhaps more than any other story in the New Testament it describes the Christian life with its tensions and hopes and discoveries. But it is also a simple story with a word about the resurrection for an uncomplicated Christian, for in it we discover that the resurrection makes sojourners of us all. The presence of the living Christ among us puts our home, our destination in another place; it pushes us into living in-between; it reduces the security of life in this world by pointing to the power and mercy of God who overcomes the world. The presence of someone who broke the power of death shows we do not belong here, and extends the length of our journey to a different ending place, it keeps us pilgrims on the way. These are, I think, hard outcomes, and painful, for it is never particularly easy or enjoyable being a sojourner. In fact, the real cross for the Christian is the resurrection; that’s the stumbling block. That a good person should die, be whisked away to sudden and violent death is nothing new or strange. If you could have all the activities of the world laid out before you, you would probably find that the irritants and annoyances like Jesus, are often removed. The crucifixion is not unusual in itself. The Greeks put a glass of hemlock before Plato - and it wasn’t the first or the last time humans had got rid of the uncomfortable voice. In many ways the death of Jesus is not at all puzzling - but his living presence is both puzzling and difficult for it puts our human existence into another framework entirely. It means that life which began with God now ends with God, and we must live as transients in between. The resurrection makes sojourners of us all.
And just as strange and just as difficult is the way that we discover we are sojourners in the meal, in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup. It’s almost as if Jesus is saying to us, Yes, you are sojourners on the earth, you are in-between as I was, but in this food, the food of my body and my blood is sustenance and refreshment for the journey, in this food is strength for keeping on, as we go from God to God. As I have come to think of it, the meal around the table at Emmaus, the same meal as the bread and wine of our sacrament, is an act of God’s compassion for us, who knows the journey is not easy, and the way hard, and how we long for a better place, and ache to be home. About the time I was contemplating the readings for today and wondering what on earth I might say to you this morning in the Church Times I came across the prayer by Georges Bernanos: Dear God, I have never learnt to love with a fragment of your grace, but at least let me not lose my compassion, the rough humble bread of compassion, which we may break together... I had never thought of the Emmaus road as a journey of compassion before, but if there is any quality to mark a sojourner this is it: compassion for people who live in-between, compassion by people who are in between. Compassion is not the most common characteristic of the church. All too often we are harsh and judgmental; if the church had compassion, and each of us had a generous dose of compassion, we would not have to worry about declining numbers and empty pews. The rough, humble bread of compassion would bind us all together as travellers on the way. And when the sermon had taken shape in my head and I was thinking about being sojourners, I realised that the characters in my favourite stories are all of them sojourners. Alexander McCall Smith has Isabel searching for truth and never quite finding it, Mma Ramotse opening up to life gradually, unfolding as a flower, and here is Matthew, in a moment that is very nearly mystical in its intensity, looking upon his friend Big Lou with compassion, in a way which makes us want to cherish them as joint pilgrims, almost, on a perilous journey. There need be no shame, no danger in being a sojourner, if we have compassion, the rough humble bread of compassion.
If the journey be lengthened by the resurrection so the end of the journey now be God, I would rather have it that way. If I travel with compassion about me, I would rather have it that way. If I travel, not dreading my companions nor the bread and wine we share together, I would rather have it that way. And what about you? Are you with me? The resurrection makes sojourners of us all.