hird Sunday of Easter - April 30, 2017
The Rev. R. Allan McCaslin
11:00 am service (Morning Prayer)
Readings: Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17; I Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-35
From the Gospel according to Luke, “While they were talking and discussing, Jesus came near and went with them.” I speak to you in the Name of God: Father, risen Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
I laughed this week when I began to say my prayers over today’s scripture lessons. I laughed because of all weeks in the Christian year when our lessons speak so clearly to the impact of the Holy Eucharist in our lives, we are not celebrating Eucharist at this 11 am service. No, today we have gathered for Morning Prayer and given that this service includes only two of the three scripture lessons preached upon at the earlier service, means crafting a different sermon. The thought of crafting two sermons when one is often a struggle, made me laugh. God does have a sense of humor.
But the more I thought about it, I realized that while we often think of the breaking of the bread in the Eucharist as the climax of our weekly worship services that is not the truth. The climax of the Eucharist is in our sharing together in that broken bread, our kneeling together as Christ’s body, our praying together, our communing together. And that communion is experienced whether the gifts of bread and wine are in our midst, or not. That communing and sharing is experienced whenever it transforms who we are and how we live as Christ’s body in this world. And that is exactly what we are praying for in this service of Morning Prayer. So, today’s sermons are almost identical – at least in how these scriptures might impact our lives. (There are copies of the earlier sermon in the Narthex for those who might be interested.)
The story of the disciples’ encounter with Jesus on the road to Emmaus is one of my personal favorites. I love the imagery here of Jesus suddenly becoming known to these men in that moment when he takes bread, blesses it and breaks it. This story raises the question as to why these men did not recognize Jesus until that moment. But, there is another question I find equally perplexing: where was Jesus going when they met him? What was he doing on that road?
Those questions invite us to look more closely at this story. Luke describes these two disciples on their way to Emmaus – about 7 miles from Jerusalem – as “sad”. In spite of the joyous news of the resurrection being proclaimed to them, for some reason they were disillusioned and discouraged. Jesus joins these two men on their walk but they don’t recognize him. I think that lack of recognition is tied to the reality that they did not understand the resurrection. Remember: for many of Jesus’s followers, the coming of the Messiah was supposed to usher in a new, united, fully restored and independent kingdom of Israel. But that didn’t happen and all this news about resurrection and an empty tomb seemed bizarre at best. As Luke says, “their eyes were kept from seeing him.” You know, sometimes when we don’t understand something, when we are wrestling with grief and uncertainty, when we are overwhelmed by the complexities of life, we can get so wrapped up trying to sort everything out, so caught up in wondering where is God in the midst of our circumstances that we can become blind to God’s presence right in front us, God’s presence with us in the midst of our struggle. We can become blind to that which God might be trying to show us. Jesus, Luke says, explains to these men the words of the prophets. He affirms the need for the Messiah to die and rise again from the dead. He interprets what the scriptures had said about him. And they find him so engaging that they invite him to stay with them.
We know the rest of the story. At table, Jesus takes the bread, blesses it and breaks it. Suddenly, they recognize him, and he disappears. And in that moment, these men grasp the impact of resurrection. They grasp the grace of God in a Messiah who has been with them throughout their entire faith journey; present with them in the midst of their grief and discouragement. And that realization changes their lives forever. Luke tells us that these two men high-tailed right back to Jerusalem to share how the resurrection had made a difference in their lives. It turns out that
Jesus was on that road to Emmaus in order to be with those who were discouraged, to be present to those who are desperate for a sense of God’s presence, God’s redemption.
There is a remarkable parallel in today’s Gospel lesson with our own weekly celebration of the Holy Eucharist. For in this sacrament, the risen Christ is made known to us in the opening of scripture and in the breaking of the bread. Now, just as our food must be broken in order to enter our bodies and be of any use to us, so this bread is also broken. Even the wine we drink comes from squeezed grapes. In a metaphorical way, the grape bleeds for us in order to offer its life-giving juices for our nourishment. Grains of wheat are crushed in order to become life-giving bread which, again, is broken in order to be shared. This is the great paradox of the Eucharist: the bread must be broken in order to be shared just as our own lives are often broken and made vulnerable in order to share our true selves. In this Eucharist, we recall that God’s own self in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus, the risen Christ, is willing to be broken on our behalf and become food for the nourishment of our souls. The bread and wine symbolize for us the whole Christ: body and soul - flesh and blood – broken and given for us. And as Christ’s body, the Church, so we are called to nourish the world. To be that Jesus on the road to Emmaus bringing the good news of new life and hope to those who are searching and desperate for redemption. In the Eucharist, we are called to share our own selves as Christ’s ongoing presence to our neighbor, to those in need, to the entire world. And it is that sharing and offering of our own selves that is at the heart of today’s Morning Prayer liturgy.
You see, our experience of Christian worship together should always transform who we are, what we value, and how we live. As affirmed in those great documents of Vatican II cited in several prior sermons, the sacraments remain incomplete if they don’t change us: change how we live. And so it is true with the offering of Morning Prayer. Our praying “thy kingdom come” means nothing if we do not actively and deliberately seek to make that kingdom a reality in our communities. The prayers we offer this morning should affirm our heart’s desire to mirror God’s love in all things.
Our reading from Acts reminds us that Christians choose to live differently: we admit when we are wrong, we seek reconciliation, we repent and return to God. That’s how we began this worship service. We began with an affirmation of Christ’s resurrection followed by our prayer of confession and the receiving of absolution as we commit to live differently. The Psalmist says, God’s people keep their promises: we keep our vows to the Lord. And what are those vows? To love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, body, mind, and strength, and to love all that God loves, love our neighbors as ourselves. We gather here in this Church to share our very selves offered in daily service to God and neighbor loving as God, in Christ, has loved and continues to love us.
Luke says that the two travelers on the road to Emmaus did not recognize Jesus when he first came to them because “their eyes were kept from seeing him.” I wonder what keeps our eyes from seeing Jesus. What gets in the way of our ability to see Christ in our midst, Christ with us? When people look at our lives: our values, what we say, our works and activities, do they see Jesus or do we keep their eyes from seeing him?
Our Gospel lesson says that Christ is seen, Christ is revealed, in the opening of scripture and the breaking of the bread. A wise person once said, “Be careful how you live. You might be the only Bible someone reads.” Beloved, we open the scriptures for people when we serve and love as sacrificially as God, in Christ, has served and loved us. We open the scriptures when our lives reflect the values contained in those scriptures – and that means all of those values and not just those convenient to us. We open the scriptures when we take the time to help a neighbor in need, read at someone’s bedside, send a note of encouragement, or call and say, “I was thinking of you today and I am praying for you.” We open the scriptures when we feed the hungry and clothe the naked, when we visit the sick and welcome the stranger. In so doing, Jesus is made known to us and through us. And therein, we find the climax of today’s Morning Prayer liturgy: We offer our very selves to be Christ’s redeeming, sustaining and re-creating presence in this world.
May God open our eyes and the eyes of all to Christ’s saving grace and redemption alive and at work in us: changing how we think, speak, live and love to the glory of God’s holy Name. Amen.