Sunday, May 7, 2017

In the Breaking of Bread

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Luke 24:13-35:

In the Protestant tradition, we have two things which we consider to be sacraments, baptism and communion. This stands in contrast to the seven sacraments in the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox traditions. During the protestant reformation, the seven were narrowed down to two because these are both things that Jesus commanded that we do and also things in which Jesus also participated. And what we see in scripture is that the early church continued and participated in both of these things from the earliest days, and so in today’s scripture readings we find both of them, or at least a form of them, taking place. The first is Peter’s call to baptism in which 3000 people are baptized, which makes me think about the logistics of baptizing 3000 people in one day, and while we never are actually told that the disciples are ever baptized, we presume that they were, maybe by John the Baptist, or perhaps by Jesus, but this becomes an important and identifying aspect of the early church that obviously continues through to today. And then we have Jesus implement the practice of communion on his last night with the disciples, which we know from the writings of Paul continued to be a significant act in the early church, and we have at least a part of a communion meal in today’s passage from Luke.

Even though we are now several weeks past Easter, in today’s passage we find ourselves back on Easter morning, with two followers of Jesus who are traveling out to the town of Emmaus which is said to be some seven miles from Jerusalem, although some manuscript traditions say 19 miles, although where the town is, is unknown because there is no record of a town by that name, although there is much speculation of where it might have been. But, it’s entirely possible, and we’ll return to this idea, that we’re not supposed to know, that it’s supposed to be sort of any town, a generic town, one that is meant to represent our town, or a place where we can put ourselves in the role of making this journey. But regardless of where it is, on Easter morning, they have heard that Jesus’ body was not there, and that the women, or at the very least Mary, have encountered the risen Christ, but, like the other disciples, they don’t appear to believe it yet. They’ve heard it but have not processed it, have not accepted it, it has not taken root in their hearts and mind. And so, they set out going home and as they are making their way, they are discussing the events, although the Greek word used here could also be translated as arguing, when Jesus appears before them. Except, like in other versions of the resurrection story, they don’t know that it is Jesus.

We are told that their eyes were kept from recognizing him. But it’s not clear why. Is it Jesus who is stopping them from seeing him? Or, is it their own non-belief that keeps them from recognizing who he is? Is it because they have not accepted the resurrection so they are therefore unable to see Jesus? They cannot see what is happening right before their own eyes. It’s not that God has blinded them, but that they have blinded themselves. And so, when Jesus appears and asks them what they are talking about, the begin to tell him the story of what has happened, or at least what they have heard about what has happened, and here is where we get the first substantial shift in the story. The two disciples think they know what’s going on and are going to inform this poor ignorant traveler, who, as they say is the only person who doesn’t know what has taken place. But it turns out, as it often does that those who spout on about how much they know, in fact know very little, because Jesus then begins to expand upon what Moses and all the prophets had said and to interpret it all for them, so that, perhaps, they will no longer be “foolish” and slow of heart to believe. Now, you might think that this instruction would be enough for them to figure out that something unique is going on, but they don’t. Their eyes are still kept from recognizing Jesus.

But as the approach the town, Jesus walks before them as if he is going to keep walking, but the disciples urge him to stay with them that evening, an act of hospitality, and when they then sit down to eat, Jesus takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it and gives it to them, just as he had done earlier with the disciples, and in the breaking of the bread their eyes are opened and they recognize Jesus just as he vanishes from the house. They then quickly return to Jerusalem to inform the eleven what has happened to them.

