I don’t have any pictures to share or narratives of where we went and what we experienced. Instead I offer you some thoughts.
At the beginning of our pilgrimage Rodney talked with us about the history of pilgrimage and gave us some ideas to think about regarding such spiritual journeys. During that session he talked about the Fifth Gospel and throughout the pilgrimage I have been turning this over in my head. The Fifth Gospel is not some recently discovered manuscript or a non-canonical writing, though some may say the Gospel of Thomas should be considered the fifth gospel, but the Fifth Gospel is an idea that comes to us non-denominational pastor Bobby Conway. He argues that the Fifth Gospel is us, our story of faith as it is lived out in our personal and communal lives. While Pastor Conway uses this idea as “a way of transforming the reputation of Christianity around the globe.” While I do not agree that we need to transform the reputation of the church in the ways he describes in his book and interviews, I do however think he is on to something; something that can be relevant for us to think about.
We have in the bible the four gospels that sets out for us the life and teachings of Jesus and from which we are to apply these teachings to our own lives. We are to love God with all our heart and mind; and love our neighbor as ourselves…”upon these two commandments hang all the law and prophets.” We are clearly tasked with going out and sharing the Good News of God in Christ. If the four gospels tell the stories of the disciples and their encounter with Jesus then it makes sense that the Fifth Gospel should be our story; the story of our lives in Christ. The gospel writers invite into the story; to walk with them as they walk with Jesus from his birth and ministry in Galilee to his death and resurrection in Jerusalem. We are invited to walk alongside them and experience the living God in Jesus as they experienced it. One clear example of this invitation is in the Emmaus story that we heard and lived today.
In the story from Luke two disciples are walking along the road to Emmaus the morning after the death of Jesus. They were discussing the events of the day before and the news of the empty tomb. We find out that one of the disciples is named Cleopas, while the other remains unnamed. Why is that disciple unnamed? Did the author forget the other’s name? Was that person not worth mentioning? Or perhaps the other disciple was intentionally unnamed in order to be an invitation for the reader to enter the story. Regardless of the author’s original intent, the gospels are meant to guide us and inspire us to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. If that is the case then what better opportunity to walk in the footsteps of Jesus is there than to come to the land in which he lived.
My gospel, is not just where I have gone and what I have done but also where I am going. This pilgrimage is yet another new chapter in my story of faith in Jesus. It has allowed me to go deeper into my understanding of faith and mission. I have been renewed in my commitment and strengthened for the journey ahead. But perhaps most of all, I have a desire to come back and share my story with you, to be a reflection of the God that I encountered on my pilgrimage; a God whom I met in the stranger like the stranger that the disciples met along the road to Emmaus. In the end we never know who that stranger may be, and regardless of who they are, they have been made in the image of God and therefore should be loved and cared for as if it were Jesus himself standing before us.
What stories are in your gospel?