In the breaking of the bread

File:Tandır bread.jpg

Watching for the morning of April 30, 2017

Year A

The Third Sunday of Easter

A resurrection appearance still dominates the readings for Sunday. This is the week we hear Luke tell us of the disciples who encounter Jesus on the road to Emmaus.

The narrative is pregnant with meaning for a community known as “the way” – literally, “the road”. The unseen Christ walks with us. Through him the scriptures are opened to us. In the broken bread we recognize him. It is the story not only of the first believers but of every generation.

Where else can we turn to make sense of this unexpected ending to the one who opened the gates for us to see and taste the kingdom? In his words the scriptures were alive. In his teaching was the Spirit of God. In his work was mercy for the margins and a daring challenge to the ruling center. In his hands crowds were fed, sinners welcomed, a new path set before us. And in that moment when the old empire should fall, he is stolen away. Where else can we turn to understand? And as we reread the ancient words they shine with a new light. The suffering servant of Isaiah. The humble king of Zechariah. The faithful one of the psalms. Suddenly the scriptures seem to explode with new insight.

And then there is the bread – the promised feast in Isaiah, the five loaves and two fish, the last supper, and now the bread and wine. All the threads of scripture, all the hope of a world made whole, weave into this moment when bread is broken like his body was broken – and shared freely as he shared himself freely for the sake of the world.

In the teaching, in the bread, they see him. They recognize his presence. They see the perfect love. They see the dawning of the promise – a world governed by this wondrous and holy Spirit.

Now the vision is complete. Christ is gone but not gone. And they race back to share the vision, to proclaim the news, to rejoice in the wonder of God.

So Sunday we will hear Peter declare the promise is for all and invite them to turn and show allegiance to this crucified one whom God has made both Lord and Messiah. And the psalmist will sing of deliverance from death and Peter writes that we “have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.”

The new creation is dawning. We hold the bread of the great feast in our hands.

The Prayer for April 30, 2017

Gracious God,
as Jesus revealed himself to his disciples in the breaking of the bread,
and opened their minds to understand the scriptures,
continue to reveal yourself to us
that we may live in the joy and freedom of your grace,
and bear witness to your redeeming love;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for April 30, 2017

First Reading: Acts 2:14a, 36-41
“Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” – Peter bears witness to the crowds at Pentecost, urging them to turn and show allegiance to Christ Jesus whom God has vindicated and revealed as Lord by his resurrection.

Psalmody: Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19
“What shall I return to the Lord for all his bounty to me?” – a prayer of thanksgiving for deliverance from a threat to his life.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 1:17-23
“You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.” –
a homily on baptism, here urging the believers to remain faithful to their new life.

Gospel: Luke 24:13-35
“Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus.” – Jesus appears to two disciples on the road to Emmaus, opening to them the scriptures and revealing himself in the breaking of bread.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ATand%C4%B1r_bread.jpg By jeffreyw (Mmm…pita bread Uploaded by Fæ) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
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Was it not necessary?

Sunday Evening

Luke 24

File:17th-century unknown painters - St Luke the Apostle and Evangelist - WGA23506.jpg

17th Century Russian Icon of St. Luke

26Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?”

The more I read the Gospels the more I am amazed at the literary skill with which they are crafted. Luke is an especially talented writer. He is not simply giving us a record of events, he is weaving a narrative that brings the reader into the presence of the risen Christ – that makes our hearts burn within us – and, hopefully, makes us see the risen Christ in the breaking of the bread.

Luke begins his Gospel with those finely crafted narratives we call the nativity stories. But calling them nativity stories, and turning them into Christmas plays, divorces those narratives from the composition of Luke’s Gospel. It is as if you were to cut off all the scenes in Hobbiton from the start of the Lord of the Rings. Those events at Bilbo’s birthday party are essential to the larger narrative, setting up themes about the goodness of growing things that are crucial to the larger story.

This first volume of Luke’s two-volume work, his narrative of the words and deeds of Jesus, begins and ends in the temple. It opens with Zechariah serving in the temple and concludes with the followers of Jesus “continually in the temple blessing God.”  An archangel appears to Zechariah and to Mary and the risen Christ encounters the disciples on the road to Emmaus and in Jerusalem.  Mary trusts the promise of God – but the disciples are slow of heart to trust.  Angels bear witness to the shepherds and angels encounter the women at the tomb.  A rock-hewn tomb holds the body of Jesus as a manger holds the infant.  The shepherds come to see “this thing that has taken place” even as the women come to the tomb.  Simeon and Anna, looking for the redemption of Israel, recognize the Christ child and the two disciples at Emmaus recognize the risen Lord in the breaking of the bread.  The 12-year-old Jesus teaches in the temple just after the beginning of the narrative even as Jesus teaches there just before the end.

There is layer upon layer of rich and wonderful work by Luke knitting his account together. And in that great sweep of the whole narrative we are overwhelmed by the marvel of God’s work, the certainty of God’s hand in all these events, and wonder at the ancient witness of the scriptures fulfilled in all that has taken place.

