Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Jesus' Way: Let's Kick It up a Notch (Easter & Holy Communion)

Scripture Readings: Isaiah 25:6-9; Luke 24:13-35

Some college students were doing a study on how a person’s work affects their perception of reality. They interviewed an engineer, and asked this question: “What does two plus two make?” The engineer simply said, “in absolute terms: four.” Then the researchers interviewed a lawyer. They asked the same question: “What does two plus two make?” The lawyer looked around, went and closed the office door, and then leaned close to them and said: “Well, tell me; what would you like it to be?”

One of the amazing things about the New Testament Gospels is their earthiness and honesty. They don’t treat the disciples as if they wore haloes. They don’t show the first Christians as superhuman heroes. The Gospels show the disciples as practical people who were almost dragged into faith against their will. The last thing they ever would have done was to create or invent something as strange as the resurrection of Jesus in order to make things fit the way they would have liked things to be.

The two disciples, who were on their way to their home in Emmaus, had been staying in Jerusalem for the Passover. They had heard of Jesus’ arrest. They had possibly watched the crucifixion themselves. They had heard for themselves the report of the women disciples who had found the tomb empty. They had heard Peter describe his own visit to the empty tomb, and Peter’s confusion about it. They would have been reminded of the many unpleasant predictions of Jesus; that he would be killed, and then rise from the dead on the third day.

They had never really listened when Jesus had talked about this. They had heard him, but they had not listened, because the idea of Jesus being betrayed and killed was simply unthinkable. And his resurrection was simply as unthinkable as his dying. Wishful thinking was not in their mind set. Disappointment was.

All they knew was that two things were real. The death of Jesus on the cross was real. The empty tomb was also real. But they could not add these up to Jesus being risen and alive. They could not make themselves make Jesus alive, no matter how much they would have liked to do so.

Sometime that late afternoon of the first day of the week they heard the slap, slap, slapping of sandals on the road behind them, and a man caught up with them and started asking them questions. They didn’t know who he was. He was a stranger to them.

He asked them leading questions. He told them they were foolish (a good way to get on the good side of anyone).

He showed them a pattern in the scriptures that they had not noticed before. Over and over there was some servant of God, or some group of servants, that was (or would be) imprisoned, or swallowed alive, or kept in a hole in the ground, or beaten and killed, who would come back, who would get up, who would arise somehow.

It was very exciting, but they still did not believe. They did not know who was talking to them even though they began to have feelings, as he spoke, like feelings that Jesus once gave to them.

These are people who believed in Jesus before, but they had believed wrongly. They thought he was a prophet and a liberator. They really had not known who Jesus was, or what he was about. None of them did.

Just at the moment we meet them on the road, they love Jesus, in their own way, but they no longer believe. They no longer have hope in Jesus. Little do they know what is coming, but they are people who are going to believe. They are going to be people who know the reason for living in hope. They are going to be people of faith who truly know the risen Jesus. But they don’t know that yet.

Even if we have known Jesus since we were little children, and even if we have known the important things about him for a very long time, we may need to relearn what we know. Or, we may need to let what is in our head get into our heart and life.
There is some persuading that needs to go on. There needs to be some work done; and we are not the ones who are capable of doing that work. Jesus has to be with us in a way we do not recognize in order to get us to know him, and see him, and hear him as he is; and how he really wants us to know him.

The two disciples from Emmaus were on a walk with Jesus without knowing it. And Jesus was working on them, all the time, while they walked.

Our life is a journey, and we don’t realize just how Jesus is also on our journey with us, going to work on us as we go. The things that happen, the things we see, and hear, and do, have another voice within them that is the voice of Jesus. And if we have suffered anything at all, we need to know that Jesus has something to tell us about his own suffering, just as he spoke about it to those two on that road.
Somewhere, on that journey, Jesus wants us to see him as he truly is. Somewhere, on that journey, Jesus wants us to know him in a way that we have not known him before. And if you think that Jesus showed himself to those two disciples at the very end of their journey you need to think again because, as soon as they recognized Jesus, they were no longer on a journey to Emmaus, they were on a journey to Jerusalem, the place where the great things about God are supposed to be celebrated.

In Jerusalem they would find brothers and sisters who had recognized the same Jesus, just as he showed himself to them. It was the crucified and risen Jesus. It was the victorious Jesus that they knew.

We don’t know for sure why they didn’t recognize him at first, or why they recognized him only when he blessed and broke the bread for the supper at their table. Maybe they were so focused on their grief and their fears that they never quite looked this man in the face. Or, when Jesus broke the bread, maybe they saw the nail holes in his hands.

Or, maybe, Jesus knew that he had done enough. Jesus knew the time was right for their faith. Maybe there is a wrong time to come to faith, and there is a right time to finally see Jesus clearly. The history of our life is a history of the Lord’s timing, when he brings us to certain conditions when the time is right for something new; something higher, and deeper, and stronger, and better.

I feed the birds. Sometimes, I imagine that, when the birds are singing in the branches in the morning in the spring, and I go out my door with of birdseed to scatter and to fill the feeders, I do imagine that the birds sing louder when they see me. They recognize that the living feeder has arrived.

Jesus is our feeder. Jesus is the living bread that came down from heaven. (John 6:51) As the bread of life, Jesus is our life giver. He is our nurturer.

This must have come through to them so many times; not just in the feeding of the crowds, or that last supper during the Passover. Jesus must have taken the bread for the meal in his hands and blessed it many times, at many, many meals with his disciples. It was simply Jesus’ nature to do that job.

Jesus had filled the minds of the two disciples, on their journey to Emmaus, with the ideas of who he is, and what he has done for us. But, when he played the host at the meal in their house, Jesus was no longer just in the ideas that filled their heads. Jesus was there, in all his fullness; and he came into their hearts.

The cross and the empty grave are like food for us. This is who Jesus is and this is what he is like; a suffering servant and a victorious king. He gives us this meal, at this communion table, as the place for us to meet him, and recognize him, and be fed by him.

Easter, is the day of the resurrection. It is a day of power, and that makes this meal worth eating.

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