Saturday, April 5, 2008

Eating is Believing

Sermon for Easter III, Year A
Sunday, April 6, 2008
Preached at Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: St. Luke 24:13-35

“Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.”
--St. Luke 24:31

On a sad and lonely road walked two disciples. Their journey took them away from the Holy City, away from the festival that had come and gone, and away from the hope they had for a better life and a better world. They had followed the man about the countryside and into the city and had been amongst those who had proclaimed him king. And yet, as that fateful week unfolded their dreams began to dissipate and they stood at a distance watching the whole enterprise come crashing down. In the defeat of their leader and their whole movement, their hopes and dreams were crushed. So, they quietly slipped away along a sad and lonely road, presuming that that in the brokenness of their dreams they would quietly slip back into the broken world – unnoticed, anonymous.

One suspects that the last thing these two solitary figures wanted was company. Yet, they found themselves walking alongside a stranger – something of an intrusive stranger who inquired about the nature of their conversation. To their shock and surprise, this man seemed to know nothing about the events of the previous week. How true it is that what is often monumental and catastrophic to one may go completely unnoticed by another. Nonetheless, in a spirit of friendship, they opened up to him and told him their story. They chose not to remain silent in the midst of this unknown stranger, but shared with him the story of their shattered hopes and broken dreams. They poured open their broken hearts to him over the loss of their treasured friend and master.

They also shared the rumours – rumours that they could not believe; that he walked again. Oh, they had not seen it themselves; they could not, dare not, believe it. Hope once dashed is only cautiously rekindled. They had risked so much to follow him. They would not so easily and freely risk again. Then strangely, this mysterious fellow traveler began to speak about the prophets and the Scriptures, and about their fulfillment in this man – a man unknown to him. How odd this must have seemed to them, and yet it strangely comforted them. But did they yet believe? Alas, they did not.

But something strange was kindled within them. As the day pressed on and night began to fall, they welcomed him into their lodging, no longer as a stranger but as a guest, as a friend. As they sat around the table to eat their meal, a strange thing happened: In a gesture that evoked another meal, less than a week before, he took the bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to them. And then, in an instant, in this simple drama, they knew that they had not been left alone, they knew that the hope that seemed lost was yet found. They finally came to understand and believe that the dream that they thought dead and buried with their master was now, no longer a dream, but a reality. Thy kingdom come.

He vanished from their eyes. But they no longer had any need to see him to believe. As they had walked along the road, sharing stories of the women in Jerusalem who had claimed he was alive, they refused to believe. They had not seen him themselves. For them, like Thomas, “seeing was believing.” But oh, how often do we see and yet not believe? How often does our Lord walk with us and we choose to see him not? How often do we choose pain over healing, sadness over joy, despair over hope, when healing, hope and joy walk with us? Understand this: Seeing is overrated!

We think that seeing and touching, getting the tangible proof, will answer all our questions and cast all our doubt away. Like Thomas, and like those disciples along the Emmaus road, we think that “seeing is believing.” One only need to look at the world around us. Does seeing poverty, global warming, war, or injustice make any of these things more difficult to deny or ignore? Alas, it does not. Sometimes, seeing makes it even more difficult to cope, more difficult to believe, more difficult to understand. Had the disciples on this road seen the Risen Lord, would they have believed? God chose another way – the way he offers to you and me.

The miracle of Emmaus is that the Lord came to the disciples in a completely different way. He came to them in their experience of pain, loss, hopelessness, and despair. He came to them as they chose to walk together with him and with each other despite the worst the world could throw at them, despite the reality of their deep disappointment and brokenness. He came to them as they shared in a broken piece of bread. He came to those who were broken as one who was broken, in the breaking of the bread. And the minute they recognized him, he disappeared. But was he gone? By no means! Although removed from their eyes, they believed. St. Luke never says, that they “saw” him, only that their eyes were opened and they recognized him.

What did they recognize? They recognized that he was with them in their brokenness as they walked along the road, even though at first, they knew it not. They recognized him in the opening of the Scriptures. They recognized that as they broke bread that they did this in memory of him – and what is more, that in that their Lord was more than remembered, he was truly alive and present with them. They recognized that wherever two or three are gathered, “there I am in the midst of you.”

This is the story of our faith. This is our Easter acclamation. We meet our Lord along the road on which we walk to escape our darkest pain and disappointment. We meet our Lord every time the Scriptures are opened. We meet our Lord when bread is broken in community. Seeing is not believing; oh, if it were so simple. Believing is something more profound. Believing is finding love in the arms of another when we feel unworthy of love. Believing is finding forgiveness at the hand of another when we feel we have done something unforgivable. Believing is finding joy in the laughter of another when we feel we may never laugh again. Believing is finding compassion in the gentle touch of another when we feel words cannot express the depth of our pain. And believing is offering all these things back to another when they cannot stand on their own. Believing is knowing that it is neither you nor I that makes any of these miracles possible, but the loving, Risen one, whose brokenness is our brokenness, whose healing is our healing, whose life is our life. Believing is sharing the fullness and depth of our humanity together in this shared common life, around this common table, and in the breaking open of the bread of our hearts, we believe him to be alive in our midst receiving him into our hearts by faith with thanksgiving.

Copyright 2008, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves. This post may not be reproduced or redistributed, either in whole or part, by any means, without the express, written permission of the author.

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