This is not chance; it is “the plan and foreknowledge of God,” as Peter will say at Pentecost (Acts 2:23).   It is the work of a God determined to redeem his world, to gather it back to himself, to lift away the burden and shame of all its sins, and bring it to its ultimate goodness and glory.

Hearing the whole story of these remarkable events leaves you breathless. And this is only the first volume of Luke’s work. The story of Jesus continues with the outpouring of God’s Spirit, the gathering in of Samaritans, the Ethiopian Eunuch and the Roman Centurion. The whole world is drawn into Christ as we follow these witnesses across the ancient Roman world to the heart of the empire itself. In the place where Caesar Augustus proclaimed himself “Savior of the whole world” by the force of his armies, the band of Jesus’ followers proclaim earth’s true savior. The imitation of “peace” created by the threat of Roman force – by the brutality of the cross – yields to the true peace brought by the crucified and risen one. He is God’s anointed, creation’s true lord, earth’s true redeemer.

For you and for all

Friday

Acts 2

File:An eager crowd watches on at the first public screening of the 2013 Namatan Short Film Festival was in Norsup on Malekula Island. (10666256764).jpg39For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away,

English grammar drops the ‘and’ in a series and replaces it with a comma. But I prefer the more literal translation that says, “the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off.” It’s a little thing. A silly thing. But somehow that latter construction suggests to me the wide sweeping arms of grace rather than a simple pointing out of you, you and you.

We tend to hear the scripture as if it were addressed to us as individuals, but the world of the Bible is a world where people thought of themselves first as part of a community. We celebrate the individual; they celebrated the people, the tribe, the family. The promise is to me. The voice of God addresses me, summons me, calls me to enter into the life of God’s kingdom, to walk the walk, to be a disciple/student of Jesus. But the promise is not to me alone. It is to me and to my children and to all who are far off. It is to us, to a community, to a world. The promise is to me but it doesn’t make me a believer on my own; it makes me part of a new world, a member of the body of Christ, a living stone in a living temple. Peter doesn’t say, “once you were nobody,” he says “once you were not a people.”

“You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9-10)

English no longer discriminates between ‘you’ singular and ‘you’ plural. ‘Thou’, ‘thee’, ‘thy’ and ‘thine’ have dropped from use and ‘you’ has taken over their meaning. But our culture has also changed, so when we hear ‘you’ in the Biblical text we tend to think ‘me’ rather than ‘us’.

The promise is to me and to us. To me and to my children. To me and to my children and all the scattered children of God. To me and my neighbor. To me and my enemy. The promise is to all God will gather – not those I would gather. And God would gather all.

Where we love to draw lines about who is in and who is out, God wipes them away. God fishes with a net not a line. God pours out his Spirit on a crowd of 120 on Pentecost – not just on one (or twelve) – and people from every nation are called. We are members one of another. If one suffers all suffer. My neighbor’s hunger is my hunger. The Good Samaritan is a pattern, not a noble exception. The destiny of the earth is new creation, not a lifeboat with a few souls making it to the shores of heaven.

And so Paul will write, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” We stand now in the light of that dawn when earth is restored, the realm of death unbarred, and the sword that guarded paradise has been sheathed.

39For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away,

Hope lives

Thursday

Luke 24

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Sainte-Chapelle in Paris: Rose window

15While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them,

I understand the rich and profound meaning that the resurrection of Jesus expresses. I understand that in the world of Jesus, death was not a single stopping of the heart, but a yearlong process – a dying followed by a mortification of the flesh. As the body lay decomposing, the sinful flesh was wasting away and at the end of the year the bones would be gathered and stored to be used again by God in the day of resurrection as the scaffolding for the recreation of the person – now free from sin and death, able to live in God’s new creation, a world perfected, healed, transformed, redeemed.

Jesus needed no purging of his sins, no mortification of his flesh. He was the righteous son, the faithful son, the truly human one, the new Adam. He stepped immediately from this life into the life to come. The stone the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone, the pattern of all resurrection to come, the firstborn of the dead.

But I do not live in the world of the first century. I live in the world where dead is dead. There is the carcass of a dead squirrel at the end of the alley. It will not arise and scamper away. I have been with too many grieving families, stood at too many bedsides, wanting with every fiber of my being for the dead to rise – yet knowing full well that if they had it would have frightened me beyond speech.

I like the ending of Mark’s Gospel where the women run away in fear and say nothing to anyone.   I understand that story. And I can appreciate the wonderful message of the other stories – of God’s vindication of Jesus, of the dawning of the age to come, of the harrowing of hell, of the end of the law’s power to accuse and sin’s power to hold us in slavery, cut off from the life of God.

I don’t know what to do with this story of Jesus walking to Emmaus. I know that the risen Christ comes to me in the word read and proclaimed. I know that the risen Christ meets me in the breaking of the bread. I have had experiences that verge on visions and auditions. I have no doubt that Christ is risen. I just can’t get my mind around what happened. I can’t explain it in a way that doesn’t sound like I am explaining it away.

