Monday, May 23, 2011

Easter 5A. 22 May 2011.

For the audio version, click here and select 5th Sunday after Easter.


          I was talking about John's gospel with someone recently, and I found myself saying that reading John is like listening to a really beautiful piece of music.  No matter how deeply you think about his text, it still sort of washes over you and creates a multitude of images and thoughts and feelings.  I remember when I was a boy and I was really getting into reading the Sherlock Holmes mysteries.  And I would complain to my dad that they were slow to get moving.  You have the descriptions of the flat Holmes and Watson lived in—the Persian slipper that held the pipe tobacco, the letters stuck to the mantelpiece with a jack-knife.  And my father would patiently explain that those descriptions serve the purpose of reminding us where the stories are set, and that in time I would grow to appreciate them.  He said that in time I would re-read the stories and the old descriptions would wash over me and I would feel as if I were coming back to a familiar place.  He was right.


          In some sense, that is what our Bible is intended to do.  We are meant to read these sacred texts because they form us as the people of God—they are alive with the power of God's spirit, and because we engage with them throughout the many contours and changes of our lives.  I read the Bible very differently now than I did when I was a teenager, or when I was in seminary.  I am sure you read the Bible very differently now than you did when you were younger.


          I was part of a men's breakfast years ago—I was the youngest "man" there, around age 23.  I put the word man in quotation marks.  At 23 you don't know anything about anything.


          But this men's breakfast was at Emmanuel Church in Harrisonburg—Tuesday mornings at 7am, and we all took turns cooking the breakfast.  After breakfast we would read the gospel lesson for the coming Sunday and discuss it.  But what made this group unique was that it was made up of a judge, the Commonwealth's attorney, several other lawyers, and a couple businessmen.  The Rector and I were the only people in the room who did not consider Bible study to be a form of academic litigation. 


          You couldn't fault them for this, because this was their background.  What are the implications?  What are the loopholes?  What if you don't do this?  Or what if you only do part of this, but renege on the other parts?  Sometimes I sit down to work on a sermon, and I can still hear those men citing precedents and forming arguments. 


          One text I would love to hear them discuss is the gospel for today, because you can let it wash over you and enjoy the comfort of the familiar, mystical mindset of John.  You can let the words pass, uncritically, through the transoms of your mind, meaning everything and nothing—like a piece of music that is simply beautiful and reassuring in it's structure and familiarity.  Or…  You can pick at it for subtleties of meaning.



          Because John is so rich, I'm going to focus on just the first six verses of chapter fourteen.  This is part of the "farewell discourse"—meaning that section of John where Jesus is talking intimately with his disciples before he is "handed over to suffering and death."   


          The primary function of the Bible is to be read out loud in the gathered church.  So let me read the text again, and as I do, I ask you to follow along and actively think about what Jesus is saying:


Jesus said, 1'Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father's house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4And you know the way to the place where I am going.' 5Thomas said to him, 'Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?'6Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.


Now, if you are just letting the text wash over you with its familiar cadences, listening only for the plainest meaning, it's a reassurance and a promise that though the future is not able to be fully explained, Jesus is going to a place where there are many dwelling-places, and that there is place at that place for us, and when he comes again he will take us there.  So that where he is, there we may be also.  Which is of course a very elegant way of saying, we'll be together.

          But now the subject expands from place to the path to the place.  The subject is not expanded because the disciples ask a question.  Rather, it is Jesus who teases their minds with a statement.  It's a statement that really comes across to me as if it's almost an afterthought—as if this is something we all know, and it might not even need to be mentioned, because we all know.   He says, "And you know the way…to the place…where I am going."


          All right.  Now.  (I'm parsing these verses very carefully.)  Jesus has expanded the subject from place to "the way" there.  If I said to you, "I am going to a wonderful place where you and I are going to have fulfillment and happiness forever," you might want to know how I will get there, so that you can get there with or without me.  The problem occurs when you can't be there unless I bring you.  So to get there, it's not just knowing where it is, you have to know that the path—the way to get there—is not relevant unless I am with you.  Does that make sense?


          Let me try it another way.  I am going to my house to make dinner for you.  You might know how to drive to my house, but you won't be allowed in, unless I physically drive you there myself.  So, the way there—the directions, the path, the roads—all of that is immaterial, because without me, you can't get there.  The path and I are the same thing.  You can't come without me.  I am the way.  (It's still tricky…let me try this:)


          You know how you carpool with someone to some party or something, and the party is winding down, and the driver wants to go home, so then you say, "I have to go, he's my ride." 

