“Where have you been?”
It’s something you hear people ask when they encounter someone who hasn’t learned some especially big or fascinating piece of news. “Have you been under a rock? In a cave? On Mars? How could you not have heard this by now?”
The implication, of course, is that sometimes a story is so huge it’s impossible to imagine anyone with access to new information not knowing it. The only explanation that makes sense is that somehow they haven’t been able to get any news at all.
This is the reaction that Jesus gets when he encounters two of his followers on the road to Emmaus. He sees them talking, and asks them what they’re talking about, looking so sad.
“Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” asks the one called Cleopas. It’s a reaction we can, I suspect, imagine quite easily.
“This is the only thing anyone in the city has been talking about! How could you not know?”
Of course, we know exactly where Jesus had been all that time. As the central figure in the events as they unfolded, he knew quite well all that had happened. But these two didn’t know they were talking to Jesus. They just thought they were chatting with a really clueless traveler.
Now, we live in a world where the firehose of news never, ever shuts off. Breaking news in Bangladesh can show up seconds later in a Twitter timeline or news feed. Smart phones mean ceaseless access to updates and analysis with every new second. Like almost all developments in human civilization, this has its good bits and downsides, too. If you’re a news junkie (or in relationship with one), you may understand how distracting this constant stream of information can be when it comes to focusing on the world right in front of you.
But Jesus and his new friends were strolling along a road in a vastly different society. No iPhones or Androids. No cable news networks or evening updates. No newspapers or magazines. Not even a printing press, so no pamphlets or fliers or handbills. Nothing but good old word of mouth.
Yet even a couple of millennia before Instagram and Ted Koppel, some stories were so big everyone heard about them immediately anyway. I don’t know the Roman Empire had its own version of “going viral,” but some news still spread that way. And there was no bigger news than what had happened with the Crucifixion, and now the news of the Resurrection.
In fact, if you look at the entire span of human history since then, it’s hard to think of a bigger story. Even perspectives from outside Christianity, skeptics of all stripes, must surely concede that it’s had an enormous impact since then. For good or ill (and there’s no honest discussion of Christianity that does not acknowledge that a tremendous amount of ill indeed has happened in the name of the church), the events that led to the foundation and spread of Christianity have shaped the world like scarcely any other.
But… is this still news any longer?
That’s what “gospel” literally means, if you trace it back to its roots in Old English. “Good news.” And the news it contains is all about Christ, culminating in the events we celebrate this season.
But is it “news” any longer? Having transpired a couple of thousand years ago and shaped the entirely of Western civilization since, it’s pretty hard to argue that it’s “breaking.” Yet even old stories can still be newsworthy, if they still happen to be timely.
The Gospel is still good news if it still matters in the time we’re telling it. If it’s still relevant in the lives of people who hear it, it’s still news. If it still has an impact on the way people view the world, how they move within it and interact with people around them, then it’s still worth telling.
So… is it?
You could argue that a miracle the likes of Jesus’ resurrection is always relevant. And I wouldn’t say you’re wrong. For some people, Christ’s death and resurrection are reason enough on their own to keep telling the story.
However, I suspect there are many people who would hear about a miracle that happened 2000 years ago and wonder why they should care today. What does it matter to the lives they live now? What reason would we give them to pay attention to the words of the Gospel that’s still timely?
The reason I would give is that Jesus’ life and mission matter no less today than in the days when he still walked this earth. That his words show us the way to a better life for ourselves, and for the people around us. That his love for every last child of God, and his expectation that we share it, is as relevant as the moment when he sat down at that table in Emmaus and blessed the bread before he broke it.
Are there still poor, oppressed, struggling and suffering people in this world? Then Jesus’ life still matters. Is there still injustice, cruelty, greed and corruption in the world around us? Then Jesus’ teachings still matter. Are there those in need for reconciliation and compassion we encounter in our day-to-day lives? Then Jesus’ example still matters.
When a broken relationship is restored because we freely acknowledge the wrongs we’ve done, or freely forgive the wrongs done to us, Jesus’ life is made new in the world again. When we put aside our own gain, and instead help those we see in need, Jesus’ ministry makes new change in the world. When we hear voices that seek to divide us from each other, that would deepen the separation between the powerful and the powerless, and raise our own voices in opposition, Jesus’ own voice speaks again through us.
Our times cry out for the good news of Jesus’ life, perhaps now more than ever.
Despite the magnitude of its impact on human history, there are still so many who do not know the true story of that life, and why it still matters to us. They’re not living in a cave somewhere with their fingers stuck in their ears, but people we meet and know and love. As we celebrate the joy of Easter, let’s remember that there are many whose lives would be made so much better if they heard a story about love, mercy, justice, and forgiveness. As you leave this place, I urge you to go out and tell it to them through word and deed.