Last week, I was preparing to preach on the gospel from Luke 24: the road to Emmaus, the conversation with the stranger, the breaking of bread, the burning hearts. I was preparing to preach on that resurrection story, and I thought I even had a pretty good angle, thinking about the very end of the gospel and how he was made known in the breaking of bread, and it wasn't even communion. It was just an ordinary meal, except with Jesus. He was made known.
I thought I had a pretty good angle, that is, a good opening, and I thought the sermon would "write itself" (it never does). I was bemoaning the fact to a colleague one evening late in the week, when the sermon was not writing itself (except for the clever beginning), and out of the blue, my friend asked me started telling me about Biblical Storytelling, and wondered if I would like to try to 'tell' the gospel story instead of reading it.
As if I didn't have enough to worry about.
But I have always been attracted to storytelling, Biblical or not, ever since, in the 8th grade, we were all supposed to tell a story for speech class. (I still don't remember why I thought it was a good idea to take a speech class in 8th grade.) Up until then, I had been horrible at giving speeches, all sweaty palms and rapid speaking and forgetting what I was going to say. But when I told the story, something happened.
I got a good grade.
So my friend asked me, "Why don't you learn the story?" and I asked her what she meant. "Do you embellish?" No, she said; you might play with the wording just a little, but basically you learn it as it is in your favorite translation, or the one your church uses. It's not exactly like memorizing, but it is sort to that way. She lead me to some web sites that gave me an idea for how to go about learning a story, and then she said, "if you don't have time to learn the whole thing, why don't you just learn the ending?"
I don't know why, exactly, but that is what I did. I started at the end, and worked backwards, from the last two verses, and then the last three, and then the verse about the burning hearts, until they were sitting with Jesus at the table. I just learned that last section of the gospel reading, practicing as I walked up and down the hallways of the church, practicing in front of the daughter of the President of our Leadership Board. I tried telling the last verses of the gospel reading on Saturday night at our small chapel service, and again on Sunday morning.
One thing I discovered was that many people are busy looking at their bulletins during the gospel reading. While I was telling the story, their heads were in their bulletins. I wondered if they could tell the difference between what I had done with the first part of the reading, and those last few verses.
However, I did notice that there are people who do not look at their bulletin during the reading of the gospel. People learn in different ways, and I noticed, because I was telling and not reading, because I was looking at the congregation while I was speaking, that some people were not looking at their bulletin. They were listening and they were looking back at me.
Finally, I noticed something happening in me, both in my preparation, and while I was telling the story to my congregation. Something was happening in me, as if the story was getting deeper inside me. This was a story I already knew well, of course, with a few words and phrases already dear to me. I could already see those two disciples stopped in the road, looking sad. I could already imagine the stranger walking alongside them. But it seemed to me that the story got bigger, and it was inside of me, but also that I was inside of the story, walking around inside the story.
"Were not our hearts burning within us, when he was talking with us on the road?"
On Sunday, when I spoke these words, it was as if I was remembering something -- and not just remembering my muttering repetitions of the last two days. It was as if I was remembering the times my own heart burned, but I did not realize it until later. It was as if I was knew that, somewhere deep down, I had broken bread with Jesus before so many times without realizing it. It was as if, when I was telling the story that I was telling them what I had seen and heard myself.
I don't know what happened in my congregation when I told the story, instead of reading it. But I know that something happened in me. I told the story, but the story told me.
So I'm eager to continue to learn to tell the stories. I'm just starting on Pentecost, now, and wondering what the story will tell me this time. But I wondering now as well, if I should be the only storyteller in my congregation.
What if we all learned to tell stories to one another? What would we learn, and what would we hear, and what would we remember, if we told the ancient stories, if we learned to walk around in them, hearing the cries and dreaming the dreams, hoping against hope?