Last Sunday the gospel lesson was one of my favorites – the story of the disciples’ encounter with the risen Christ on the way to Emmaus. The story goes that some of the disciples were shuffling down the road, their hearts crushed and their hopes dashed, as they wrestled with the knowledge of their dear friend Jesus’ death. And, a stranger appeared, walked with them and talked with them and they invited him to dinner. At table, this stranger took bread and broke it, and in an instant they saw the Lord – they recognized the face of Jesus!
Last weekend our Senior Youth were in New York for their mission trip. We visited feeding ministries, filled shopping bags with goodies from a food pantry, loaded pasta onto Styrofoam plates in Harlem, and served hearty plates of meat and potatoes in Yorkville – we even filled paper bag lunches for the homeless during coffee hour on Sunday at Trinity Wall Street. Ours was a mission of feeding and hospitality – something that because of Grate Patrol and countless other encounters with hunger and poverty in our own city is nothing new or different to our youth or to those of us who lead. But, experience tells us that these kinds of trips are essential to the life of Christian discipleship.
It’s not that our own city and communities don’t have needs worthy of addressing. The mission of God is certainly in DC as much as it is in New York or New Zealand. But, the very action of being sent out, the trip itself, opens us up to see and encounter not only God’s mission in a new light, but those to whom we go in the name of the very same mission. While the word “mission” has come to be equated with conquest and proselytism it has at its root the sense of being sent or launched. And, in the Episcopal Church and many other churches in the 21st century, mission has taken on as its defining characteristic, the notion of companionship. In mission, we become fellow travelers, we engage the mission of God together. We are not only sent out – we are received.
On our trip to New York the Senior Youth were encouraged at each of the places we went to lend a hand, to take a moment, to sit, to eat and converse with the guests of each community. I was heartened by our group’s readiness to doff their hair nets and plastic gloves, to sit down at table, and share meals and laughter with people from worlds entirely different from their own. As the food was shared and stories exchanged, from my perch as an observer, it seemed a subtle shift was taking place. Our youth who had travelled long distances to serve those in need were also being served. Those whom they had invited in off the streets as honored guests began to share their meal and their lives, and guests became hosts, and hosts became guests, and if I might be so bold, the face of the Risen Lord was made known in the breaking of the bread.