Not too long afterwards, Abraham and Sarah were visited by three men they did not know. They were strangers, though we know now that they came as messengers from heaven (Genesis 17). Later still, a story was kept about their grandson, Jacob, wrestling with a stranger in the night. That stranger would be revealed to be God (Genesis 32).
These earliest stories seem to suggest that heaven worked, at least on some occasions, through strangers. What if heaven still worked that way? What if heaven's greatest work, culminating in the events of that first Easter weekend, is about our relationship to strangers? Particularly, to one stranger?
Rowan Williams, formerly the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Anglican church, wrote this in his book Resurrection,
One of the strangest features of the resurrection narratives is precisely this theme of the otherness, the unrecognizability, of the risen Jesus. Three major stories - Luke's Emmaus episode, John's account of Mary Magdalene at the time, and the 'Galilean fantasia' which concludes his gospel - underline the point. Whatever the experiences of the disciples at Easter were, it is hard to deny that this element must've played a part – that for some at least, the encounter with the risen Jesus began as an encounter with a stranger.
Williams goes on to say that the disciples must relearn Jesus, as if from the beginning. This could not be any more clear than in the way that John closes out his Gospel. Jesus finds the disciples in their fishing boats, as if the previous three years with Jesus had never happened. They must start over, from scratch.
I'm greatly touched by this. Very distinct from the nostalgia of some tired Easter theology, we are confronted with how different God is than we've long tried to convince ourselves. Maybe Easter is intended for us to realize that our journeys, every year, start new with Jesus. Further, the book of Hebrews suggests that God's pattern of coming to us as a stranger continues (13:2). When we entertain and offer hospitality to strangers we are possibly offering it to heavenly beings.
How is God moving in your life through a stranger or person you didn't immediately recognize as familiar? What happens in your heart when you consider that God acts in ways beyond your understanding or control?
Grace and peace, Scott