Monday, April 07, 2008

Sermon for April 6, Easter 3

How God Comes to Meet Us

Acts 2:14, 26-41, Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19, 1 Peter 1:17-23, Luke 24:13-35

Easter is more than a single Sunday, Easter is a whole season of seven Sundays up through Pentecost. On the Sundays after his resurrection our Lord kept showing up to meet with his disciples.

And so the disciples kept gathering on the first day of the week to meet him as he came to them. And when he met with them he broke the bread with them. He was establishing a pattern.

Our story from Luke 24 is a paradigm for the way we meet on the first day of the week. The walk to Emmaus and the meal at the end is a pattern for the way we worship here and now. First we walk and talk, and then we bless and break and eat.

The first half of our service is our walk through the scriptures, and our teaching and our conversation. The second half we gather round the table to break the bread, and there he makes himself known to us and we recognize him. And this is the reason why the great majority of Christians celebrate communion every first day of the week.

This paradigm and pattern is God’s design for recognizing Jesus among us, and also to share his resurrection life. Well, this is a shift for us who were brought up with communion as most about the crucifixion—you wouldn’t want that every week. Communion is not only the memorial of a death, it’s even more the celebration of a life, the resurrection life, and it’s the sharing in that new and powerful life that is healing and joyful and will not end.

The disciples are not joyful as we meet them on the road. They are arguing with each other. They answer with an edge when Jesus asks them what they’re arguing about. They are disappointed and disillusioned, and they can’t believe the latest news from the women. It’s been three days now. They feel like they’d been fools. He couldn’t have been the Messiah after all, because the true Messiah would have been a winner, not a loser. A Messiah by definition would not be crucified.

The whole campaign had been an exercise in futility. Maybe this whole religion is futility. Maybe God has given up on us. Back to the real world, back home.

Futility is the word in 1 Peter 1:18. Futility is the way of the world beneath its apparent success and virtuosity. Futility is not God’s desire for us, and from futility God has ransomed us. And on the road of our frustrations, in the lengthening shadows of our weariness, here God comes to find us, and to give us meaning and direction instead futility.

We may not recognize it’s God, because it’s in a hidden presence that God comes to us, and we usually do not recognize it’s God till after the fact. God’s presence is not in the usual signs of divinity, the sounds of angels or trumpets, but rather in your communion with your companions on your road, and in the mundane breaking of our ordinary bread.

And when God comes, God teaches us. God’s teaching is more than information or advice, God is actually present in God’s word. 1 Peter 1:23 speaks of the living and enduring word of God.
"Living" and "enduring" are resurrection words, these words signify the resurrection life. In God’s word Jesus is alive, in his teaching us he is actually present among us.

Jesus takes his time with us, he does not tell us outright who he is, he walks along with us and he tends to start by asking us what is troubling us. It’s the heart that is "cut" that opens up. The broken heart can be the "burning heart".

His style of teaching is conversational, it comes through fellowship, it’s among companions who together listen to his word. He uses the scriptures to show himself to us, and also to help us find ourselves as well. He shows us why the story of us and God results in those wounds in his hands and his side, and what that says about us, and about God, and why that’s good news.

It always comes to us as news. Like the disciples we’re surprised. We think we know what we need to know. We have our questions we want answered. But he starts from the top, teaching us what we’d not thought to ask about. His teaching challenges us, it doesn’t give in to us. Yet afterward we think, "Of course, why didn’t we see it all along?"

And then he touches us. Last week I said that touching is good, seeing is better, believing is best. We are meant to live by our belief, and then our belief informs what we can see, so that our belief determines how we touch the world. Touching is not bad, it’s good.

And we need to be touched as well. So Jesus does more for us than just teaching us to help us to believe and see. He lets himself be touched by us. He makes himself known to us in the breaking of the bread. We touch his body in our hands, we taste his love upon our lips.

Never before had God felt like this. What a very strange way for God to show up. Not what any philosopher would predict, or any rabbi either, that God would show up in the breaking of the bread. How unimpressive, how not divine. How like a broken body, like the wounds in his hands and side that led Thomas to a deeper vision of divinity.

This story tells us that communion is a remembrance of his broken body but even more a celebration of his resurrection life, first, because bread is the staff of life, and he said, "I am the bread of life," and second, be cause he is not only the bread but also the bread-giver, the bread-blesser, the bread-breaker, he’s the host of the meal.

We are offered to believe that every Sunday he is present among us by his Holy Spirit, living in our community, as together we break the bread, and we are to recognize him as among us all. So while out there on the long road of our ordinary experience he chooses to keep his presence hidden, in the breaking of the bread he welcomes us to recognize his presence.

Why this way? Well, first, as this morning’s collect says, that with the eyes of faith opened, we may behold him in all his redeeming work.

Second, to show you the model of the resurrection life, which is not a life of enlightened independence, but of community and companionship, sharing side by side, building each other up and enjoying the presence of each of other and also enjoying and sharing the good gifts of the world.

And third, to show you what you cannot see but must believe, that the living Jesus not only teaches you but feeds you, and nourishes you, from his own body.

I suspect that if not for his Incarnation, the Second Person of the Trinity would not have come to this. For he learned it from his mother. There are ancient paintings of the Virgin Mary nursing the infant Jesus at her breast, and she speaks to him softly as he drinks from her body. What Jesus learned from his mother he also does for your soul, and as faithfully as his mother did for him. Because he loves you he shares his very life with you.

Copyright © 2008 by Daniel Meeter, all rights reserved.

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