But what is striking is that it is in the breaking of the bread that they recognize Christ, that they see that Christ has been with them the entire time, and come to know the resurrection as reality. As Christians, we practice and live an embodied faith. That is we are not talking about beliefs or ideas, although we do that, but we worship a God who became human and we practice acts as central to our faith that are rooted in our lives. We baptize with water, we break bread and take a cup. These are not complex and rare items, but the items of ordinary life, and yet these are tangible and visible ways that we come to know and see God. They are concrete ways that we come to experience God, and are called to experience God. One of the reasons why we practice an open communion table, not limiting it to anyone, is because we believe that communion can be a converting sacrament. That is receiving the bread and wine that people can come to know and accept Jesus Christ. That just like at the end of the walk to Emmaus that people can recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread. That Jesus is present in these elements just as much for us as he was when he gave it to the disciples on that first night, and just as present as he was for the two on that first Easter. That Christ is embodied in these elements, whether you believe that the bread and the juice become the literal blood and body of Christ or whether you believe that it is merely a spiritual presence, we agree that Christ is here in this moment.

But, Christianity is also embodied in that Jesus doesn’t just tell us to love one another, he gets down on his knees in service to wash the disciples’ feet, and calls us to do the same. It’s not just saying what we believe, but actually living it out in our lives. The two disciples have the opportunity to break bread with Jesus only because they invite Jesus to come and stay with them. They offer up hospitality and a meal. There is something significant about breaking bread with a person, literally and metaphorically. It fundamentally changes the relationship, and so it’s this act of hospitality that is the sign act of allowing their eyes to be opened to Christ’s presence with them.  We say that the sacraments are outward of visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace that takes place in us. So too are the embodied acts that we do as Christians signs of the inward transformation that has taken place within us in our walk of faith. If the disciples had not embodied their faith by offering hospitality, they would not have encountered the risen Christ. As James, the brother of Jesus, writes “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.” And in that, I also think that we are called to embody this story.

We are told that one of the disciples is named Cleopas, who only appears in this story, but the second disciple remains unnamed. Sharon Ringe who is a New Testament scholar who has written about women in Luke’s gospel and in his Acts of the Apostles has speculated that the second disciple is not named because she is a woman.  She has evidence to support this argument and I mention it here because we should be cognizant of the subordinate role that women played in the ancient world and how that found its way into scripture and the work of the church, and thus shouldn’t dismiss this argument outright or without consideration. But others speculate that perhaps the other disciple is not named so that we could put ourselves into the story. Just as perhaps there was no place named Emmaus so that we could see it as our destination, and we could be the second disciple on that journey. This unnamed disciple is just as involved in the story and its movement as Cleopas is, it’s not a secondary role, so perhaps it’s an insert your name here moment. That we are to put ourselves in the place of this story as we hear the Easter story, to see ourselves wondering if it’s true, of walking this journey of faith, discussing it with others, and being given the opportunity to practice our faith at the same time, including providing witness to our faith to others who we meet on the way.

But the final piece to remember from this story is that while there are times in our lives when most of us have had God moments and we have known it in that moment, for the most part, we tend to see our religious experiences, our God moments, only in retrospect. That we become like the disciples and say, “weren’t our hearts burning within us” be we didn’t really realize it at the moment. There are times when we desperately want God to be present for us, and we think if God is not that we must be totally alone, but what we see in this story is that God can be present without us knowing it because our eyes have been closed. We don’t see it in the moment and only later realize God was there all along. Sometimes that’s just the way it is, but there is also a call in this story to look for those God moments in our lives. To look for where you are seeing God moving through others, because that’s often or maybe even usually how it happens, but also to pay attention to how God is using you. When the disciples return to Jerusalem, Jesus uses them to also make an Easter proclamation to reaffirm their story. So, in this coming week, and month, and year, I encourage you to intentionally look for where God is moving in your life, or where God has moved, and then write those moments down. Keep track of them, and I can guarantee you, you will be surprised at how often it happens, and then you will be better prepared to see, as scripture says, of the times we might be entertaining angels unaware.

In addition, to see God’s movement in our lives also involves moving through life with the expectation that God will be involved, to be in prayer for that movement and live in anticipation for how and where God’s presence will be felt, where our lives will be changed, and where in the breaking of bread that our eyes will be opened to seeing the risen Christ present and walking this journey of faith with us. I pray that it will be so my brothers and sisters. Amen.

No comments:

Post a Comment