August 01, 2008

The Road to Exile

by Debra Dean Murphy
It isn’t likely that the text from 1 Peter will take center stage in many sermons this Sunday, but in thinking through all of the day’s appointed readings—their particular concerns and their possible associations, it’s not a bad place to begin. For one thing, we read portions of 1 Peter for several consecutive Sundays during Easter of Year A in the common lectionary, passages which constitute something of an Easter catechesis for the great fifty days. But more than that, the letter’s theme of “exile” gives us a useful framework for interpreting our own life and witness in light of the familiar Road to Emmaus story.

And yet it’s hard to preach exile in the land of plenty, in our globalized, homogenized culture of comfort and accommodation. Even with a shaky economy, a deluded President, and an anxious electorate (maybe because of these things), we are tempted to put our ultimate hope in “perishable things like silver or gold” (1 Peter 1:18)—the sub-prime mortgage crisis notwithstanding. But exile is always God’s antidote to empire: exile is the location from which we make an alien confession in and to a social order suspicious of aliens of all kinds: “We were ransomed from the futile ways . . . with the precious blood of Christ . . . he was destined before the foundation of the world” (1 Peter 18-20). To be in exile, 1 Peter reminds us, is not to put our trust in the American Dream (no matter what the politicians promise), but to set our faith and hope on God (1 Peter 1:21). Of course, when we do this, we’ll suffer. Which is pretty much the whole point of the letter, and the whole point of exile. But it’s also the way of salvation.

The Road to Emmaus story is so familiar and so beloved we can forget that Jesus comes to the disciples as an alien, a stranger, an exile himself. This bothers us. We can’t wait for the disciples to figure out who he is, and we’re a little incredulous that it takes them so long. That’s the way it is with us: we want to make Jesus recognizable, knowable; to domesticate him for our safe agendas. But it is the alien Jesus we need to keep continually before us—the Jesus who defies our cherished assumptions; our tired categories; our pious, easy answers.

And then the alien Jesus goes and reveals himself to us in the breaking of bread! And in this act of hospitality and generosity all of us exiles say with the Psalmist: “I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD” (116:13).

(Originally posted Thursday, April 3, 2008)

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