Saturday, April 5, 2008

3 Easter

April 6, 2008
Gethsemane Cathedral

Luke 24.13-35

We are now walking in the glorious days of Easter. After all that long trekking we did through the grey days of Lent, that long, unpleasant, but inevitable journey to the cross, is now behind us. We—today—this morning—now over two weeks later—are on “the other side of the cross.” It’s a good place to be. The journey to the cross was a journey few of us every want to make again. It was a journey of exhaustion, of humiliation, of frustration, of physical and emotional agony. It was a journey that ended in murder and death.

In many ways, this is how it is for us in life. As we head into the hardships of this life—as we journey, stumbling, blind with the difficulties of this life—we do so imagining that, once we get beyond this hurdle, all will be well.

The fact is, once we get beyond the hurdle of the cross, once we feel that “Easter-like” joy of being beyond a hardship, we don’t live in that joy for very long. Our joys settled down. We fall into complacency. And eventually, we find ourselves slowly, but surely, back on that road through Lent and the cross all over again.

We do it every year in the Church. Every year, we hit the low points—Lent, Holy Week, Good Friday and Holy Saturday—we hit the high points—Easter, Christmas—but for the most part we walk an ordinary journey, a time in between the high and low points.

In the church we call that long, green season—the time after Pentecost. In the Roman Catholic church, that long period of time between Pentecost and Advent is called, appropriately, “ordinary time.”

In today’s Gospel, we find this beautiful story of Cleopas and the other unnamed disciple encountering Jesus on the road to Emmaus. Cleopas and the other disciple are, essentially, already in that ordinary time, although, of course, they have not yet experienced the Pentecost. The long week of Jesus’ betrayal, torture and murder are behind them. The resurrection has happened, although, it’s clear from their words, they don’t quite comprehend what’s happened. Of course, who could? We still, two thousand years later, are grappling with the events of Jesus’ resurrection. But as these two walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus, they are kept from recognizing their friend, the person they saw as the Messiah, until finally he breaks the bread with them. Only then—only when he breaks that bread open to share with them—do they recognize him.

It’s a wonderful story and one that has many, many layers of meaning for each of us individually, no doubt. But for us Episcopalians, for us who gather together every Sunday to break bread together, this story takes on special meaning. As we hear this reading, we need to ask ourselves: who is it we relate to the most?

The fact is, we are the disciples in this reading. We are Cleopas and the unnamed disciple, walking on the road—walking, as they are, in that place on the other side of the cross. They are walking away from Jerusalem, where all these events happened—the betrayal, the torture the murder and the eventual resurrection of Jesus form the tomb—back to Emmaus, to their homes.

Like them, we go around in our lives on the other side of the cross, talking about Jesus, going on about Jesus, spouting Jesus to others, but, more often than not, we do so without recognizing Jesus in our midst. More often than not, while we are busy speaking about Jesus, we fail to recognize that the person walking right alongside us, the person sitting with us at the table, is, in fact, Jesus in our midst.

In the Rule of St. Benedict, the rule that Benedictine monastics all around the world, for many , many centuries have followed, there is a wonderful chapter on greeting visitors to the monastery. St. Benedict commands that “All should be received as Christ.” Everyone who comes to the door of a monastery or convent, should be welcomed and received as Christ for, St Benedict says, “he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matt. 25.35).” Benedict goes on to say, “Proper honor must be shown to all…” And to this day, Benedictines all over the world do just that when anyone comes to a monastery or convent. They are known for their hospitability.

What an incredible world this would be if we could do the same. What an amazing church we would have if we could do the same, if we could welcome every stranger—and every regular parishioner as well—as Christ. If we could show proper honor to everyone—no matter who they are—who comes through that door.

The fact is, we ARE called to this. By the very fact that we are baptized we are called to do this. In our Baptismal Covenant—that Covenant we have made with God through our baptism—we are called to serve Christ in each other. In our Book of Common Prayer, in the Baptismal Covenant on page 305, each time there is baptism in this church, we are asked,

“Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself.”

To which, we respond, “I will, with God’s help.

Now, of course, that’s not easy. In fact, sometimes it’s downright impossible. Without God’s help, we can’t do it. Without God’s help, we first of all can’t even begin to recognize Christ in our midst. And without God’s help, we can’t seek and serve Christ in all person, loving our neighbor as ourselves.

Let’s face, it’s just easier to choose not to. It’s easy not to see Christ in those people who drive us crazy, who irritate us, who say things to us we don’t want to hear. It’s easy for us to see the devil in people, rather than Christ.

But for us who gather together every Sunday at this table—at this altar—we can’t use that excuse of being unable to recognize Jesus in our midst. In our liturgy, we find Jesus in a multitude of ways. Jesus speaks to us in the scripture readings we hear in the Liturgy of the Word. The voice we hear in these sacred words is truly Jesus’ voice, speaking to each of us in our own particular circumstances, and to all of us as whole.

Jesus is present with us—in all of us—as we gather here. We—the assembly of the people—we, all of us together, are the presence of Jesus here as well.

And when we break this bread at the altar, we find whatever spiritual blindness we come here with, lifted at that time. The bread and the wine we share at the Eucharist is more than just bread and wine. We Episcopalians believe something incredible and wonderful happens here when we gather together to participate in the Eucharist. When we break this bread, we see that Jesus is truly present here in a very real and tangible way in this bread and this wine. When we come forward to take the bread, we come forward to eat his flesh. When we take the cup into our hands, we drink his blood. And in eating his flesh and drinking his blood, his flesh and his blood become part of our flesh and blood. We join with Jesus in a wonderfully intimate way in the Eucharist. That is why the Eucharist is so important to us.

So, today, as we gather here to share in the Eucharist, allow Jesus to come to you and become one with you. Hear Jesus’ words in the scriptures we have just shared and in the scriptures you will read this week. Allow Jesus to speak to you with words that are familiar, with a voice that is familiar. Allow him to take away whatever spiritual blindness you might have so that you can truly and completely see him in those people you share your life with, even those you might not even like or care for. Allow him to take away that spiritual blindness that causes so much harm in the world so that you can fully experience him.

And when we break this bread this morning, let your heart sing, as it no doubt did for Cleopas and the other disciple, “Be known to me, Lord Jesus, in the breaking of bread.”
Recognize him here, as you come forward to be nourished in body and spirit by his Body, Blood and Spirit so that you go out into the world, able to recognize Jesus as he walks alongside you on your journey, in the person of that stranger who accompanies.

We are living, in this moment, on the other of the cross. It’s a glorious place to be. This morning, on this side of this cross, this Eucharist is our road to Emmaus. For this time together, we too walk with Jesus and recognize him in the breaking of bread.

So, let us journey together in these glorious days of Easter. And let us see him, recognize him and feed on him as he comes to us, risen and full of the unending life he offers to each of us

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