          The road home could be the way you would drive it, or it might be that the driver takes some turns that you would not take to bring you there…but that's immaterial.  He's your ride.  He is your way.


          I think that's what Jesus is saying—at least in part.  Jesus said, "And you know the way to the place where I am going.  Thomas said to him, "Lord, we do not know where you are going.  How can we know the way?  Jesus said to him, "I am your ride…"


          Now.  If John had just recorded Jesus as saying, "I am the way,"  (full stop, period, new sentence) then it would be much simpler, but the subject expands even further as he adds on "and the truth and the life." 


          John is famous for giving us these "I am" statements from Jesus.  "I am the bread of life."  "I am the vine; you are the branches."  "I am the Resurrection and the Life."  "I am the way, the truth, and the life." 


          "I am," of course—as you know—is the name of God.  When Moses was receiving his call from God at the burning bush, he asked God who should he say is sending him, and God replied, "I am that I am."  God is.  God is the one who is.  God is pure, holy existence.  He is not reducible from that. 


          You can say that God is all sorts of things.  You can God is beautiful, gracious, loving, compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast mercy.  You can describe God with all sorts of adjectives, but if you try to get down to what is most essential, what is most essential is that he is.  I am.         Long after we are not, he will be.  Yet, what Jesus seems to be saying here is, "I am" which is "the way" for you to be "I am" with me.  Does that make sense?


          He is going to prepare a place.  He will come and take us to that place.  The way there is not able to be separated from being with him—but to be with him is to be with God forever.


          "I am," says Jesus, "the way, and the truth, and the life."  He is the way, which is truth and life.  And to be with him—follow me here—to be with him is also be the way, the truth, and the life. 


          I'm not sure I can simplify it further than that.  When Jesus says, "And you know the way…"  I think he is saying, "You know the way, because you are already on the way.  You are with me, so you know the way…the way that I go, you are going.  And though I am going to make a place for you, mystically, you will continue to be with me, so that we will always be together—whether in this life, or in the life to come.  Right now, we are travelling my way.  Eventually, we will come to rest, and the way and the destination will be me.  So whether you are on earth or in heaven, we will be.  And we will be together.        I know.  I know.  It sounds very complicated, but it is really very simple—that we will be together with Jesus for ever.


          I think what complicates these things is time.  Jesus is trying to explain something that is, in essence, timeless. 

          We will be together, though we are apart, yet still together, travelling, eventually not travelling.  Do you see how time gets in the way of explaining it?


          How do you explain, how could Jesus explain, to us human beings who so desperately need reassurance, and a sense of time, what is an eternal concept?  To say we will always be together, though seemingly apart, yet still united in the path, because I am the path—it's almost impossible to explain in a life that we understand to be divided into day and night, minutes and hours, planting and harvest, newborns and burials.  


          How could Jesus explain to the disciples—and to us—that we would live with him, on the way that is him, until one day we die and many, many more generations of people would be born and die, before these cycles of time come to an end?  …when Gabriel sounds his horn and we are raised to new life, and discover that the way we have been going, Jesus, is also the destination—the place that he has prepared for us…?


          These concepts are on the one hand simple, while still able to be deeper, richer and more packed with meaning than any of us can fully understand.     The bottom line seems to be:  Jesus is the way, which is the truth and life.  For those of us who earnestly believe in Jesus, we are with Jesus.  He with us, we with him.  …an inseparable bond of love and trust that has the power to carry us through our darkest hours. We can be comforted in knowing that "the way" is also mystically, the destination—Jesus.  The One in whom all things and all time come together.  To him be the glory for ever and ever. 




If this sermon was meaningful to you, please consider making a donation to the church where you feel most at home.


The churches of Beckford Parish, where this sermon was preached, are:

Emmanuel Episcopal Church, 122 East Court Street, Woodstock, VA 22664, & St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, P.O. Box 117, Mt. Jackson, VA 22842.





Monday, May 16, 2011

Easter 4A. 15 May 2011.

For the audio version, click here and select 4th Sunday of Easter.


