Monday, April 27, 2009

Easter 03 - B

Encounters Along the Road

The first day Jesus appears to the disciples through the locked door. Hearts are opened and pain is overcome. Of course, the story does not end there, for the next couple of months Jesus appeared over and over, enabling his disciples to come to an understanding of their own faith and their mission. Meeting Jesus along the way…

That is what faith is all about when you stop and think about it.

Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant Faith suggested that we meet Jesus in three ways; in scripture, in study, and in prayer. And although those are important, I think he forgot one. He forgot about the personal meeting that takes place between followers.

Now, having just finished a men’s breakfast, and knowing that we are about to have a bbq, and a pancake breakfast and a pot luck lunch I would like to suggest something that I believe strongly that probably won’t surprise any of you. Food and the resurrection are tied up together. In fact, food plays an important role in helping to create fellowship and faith.

The first time Jesus appears to the disciples he asks them for something to eat. In Emmaus Jesus breaks bread with two of the disciples. On the shores of the Sea of Galilee, he instructs the "Peter and John Fishing Company" to throw their nets over on the other side of their boat; they do and fill the boat to overflowing! There are so many fish, in fact, that Peter has to jump overboard and wade in to shore, where he finds Jesus, sitting by a charcoal fire, a few fish already on the grill, saying, "Come and have breakfast!"

Jesus says this to us, too: "Come and have breakfast!" We can relate to a God like this: on the beach, a warm fire, fresh fish, bread, and some good friends.

Think about how often food comes up in the Bible, When God comes to visit Abraham he has Sarah prepare a goat and some bread; when The Israelites are crossing the desert to freedom most of the miracles have to do with food, it just comes up over and over again.

Or what about the story of the 5,000 people who come to church with nothing for lunch. Jesus turns to Philip and says, "What is there to eat? What do we have to feed all these people?" and a little boy volunteers to share what he has.

These stories are related. It is through a meal that everything of significance happens. Everyone ate and was satisfied. Everyone's eyes were opened and they could see it was Jesus with them!

Everyone begins to understand as they eat with Jesus… to really understand for the first time. Everyone is to go and tell others to repent, to accept God's forgiveness, and to tell the story-beginning right here and now!

Eating and drinking together then, is the primary way of experiencing Jesus' resurrection in the Bible and the most universal way people affirm and experience relationship, community. We must eat together to be human and to become human. We must also, it appears, eat together to know God.

So I think Martin Luther was right about a lot of things, and we do encounter God in our study and prayer life… But we also encounter God, encounter Jesus along the way in the ordinary and life giving act of sharing fellowship and eating a meal. In the intimate connections we come to see God face to face.

The Church has long taught us that we come to know and recognize God in the literal act of breaking bread and giving thanks. Which is certainly true, but it also goes beyond the obvious. I believe that these stories tell us that we come to recognize Christ when we commune with God by gathering together. Whenever we meet with and share with another person our joy and our grief and offer prayer over the bread we break together or share a cup of coffee… then we have found God.

We need to enter into the experience in order to have our eyes truly opened. No amount of talking about it, or learning about it will ever replace the actual experience. The story is told of the explorer who some years ago had just returned from the Amazon.

The people at home were eager to learn all about the vast and mighty river and the country surrounding it. But he had a problem… Could he ever describe it to them – put into words the feelings that flooded into his heart when he saw the exotic flowers and heard the night sounds of the jungle? How could he communicate to them the smells that filled the air and the sense of danger? Or the excitement that would come whenever he and his fellow explorers encountered strange animals or paddled through treacherous rapids?

So the explorer did what all good explorers do – he told them they had to “go and find out for yourselves what it is like", and to help them he drew a map of the river pointing out the various features of its course and describing some of the dangers and some of the routes that could be used to avoid those dangers.

The people took the map and they framed and hung on the wall of the local science museum so that everyone could look at it. Some made copies of it. After a period of time many of those who made copies for themselves considered themselves experts on the river - and indeed they knew its every turn and bend, they knew how broad it was and how deep, where the rapids where and where the falls. They knew the river and they instructed others in what it was like whenever those people indicated an interest in it.

Now let’s be honest. This is the danger of our faith. Our history, our Bible, our traditions can become like those maps; they point the way, but at some level, we have forgotten the real experience.

It is good to remember that on the eve of our anniversary weekend. All of the good times we remember, all of the glories of that past, are events that merely point the way to what we hope to encounter in the future.

After Jesus’ death, without Jesus standing with them, the original followers had lost their way. They were locked away thinking about the past, but then Jesus stood among them, broke bread with them, and offered them a future.

When you keep reading to the end of the Bible, the ultimate sign of God's peace and the ultimate sign of the completion of God's plan for the universe is a great banquet. We should not forget that. We are called to make our own lives, our homes, our churches signs of that great feast which is yet to come. We are to provide, for all people, a welcome into our communities. We are, as members of the church, to be the body of Christ broken for the world, feeding all the hungers of the human race.

St. Augustine, a fourth century bishop in North Africa, put it this way in an Easter sermon: "You are the body of Christ. In you and through you the work of the incarnation must go forward. You are to be taken; you are to be blessed, broken, and distributed; that you may be the means of grace and the vehicles of the eternal charity." So may it be.

No comments: