|Apres l'apparition by Jean Louis Forain|
April 26, 2020
+ As we continue on in our quarantine, as we still try to figure out who we are as a Church outside the walls of our building, one area that I think is a challenge for us in these seemingly unending days of social isolation is a ministry that we hold very dear here at St. Stephen’s
This incredibly VITAL ministry is the ministry of hospitality.
And if you want to know what real ministry is about, then this is IT.
Real ministry, as we have all discovered, is not about the almighty ME—the individual.
It is about US—all of us, the children of God.
Radical Hospitality, as well know, is not easy.
Ministry is not easy.
And it’s especially hard when we are isolated in our homes.
Sharing our time, our energy, our physical building, is definitely not easy right now.
How do we practice hospitality in this time of Covid?
We do so in any way we can.
We do so with those we live with.
We do so with those we actually encounter, either in person or on social media, or when we actually have to go out and do necessarily errands.
And some of us, of course, are still working.
Some of us are still out there doing work in work places.
Being radically welcoming means treating all those people we encounter in our lives, in any way, with respect and dignity.
Now, in today’s Gospel, we find hospitality as well.
And in this story, there is a kind of social isolation happening as well.
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 a strange time in their life in following Jesus.
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.
And they are isolated to some extent because they are afraid of the persecutions that are happening towards followers of Jesus following his death.
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 one of my personal favorite stories in scripture, as many of you know.
In fact when I was installed as Rector of St. Stephen’s last December, some parishioners here, who know my love for this scripture, gave me a beautiful piece of art, illustration.
It is a drawing by the French artist Jean Louis Forain called “Apres l’Apparition” or “After the Apparition.”
In it, we see the two disciples on one side of a table, one seated, one kneeling in awe. On the table is a broken loaf of bread. And across from them is an empty chair. One of the disciples looks in amazement at the empty chair, a glow on his faces, both of them realizing who is was that had just been sitting and breaking bread with them.
I love that piece of art (I look at it every day), and I love what it represents.
Because, 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 and every Wednesday to virtually break bread together even in this time of pandemic, this story takes on special meaning.
In a sense. 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 from the tomb—back to Emmaus, to their homes.
Like them, we go around in our lives on the other side of the cross, trying to understand what it means to be followers of Jesus on this side of the cross.
What this story teaches us is that, even when we don’t recognize Jesus in our midst, we should always be cautious.
He might not make himself known to us as he did to Cleopas and the other disciple.
Rather, he might remain cloaked in that stranger who comes to us.
And as a result, it’s just so much better to realize that everyone we encounter, everyone we greet, everyone we welcome, everyone we make room for, in whatever we way we encounter them in our quarantines, truly is Jesus disguised.
This belief of welcoming all people—of treating all people—as though they are Christ is essential for those of us who are following Jesus.
Because it’s most definitely what we do here at St. Stephen’s., even we are not gathering within these walls.
But, for a moment, just imagine what an incredible world this would be if everyone could do this—if everyone could practice radical hospitality right now, even separated as we are physically.
What an amazing Christian Church we would have if we could do the same, if we could welcome every stranger—and every regular parishioner as well—as Christ in our online relationships, in the relations we have within our confinement, in all we do and say to others.
Imagine if we welcomed even our very enemies as Christ.
I think many Christians forget this.
We are called to welcome all people as Christ, because we do not know when we will encounter him, in whatever guise he might choose to come to us.
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—without the Holy Spirit—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 persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves.
And, let’s face, it’s just easier to choose not to.
It’s much easier to grumble and mumble and complain.
It’s much easier to backbite.
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 much, much easier for us to see the devil in people, rather than Christ.
But for us who “gather” at least online, together every Sunday at this table—at this altar—we can’t use that excuse of being unable to recognize Jesus in our midst.
Jesus IS 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 wherever we might be to worship on line here.
We, all of us together, are the presence of Jesus in this world as well.
And when we break this bread at the altar, we find whatever spiritual blindness we come here with is lifted at that time.
We see Christ truly present with us—in the bread and the wine, and in one another.
Radical hospitality DOES make a difference.
Greeting people as though Jesus were present in each person who comes through that door has incredible results—not in only in our collective life here at St. Stephen’s, but in the lives of each of those people coming among us.
We are showing them that, despite the occasionally somewhat ugly reputation the Church has at times—and sometimes deservedly so—we, as the Body of Christ in this world, can do much good as well.
We can truly love.
We can truly be accepting—of all people, no matter who or what they are.
We can truly see clearly that Jesus does still walk beside us.
We can see that he is with us here as we listen to the scriptures and he is here with us that this table in the breaking of the bread.
So, today, let us hear—truly hear—his words in the scriptures we have just shared and in the scriptures we will read this week.
Let us allow Jesus to speak to us with words that are familiar, with a voice that is familiar.
Let us allow him to take away whatever spiritual blindness we might have so that we can truly and completely see him in those people who share our life with us.
Let us allow him to take away that spiritual blindness that causes so much harm in the world so that we can fully experience him and show love and respect to everyone we come in contact with.
And when we break this bread this morning, let our hearts sing, as it no doubt did for Cleopas and the other disciple,
“Be known to me, Lord Jesus, in the breaking of bread.”
And recognizing him here, as we come forward to be nourished in body and spirit by his Body, Blood and Spirit. may we also go out into the world, able to recognize Jesus as he walks alongside us on our journey.
We are living, in this moment, on the other side of the cross.
We are living here, with Jesus in our very midst.
It is truly a glorious place to be.