by: Denise Robinson
We continue this week with our devotional from Henri Nouwen's letters to his nephew, Marc, explaining his faith and addressing the void in life his nephew finds himself feeling. In the first letter, Nouwen discusses Jesus as the heart of our existence considering the question which Jesus asked his disciples: "Who do YOU say that I am?" Last week we looked at the first half of Nouwen's second letter where he discusses the significance of what happened on the walk to Emmaus from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 24). This week, we finish that letter.
Letter 2: Jesus: The God Who Sets Us Free (Pt. 2)
(Nouwen discusses how Cleopas and his companion, immediately after they recognized Jesus, went and told others about their experience).
Cleopas and his friend had become different people. Because they had experienced for themselves that the Jesus whom they had mourned for was alive and closer to them than ever, their hearts were born again, and their inner life was made radically new. That's something quite different from coming to a new conviction or acquiring a new outlook on things or undergoing a change of opinion. Something much more profound than that had happened to these two...
What you see here is a process of fundamental liberation. When they first set out, liberation meant shaking off the Roman yoke. But when Jesus offered them the bread and their eyes were opened, they became conscious of a freedom they had never thought possible. It was a freedom that went much further and deeper than the freedom for which they had hoped and dreamed, a freedom that invaded their hearts to the very depths ..
Let me take these thoughts about the freedom that Jesus gives a little further. The better you understand that spiritual freedom and get the feel of it for yourself, the greater the chance that you will come to discover who Jesus is. A number of people in this century have written about spiritual freedom (Nouwen mentions three by name who were imprisoned by the Nazis during WW2). Amid the most frightful forms of oppression and violence these people discovered within themselves a place where no one had power over them .. they had in common an awareness of a spiritual freedom .. they knew in their heart of hearts that those who might be able to destroy their bodies would never be able to deprive them of their freedom. Jesus said: "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul."
The freedom Jesus gives doesn't imply that oppressors can go on oppressing, that the poor can stay poor .. since we are now, in a spiritual respect, free .. Freedom belongs to the core of the spiritual life, not just the freedom which releases us from forces that want to oppress us, but the freedom also to forgive others, to serve them, and to form a new bond of fellowship with them. In short, the freedom to love and to work for a free world.
I want to tell you something else concerning Luke's Emmaus story - it speaks to us not only about Jesus but to life in the very early church. It tells us something about the different aspects of communal worship: opening up to our confusion, depression, despair, and guilt, listening with an open heart to the Word of God, gathering around the table to break the bread and so to acknowledge the presence of Jesus, and going out again into the world to make known to others what we have learned and experienced .. Every time you celebrate the Eucharist (Holy Communion), you once again make the journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus and back .. and each time you are able to achieve a bit more spiritual freedom. You've often asked me about the meaning of the Eucharist. Insofar as you get to know Jesus, you will begin to understand better the significance of the Eucharist. This letter will, I hope, help you to appreciate the connection.
When you think about Jesus, do you think about liberation and freedom? The last two weeks, I have encouraged you to, like Nouwen, write down your thoughts in the form of a letter. This week your letter should address two points: (1) how your experience of Jesus has liberated or freed you (or how you think it should) and (2) how being part of a church community and participating in Communion strengthens or deepens your experience of the presence of Jesus.
Have a blessed week!