          There is an old custom that you and I know fairly well, even if we haven’t observed it in many years.  It is called dating, or perhaps courtship.  If you were raised as I was, you understood this to be a somewhat complicated but happily intuitive process of meeting someone, getting to know them, and possibly becoming engaged to be married.  These days, I suppose, customs are somewhat different.  My understanding is that young men and women don’t really date one-on-one.  They go out in groups now. 


          For the purposes of brevity, let me just say how grateful I am to be married and not have to be “out there,” as it were, and get to reason why I’ve brought up the topic.


          It seems to me that dating has a lot to do with communicating various signals that the potential mate is desirable for a long term commitment, and perhaps for the procreation of children.  One of the most obvious, but unsaid ways of communicating desirability is the way both people indicate that they can take care of the other person.  Men might do this by taking their date to a meal and some form of entertainment, and pay for everything; open the doors; offer their jacket if she becomes cold, whatever.  Thereby a man shows that he can take care of the woman in the world. 



          Women might do the same thing these days, but the traditional feminine version is to cook the dinner herself, and show herself to be a desirable domestic provider.  Together they are showing that he can defend a potential family against world, and she can maintain a household from inside.


          Now, I realize that what I have just described is a somewhat antiquated, even stereotypical description.  But no matter what customs have changed, the courtship process is still mostly about people conveying that their attraction to the other person extends from mere admiration to a willingness to take care of the other person—the willingness, perhaps, to care for any children that might be born.


          Those various cues—that we will be taken care of—are powerful, powerful messages.  They are the implicit message we wish to hear from everyone and every business, hospital, company, politician, church, everyone.  I’m not a psychologist or sociologist, but let’s pretend I am for a moment!  It is perhaps the most primal question we have—is this safe?  Is he or she safe?  Will he or she take care of me?


          My sense is that the most disturbing news we hear is when someone or someplace that we did not anticipate not only failed to take care of someone, but became actively harmful.  It’s especially unnerving when it happens to children.  Just a few weeks ago there was a story about Haylee Fentress and Paige Behnke, eighth graders in Minnesota who committed suicide together because they were being bullied. 

          The news story read: “Nothing in the notes they left behind explained it, and nothing in their behavior in the hours or days leading up their deaths was alarming enough to give either of their mothers even a hint of what they were planning.”


          It’s the worst kind of news.  Something awful happening that we did not see coming.  We could not guard either ourselves or those children, because we didn’t know.  And the advice that inevitably follows is that of universal vigilance:  Hug your children everyday.  Be part of their lives.  Don’t assume that they are okay.  In other words, take care of them. 


          Everyone wants and needs to be taken care of.  I don’t care how macho a man or how independently-minded a woman you are.  We all need to be cared for. 


          We are born crying for nourishment and affection.  When you’re a new parent, you learn how to swaddle a baby.  The swaddling technique is to wrap the baby tightly in a blanket because the womb is a tight space, and babies need time to adjust to the fact that they are no longer in a place of constant care.  They need the tight embrace, the swaddling, to develop a comfort with the world around them.  And throughout childhood, it is a constant cycle of increasing freedom and a return to the parent—coming back for reassurance—back to the lap of love and tissues and hugs.




          In time, we no longer need to cuddle up, but we still need someone who will constantly remind us that we are cared for.  I remember visiting someone in the hospital, and I brought Communion from the Reserved Sacrament, because I knew that this person would want to receive.  You see, a huge part of our sacramental faith is the comfort of knowing that the bread and wine, the Body and Blood of Jesus, are still here for us. 


          I was setting up to give Communion, and I asked the woman in the other bed in the hospital room if she would like to receive as well.  She said yes, and we all prayed the prayers and read the Scriptures, and I anointed the parishioner and the other woman with oil and prayed for their healing.  It came time to receive the Communion and I gave it first to my parishioner, and then to the other woman.  And the other woman received and said, “I’m not worthy to have this.”  And my heart broke.  She did not feel worthy to be taken care of. 


          Who told her that?  What had she done to deserve being told that she was not worthy of God’s love?  It broke my heart and mind like an ax chopping through every belief I have about God’s redemption of humanity.  I put down the chalice and put my arms around her, and I just held her for what felt like hours, but was probably only about twenty seconds. 


          As I did, the questions passed through my mind, “When was the last time someone gave her a hug?  When was the last time someone told her, `I love you’?  When was the last time she felt like she was worthy of God’s love, expressed in Bread and Wine?  (Pause.)


