“Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” –Luke 24:32
Imagine that you and I grew up being taught that Jesus died to pay the price that God demanded in exchange for forgiveness of our sins, that God’s need for retribution had to be satisfied, and that God’s honor needed defending. That can be some powerful conditioning, and is quite consistent with how the world around us operates. What then are we to do with this Jesus: who arrives undefended, embodies God’s power of unbroken love “to the end” and beyond, and loves the people we hate with the same depth that he loves us? This Jesus shows us, in the flesh, that there is no retribution in God, no quid-pro-quo. Well, it is hard–even impossible–to fit the God that Jesus shows us into our old concepts, because those concepts can’t hold the fullness of God’s love any more than that garden tomb will hold Jesus! So where does that leave us? On our own Road to Emmaus?
I have heard that at least half of the people who go to seminary these days leave before they are finished. I have seen some figures much higher. There are many reasons, I’m sure, but one of the biggest is that a good seminary experience challenges the assumptions we bring and the limits of the holy story as we have perceived it. A stone or two are going to be rolled away, by God, and we are going to find out how we function in the face of such developments. As I probably don’t need to tell you, this is true not just for traditional pastors-in-training, but for all of us who would be Jesus’ disciples.