“Eye Opening Occasions”

April 3, 2016

 

Luke 24:13-35

 

The risen Christ is first of all a stranger—unknown, unrecognized.

Luke tells us when Jesus started walking with Cleopas and his friend “their eyes were kept from recognizing him.”

After the resurrection, those who knew Jesus do not recognize the one for whom they provided, the one who called them from their fishing boat and nets, the one with whom they walked.

This story about the unrecognized resurrected One helps explain why we are liberal Protestant Christians.

The risen Christ will not be pinned down to our specifications. The risen Christ will not be weighed down with our expectations. The living Christ will not be held captive by the church or by scripture or by our own always-incomplete understanding. 

We are people who realize that we can’t get a handle on the risen Christ. Christ is not ours to possess.

We are Christ’s and Christ claims us and calls us to love this world and the people in it.

We are Christ’s and Christ goes ahead of us into all the uncertainty of each new day.

Christ is free in the world, where we are called to follow. Christ is present in the poor and the afflicted, in every life that we would deem insignificant or unimportant. And this is the astonishing thing—Christ is present even in you and me.

Because of this, in our Congregational tradition, we are reluctant to limit Christ by the definitions of creedal formulas, regarding such ancient and contemporary words more as “testimonies” than as “tests” of faith. We refuse to speak the final word about who Christ is and who might be numbered among those who follow him.

This is good news for people in transition, as we always are. It means that as we change, as the circumstances of our lives change, we will discover new ways in which Christ is made know to us. 

The risen Christ is first of all a stranger.

But recall what happens at the table.

Luke alone tells the story of those two followers of Jesus, Cleopas and his unnamed companion, walking the road of despair from Jerusalem to Emmaus. When they sit with that stranger, who takes bread, blesses and breaks it, and gives it to them, their eyes are opened and they recognize him. They move from ignorance to awareness. They go and tell other how the risen Christ had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Into bread broken and wine poured, Jesus packed a wealth of information—about who he is, about how God acts in the world, about what life might be like for us. When we come to the table and find bread broken and wine poured our eyes, too, might be opened so that we can recognize the risen Christ.

We recognize the risen Christ through what he does: taking, blessing, breaking, giving.

Look.

He takes the bread into his hands. This is the common, the ordinary stuff of life. How was it that the Psalmist described this gift of God? “Bread to strengthen the human heart.” We pray for our daily bread and we are strengthened in countless ways.

And, yes, at times we fussy Protestants are pretty sure we know better than Jesus. We saw the terrible effects that alcohol abuse was having on families and communities. So we sought to abolish it from society, and we generally did succeed in getting it out of our worship services. We thought that grape juice was more appropriate than wine—forgetting that the Psalmist also tells of God’s gift of wine “to gladden the human heart” in a way that no amount of Welch’s ever can.

And, no, I’m not advocating irresponsible drinking. I’m just saying that our communion service—and our lives—too often have a dreary, funereal quality about them—and that I am often so grim myself.

Where are our glad hearts?

Where is the joy at the table?

At least we still have the bread.

Jesus does not take the flashy or the spectacular to tell us something about himself. He takes—of all things—bread. Ordinary bread.

Your ordinary life will do.

My ordinary life will do.

This church. This city. This University.

The ordinary busy days that we know can be occasions in which we recognize Christ.

It’s a matter of looking—and looking closely. The author Anne Lamott does a wonderful job of identifying and describing the holy that is at work right in the midst of what she would call the profane and neurotic and sinful stuff of her life. Reflecting on this, one person said: “I’m sure her life isn’t more meaningful or shot through with more sacred moments than anyone else’s. It’s just that she notices it all, pays attention to what could be evidence of God’s presence, and actually expects to see such evidence.”[i]

The Episcopal priest, Barbara Brown Taylor, suggests a similar attitude when she writes: “My life depends on engaging the most ordinary physical activities with the most exquisite attention I can give them.”

My expectations are usually not that high. My attention is usually not that exquisite. My eyes are usually not opened.

When Christ takes the ordinary what might we see if we really look?

Now, listen. This Jesus offers the ordinary up to God. Blessing the bread, Jesus gives thanks to God for the fruit of the field which grew by the power of God.

Perhaps he spoke the ancient Hebrew words: “Blessed are you, O Lord our God, Ruler of all creation, for you bring forth bread from the earth.”

The blessing of a meal has two functions:

It binds those who eat into a community in the sight of God.

And it offers the praise and the thanksgiving of that community to God.

Ordinary bread and our ordinary lives are brought into the presence of God who gives both bread and life. 

And then Jesus breaks this bread—as his body was broken. I’m always touched by the words in the communion service: “The body of Christ, broken for you.” I have spoken these words to people with arms in casts, people whose relationships were torn apart, people who were broken in mind or spirit.

We know brokenness. And in our brokenness we come to know Christ who was broken for us.

As with Cleopas and his friend, when we are broken, when our world is falling apart, the risen Christ is closer than we might realize.

Christ is present wherever there are people who raise questions about him, who contemplate and discuss his significance. Christ is present even when these conversations reflect doubt, unbelief, or disappointment that are so much a part of our lives. The risen Christ becomes a partner in our conversations as much as he was a partner in the discussion with Cleopas and his friend.

Any time we ask questions like

“Where is God?”

“Does God care about this world?”

“Does God care about me?”

The risen Christ draws near to us,

            hears our doubt and despair,

                        listens to our confusion as we search for direction and purpose.

and speaks to our suffering out of his own.

Even in our brokenness, Christ is present in our lives. Sometimes we would confess that especially in our brokenness, Christ is present in our lives.

Finally Jesus gives—which, in a sense, is what this is all about. The life and death of Jesus were a giving, an offering to God. And they are signs of God’s giving to us.

On its own a piece of bread is insignificant. But given from the hand of the Crucified One, this bread tells us in the words of the hymn: “All our wants shall be supplied.”

Because we have received so much, we might also be those who give generously.

Taking, blessing. breaking, giving: the risen Christ then vanished out of sight.

It happens at this table, and because it happens at this table, it also happens whenever we extend hospitality: feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, caring for the sick. It happens anytime we reach out in simple or difficult acts of friendship or compassion. It happens anytime we find the grace and the strength to follow the new commandment that Jesus also gave when he gave this meal and love one another just as we have been loved.

At the table—if only briefly—our eyes are opened.

Which may be why this congregation likes to eat together.

At the table together we find out who we are, who our neighbor is. Our eyes are opened as we talk and eat together. The stranger becomes a friend.

In a congregation strangers become neighbors, neighbors become brothers and sisters.

At the table together, we begin to see in new ways. 

It is a wonderful thing that we say. We say that we have seen Christ—in scripture, in the breaking of the bread, in welcome and hospitality.  The risen Christ comes to us—even in our despair and disbelief and fear. He listens as we speak, as we search for meaning in the rubble of our lives. He receives us as we are. And he accepts our invitation to stay a little longer when the darkness seems to be closing in around us.

At the table when bread and cup are taken blessed, broken, poured out, given, received, our eyes are opened and we recognize Jesus among us—not as one whom we can grasp and cling to, but one who seems to vanish almost as quickly as we recognize him. We get some small sense of God’s presence, some vague realization of meaning and purpose—even in difficult times—and so we continue to come to the table. Our eyes once opened begin to close again. Our souls, once fed, become hungry once more. 

At the table Christ is made known to us.

And in the world Christ is made know through us.



[i] Jan Larsen-Wigger, review of Traveling Mercies, in Family Ministry, Spring 2000, pg. 91.