          We don’t have a group of people who are universally good at taking care of others, because we are human beings and we are not free from our own desires and needs.  But in our noblest moments, we are caretakers, because others around us take care of us, too.

          Jesus spoke of this when he said, “"Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers."

          John writes that “Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.  So again Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

          A little later in this chapter of John, Jesus says that he is the good shepherd.  The word that is used for “good” is καλoς which is closer to the word for “noble” or “ideal.” 

          The idea is that Jesus is the ideal caretaker—the one who has no hidden agenda for his love and care.  He isn’t looking for any quid-pro-quo, or payback, or transaction.  He does not use that universal need and desire—to be taken care of—to benefit himself.  His joy is the unselfish joy of knowing that you and I are okay.

          We know him, because we know his voice.  His voice calls to the deep need for connection and love, and we recognize it because he, unlike all others, isn’t asking for anything in return. 

          A lot of people have never heard this voice before, because they’ve never known anybody in their life who wasn’t trying to get something from them.  And you see them everyday—you see them at the store, at your job, at the barbershop…  I would even say (though it pains me to say it) in your church.  It isn’t written on their foreheads.  They smile; they laugh; they joke; they do everything you do, but you don’t see the baseball-sized hole in their hearts that has grown bigger and bigger from the absence of unconditional, non-transactional love.

          In their world, it’s always this for that.  You help me; I help you.  And they’re not bad people—not at all.  They just don’t know that it doesn’t have to be like that.  They don’t know people who play by other rules.

          Jesus taught those other rules.  He said,  (Matthew 5:38-48)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you..if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

          Do you know people who live by these rules?  I do.  And I’m so grateful that I do, because I can imagine my life shrinking into a pile of nothingness and fear without them.  They are the people who have been my parents and teachers, mentors and friends.  They go, do, give, love, help, sustain, encourage, heal, nourish, feed…  When they get together they are called “The Church.”

          And it pains me to tell you.  I mean, it really hurts to say this…  Most people in the world really have no idea what it’s like to receive love from the Church.  They might even have come to a church for awhile and thought, “These people are going to be here for me,” and something happened.  The priest did something; the people did something.  I actually know a person in another church (not this church)—I could name his name, if I wanted to—who told a new young family, “I hope you find a nice church in the area—but this church is not for you.”  Can you imagine that?  That doesn’t sound anything like the voice of the Good Shepherd.

          That’s not the Church I know.  The Church I know…the Church where my heart worships, and where I kneel to pray, and where I know that Christ is alive and reigns is the Church of the Ideal Caretaker.  It is the Church where his voice his heard and known, and where the sheep follow as best they can.  They trust him, and they try to love without expecting return.

          I have been blessed to know a good number of people like this, in every church I have been a part.  But there can never be too many.  If you are one, or if you become one, have no doubt that when you die, people will deeply mourn.  And they will know that they heard the voice of the Good Shepherd come through you.




If this sermon was meaningful to you, please consider making a donation to the church where you feel most at home.


The churches of Beckford Parish, where this sermon was preached, are:

Emmanuel Episcopal Church, 122 East Court Street, Woodstock, VA 22664, & St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, P.O. Box 117, Mt. Jackson, VA 22842.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Rejoice, all ye that sorrowed sore; Alleluia!

Maria weeps and sighs no more: Alleluia!
The clouds are scattered far away; Alleluia!
Sweet sunshine glorifies the day: Alleluia!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Where, martyred Mother, all thy pain? Alleluia!
'Tis gone, and cometh not again: Alleluia!
O broken heart, 'tis well with thee; Alleluia!
Thy grief is turned to ecstasy. Alleluia!

Ah Mary, purest maiden, say–Alleluia!
From Jesus hast thou heard today? Alleluia!
It must be so. Such joy divine. Alleluia!
Comes only from that Son of thine: Alleluia!

Five Wounds He suffered for our sake; Alleluia!
From each there flows a joyful lake–Alleluia!
Five seas of joy: and from His Side. Alleluia!
Flows o'er thy heart the blissful tide. Alleluia!

That glorious sea hath ne'er a shore: Alleluia!
Its rising surges whelm thee o'er: Alleluia!
Ah Lady, listen to our prayer; Alleluia!
And in thy plenty let us share: Alleluia!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Easter 3A. 8 May 2011.

