It is church conference/convention season. Tomorrow through Saturday is the Central District Conference Annual Meeting, this year in Elkhart, Indiana on the campus of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary – my old stomping/studying grounds. Six of us from Columbus Mennonite will be attending. This gathering is mostly focused on relationship building and worship, and is always full of laughter. Delegate sessions this year include discussion and a vote on a resolution called “A call to greater faithfulness in our witness for peace.” We will also be receiving a copy of a ten page study document produced by a task group which, in the words of one of its writers, “is the first statement I know of commended for consideration by a Mennonite conference that articulates a biblical basis for the full inclusion of LGBTIQ persons, including same-sex marriages.”
Central District is one of 21 area conferences of Mennonite Church USA, and June 30-July 5 the national denomination will be holding it biennial convention in Kansas City. I’ve written some about this in a previous blog.
Coincidentally (there was no centralized coordinating of this), both gatherings are drawing from the same scriptural text for their theme and theological/biblical grounding: Luke 24:13-35, the Emmaus Road story. In this passage, two disciples are walking together from Jerusalem to the town of Emmaus. Jesus had been crucified two days prior and they are discussing their experiences from the past week when a stranger, who we are told is Jesus, comes and walks alongside them. Not recognizing him, they fill him in on the recent events. The stranger then responds by giving them a Bible lesson, “beginning with Moses and all the prophets,” about Divine solidarity amid the persistence of suffering. When they get near their destination, the two insist that this third traveler stay and eat with them before going on. At the table, the stranger blesses and breaks and gives them bread – and they recognize that this is Christ – and he “vanished from their sight.”
One of the things I take from this story is the significance of when Christ is recognized. I find it interesting that they don’t recognize Christ when he was talking with them about the scriptures. He was no doubt giving a skillful biblical interpretation of the meaning of a suffering Messiah, but the point of recognition comes not through a Bible study but through a meal, when they are looking each other in the face around a table, gathered around food. The miracle happens at the table.
I don’t mean to minimize the scriptures – this story is scripture! It is vital that we continue to gather around the scriptures as a hermeneutical community, and search for wisdom together. But we’re not being honest with ourselves if we don’t recognize that experience and relationships also play a major role in how we interpret life and the Bible. Experience, relationships, tradition, rationality, and Scripture are in a dynamic relationship with each other, in constant conversation with each other, and sometimes the simple act of sitting around the table with someone does more to deepen our awareness of Christ-among-us than reading about it in the Bible.
At both the CDC and the MC USA gatherings we will be meeting at round tables to discuss important matters of church life and how we might be Christ’s agents of healing and hope in our world. And I gladly welcome the miracle of looking one another in the face and recognizing Christ.