So I love this story of Jesus walking with his disciples on the road – teaching them, his words afire within them. I love this story of Jesus revealed in the breaking of bread. It is my experience. It is the pattern for every Sunday gathering of God’s people. There, Christ walks with us. There, he speaks. There, he shows himself in the breaking of the bread. There, heaven is opened and hell releases its prisoners. There, new life is given. There, the Spirit is poured out. There I enter into that promised world where the lion lies down with the lamb. For a moment. And then Jesus is gone. Gone but not gone. Out of sight but not out of mind. I walk back through ordinary streets to my ordinary apartment and all my ordinary problems. But things are not the same. The vision lingers. And hope lives.

Running to joy

Wednesday

Luke 24

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Children running in the flower bed of Kashmir

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem.

They are walking away from the community of disciples in Jerusalem. Are they walking away? Have they abandoned hope that Christ was the one? Are they leaving the fellowship, quitting church, so to speak?

Our assumption is that the followers of Jesus would be devastated by the outcome of events in Jerusalem. But in a world run by elites, where villagers from Nazareth and fishermen from Galilee have no power and little control, they would more likely respond with resignation. We hoped – but the world is as it is. We hoped – but the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. We hoped – but the power of the mighty is too mighty.

Oh, there is grief for a friend. And there may be bitterness towards “the man.” But what did you really expect? It was nice to dream… Now it’s time to go home, to go back to work. People who are used to powerlessness know how to survive powerlessness.

But then there was this strange report by the women who went to the tomb.

Nevertheless, they are going home. In the addendum to John’s Gospel, chapter 21, Peter says, “I am going fishing.” It’s the same thing as turning towards Emmaus. It’s not therapy. It’s not recreation. It’s resignation. We hoped, but hope came to naught. Time to go home. Time to go back to the daily grind.

There are many who listen to the stories of Jesus and walk away saying, “It’s not the real world.” I had this argument with my stepfather when I was 16. Yes I was idealistic. Yes he was cynical, angry and probably frightened by the unrest that spawned the SDS, Black Panthers, and urban riots. But our argument was nevertheless about the “real world”.

Is the “real world” the “dog eat dog” world or the “love your neighbor” world? Is the “real world” the survival of the fittest or “the first shall be last and the last first”? Is the “real world” run by money or the Spirit of God? Are we prisoners of sin and death or Sons and Daughters of God?

Cleopas – short for Cleopatris, the masculine form of Cleopatra – bears a name we associate with the world of sex, money and power. He followed Jesus for a time, but the powers-that-be crushed Jesus with hardly a thought – and Cleopas doesn’t need anyone to explain to him the “real world.” He’s going home. It was a fool’s errand.

But then the real “real world” meets him. Then the risen Jesus comes. Then the word of God is opened. Then the bread is broken. Then Christ reveals himself, the truly real.

And then Cleopas is on his feet running back to Jerusalem, running to join the community that lives by the Spirit of this Jesus, running to join the community of joy, running to tell all they have seen and heard.

In the presence of the risen Lord

Watching for the morning of May 4

Year A

The Third Sunday of Easter

Biarritz-Église_Sainte_Eugénie-Vitrail_SE-20120413.croppedWe suffer a little whiplash by this Sunday, going from Matthew (on Easter Sunday) to John (last Sunday) and now to Luke. But in this choir of voices we hear rich testimony to the meaning of Jesus’ resurrection. In Luke the risen Jesus opens the scriptures to two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus that they might see and understand how the scriptures point to all that has happened in his death and resurrection. Jesus causes a profound rereading of the Biblical witness. All those scattered references to God’s suffering servant, all those psalms of suffering, the references to the Son of God and the Son of Man, reassemble themselves into a new portrait of a redeeming God who comes to draw the whole earth under the reign of his Spirit. Jesus becomes the lens for a new reading of scripture. The Biblical record is not just Israel’s story, but the human story, and the new Jerusalem not a new capital of a righteous theocracy, but the marriage of heaven and earth.

Of this royal city we are citizens, walking already by the light of a new day, immersed in a new spirit, feasting at the king’s table in the presence of the risen Lord.

The Prayer for May 4, 2014

Gracious God,
as Jesus revealed himself to his disciples in the breaking of the bread,
and opened their minds to understand the scriptures,
continue to reveal yourself to us
that we may live in the joy and freedom of your grace,
and bear witness to your redeeming love;
through your son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever,

The Texts for May 4, 2014

First Reading: Acts 2:14a, 36-41
“Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” – Peter bears witness to the crowds at Pentecost, urging them to turn and show allegiance to Christ Jesus whom God has vindicated and revealed as Lord by his resurrection.

Psalmody: Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19
“What shall I return to the Lord for all his bounty to me?” – a prayer of thanksgiving for deliverance from a threat to his life.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 1:17-23
“You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.” –
a homily on baptism, here urging the believers to remain faithful to their new life.

Gospel: Luke 24:13-35
“Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus.” – Jesus appears to two disciples on the road to Emmaus, opening to them the scriptures and revealing himself in the breaking of bread.