For the audio version, click here and select 3rd Sunday of Easter.



          I am about to talk about something that I don't really like talking about.  There are so many topics I don't like to talk about.  I don't like talking about violence.  Hatred.  Money.  I don't much like conversations about controversial topics, because invariably they cause division and hurt feelings.  It's not that I don't have an opinion—it's just that I'd rather not spill blood over some transient thought that passes through my head.


          But there is an aspect of life that is never much fun—in fact, it's somewhat stressful, and it's made even more stressful when considered in the light of our Christian faith.  I am speaking of disappointment.


          Disappointment is a very painful thing, especially, if you have a very active imagination.  For some reason, my imagination has never been tethered by the ropes of reason and experience.  When the student body would gather together in the gym at the end of the school year for the awards ceremony, my heart would always be fluttering with excitement, because you never knew who was going to get what. 


          In my mind—and I know this is silly—but in my mind, it was more like a lottery.  You have these awards and you have these people—someone is going to get something.  I didn't play any sports, but I even believed I might get a sports award.  "This award goes to the student who has exemplified sportsmanship on and off the field; the student whose character has inspired teammates to greater discipline and love of the game.  This year, that student is…."  In my mind, "Alexander MacPhail."  The student body goes crazy, of course, because…who else, really?   Never mind that I didn't play sports.  Well, the name would be called, and the award would go to the person who truly did deserve it, but there was disappointment.


          Silly to get your expectations up when you know that there is no way for something to happen.  But I do it all the time.  Even now.  Maybe you do to.


          But disappointment is so much worse when you have good reason to expect something happening and it doesn't.  Someone promises to come, and they don't come, and there is some lame excuse that you know is probably not completely true.  It's painful.


          I usually think of the disciples as being pretty much on board with Jesus's vision of what it means to be the Messiah.  It's like I imagine that the disciples intuitively knew what actually took the Church about 500 years to fully express.  Did you know that it took the Church about 300 years to really formulate the concept of the Blessed Trinity?  It took another hundred years to agree that Jesus was fully divine and fully human. 


          For those first five hundred years, the Church had various strains of belief about Jesus only appearing to be human, or only appearing to be divine.  There were furious debates about those ideas.  Almost all of the textbook heresies that we learned about in seminary are about this question of who Jesus really is.  Did he only appear to be human?  Is he some sort of form of God, or is subordinate to God?  Did he really die?  Or did he only appear to die?  Most of those questions have long subsided, only to be re-lived in seminary classrooms, or late night dorm room debates. 


          For some reason, I forget that the disciples did not really have the same faith, as it were.  We have the same faith in Jesus; but it was much more… what is the word?  Embodied?  It was faith in the man, Jesus.  They knew him.  They ate with him, and saw him close up.  They saw him heal and preach and smile and laugh.  It was faith in a man. 


          And it's hard to talk about that kind of faith, because it is not so spiritualized, as our faith in him is now.  When I was a boy, I remember meeting older people and watching them talk and behave, and I noticed everything—from the words they liked to use to the way their bodies moved.  I was studying how they embody themselves, because when you are young and you have yet to settle into your own patterns, you sort of "try out" other people.  You imitate them, or you emulate them.  Because there is something about them that is either so different or so like you that you wonder if they have what you are missing. 


          The disciples saw Jesus speak and walk and do and be, and—being disciples, followers—they tried to imitate.  He spoke about God as Father.  That was a new way of thinking.  He taught with stories that he made up.  That was not new, but they weren't the old stories that had been part of the tradition—they were new stories. 


          In one place the Gospels say that Jesus spoke as someone having authority and not as the scribes.[1]  The scribes, when they would teach, would cite their references, "Rabbi Soandso says this, but Rabbi Suchandwhich said that."  But Jesus spoke without citation.  He spoke on his own authority.  This was a new way of speaking, religiously.


          Yet, despite all of these new ways of being—which were wonderful—they still had not yet fully connected the dots from Jesus to Messiah.  And we cannot underestimate the cultural significance of their hope for a messiah.  The Messiah was to be a dynamic political leader who would reestablish the monarchy from the lineage of King David.  He would overthrow all foreign powers, and usher in an everlasting time of peace and tranquility for the Hebrew people. 


          You can see traces of those cultural expectations to this day when we hold elections.  "We're going to kick those bums out of Washington, and make the government work for the people."  Yeah…well…that's what you said four years ago.  That's what they said 2000 years ago!


          I never really think of the disciples being disappointed by Jesus, especially after the Resurrection.  But today we meet up with two disciples who are walking home to Emmaus from Jerusalem on the day of the Resurrection, and they are disappointed.


          As they walk and talk, the Risen Lord comes up alongside them, but they don't recognize him.  Jesus asks them what they're talking about, and they tell him about this man, Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet, and he was something else. 


          "You should have heard him preach.  He was incredible.  I mean, we have never heard anything like the things he said, but our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be killed, and they crucified him.  We really hoped he was the one to redeem Israel, you know?  We really thought this guy is the one.  If anyone could do it, believe me, this man could have done it.  But here's what's really crazy, there are some women who were part of our group who went to the tomb where he was buried, early this morning, and they said he wasn't there.  They said they saw some angels who said that he was alive."


          "So we don't know what to think.  We thought he was `the one,' and then he died, and now…who knows?  Maybe it was a scam.  Maybe we were set up.  Get up a following, make some money—maybe he staged it, you know?  All we know is this…Jesus was no messiah."  Disappointment.


          It is at this point that Jesus begins to explain everything to them from Moses and the prophets, why it was necessary that the Messiah should suffer as Jesus suffered.  And they still don't recognize him.


          The day turns to evening, and they come to Emmaus, and Jesus speeds up a little bit because he doesn't want them to feel obligated to host him.  It was the polite thing to do, just like leaving before meal time.  But the disciples urge him strongly to stay.  In the Middle Eastern culture, it would have been improper to accept at first.  The invitation had to come several times for the guest to finally agree to stay.  So he stays for dinner.


          They still don't recognize him, but as he sits at the table, he takes the bread, and gives thanks, and then he brakes the bread and gives it to them.  And somehow the combination of those actions all clicks together and they recognize him.


          And as soon as they recognize him, he vanishes.  It's one of the great ironies that they could see him without recognizing him, but once they recognize him, they cannot see him.  And, in an even greater twist of irony, they are not disappointed anymore!  They recognize the man they put their faith in, and what had been disappointment in what they thought was a failed messiah becomes satisfaction to the point of delight that he is the Messiah, even if they can no longer see him.


          It is likely that this story served to help Luke's readers understand how the Church—after Jesus's Resurrection and Ascension—could still experience the person of Jesus, even without him being right in front of them.  Their faith had been in the Messiah they knew, but did not know.  And now that he has died and been raised, they know him, but no longer see him.  As they sat at the table, after he vanished, they could at last feel that familiar sensation of being with him—"Were not our hearts burning within us?" 


          Perhaps this story is how the Church was able to accept the physical absence of Christ—we know him now by the feeling you get when you hear about him. 


          Well, anyway, they got up, ran back to Jerusalem, and caught up with the other disciples and told them what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.       


          The disappointment they had felt led them back to Emmaus—back to their lives before the crucifixion.  The Resurrection—made real to them by Jesus's presence suddenly recognized!—drives them into a new life with new possibilities.  


          The disappointment came from their abstract expectations of what the Messiah would be like and do.  It is one thing to have hope that a messiah will come; it is quite another thing to say that the Messiah has come.


          The disciples had put their faith in the man Jesus, and his presence among them—walking, talking, teaching, healing.  But now the Gospel must continue though his disciples—though you and me.  


          We are the ones who must walk and talk and teach and heal, but we will know his presence in the bread that is broken and the wine that is shared.  His presence now comes when we take, bless, brake, and give.  Then you will recognize him, though he has vanished from our sight!



          You see, this is a metaphor for what God does in Jesus.  He takes him, blesses him, brakes him, and gives him.


          This is also what God does with us.  He takes us, blesses us, brakes us…and then he gives us to the world.


          He is alive—the living bread that came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world.[2]  Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the eternal mystery: The Messiah has died, the Messiah has risen, the Messiah will come again.







If this sermon was meaningful to you, please consider making a donation to the church where you feel most at home.


The churches of Beckford Parish, where this sermon was preached, are:

Emmanuel Episcopal Church, 122 East Court Street, Woodstock, VA 22664, & St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, P.O. Box 117, Mt. Jackson, VA 22842.

[1] Matthew 7:29

[2] Para John 6