Saturday, April 21, 2012

Taking nourishment

Luke 24:13-49

My Dad used to say, when I asked how he was, “I’m able to sit up and take nourishment.” It was kind of a joke between us. In his healthier days, he was plenty able to sit up and take nourishment. His belly became a little chubby to prove it. In his later years, it meant he was still able to do so, even though he wasn’t feeling the greatest, even though he ate less and less.
The Gospel reading for today is actually longer than the assigned text from the Lectionary, because it includes two different occasions on which Jesus is able to sit up and take nourishment.
 It’s the afternoon of the day of the resurrection. Earlier in the day, the women have gone to the tomb and found it empty. Two men in dazzling clothes tell Mary Magdalene and the other women that Jesus has been raised from the dead. As Luke tells the story, no one sees the risen Jesus until later in the day, not even Mary Magdalene.
Next, two followers of Jesus, Cleopas and his companion, perhaps his wife, are heading home after the Passover holiday in Jerusalem. They are grieving, depressed because Jesus has died without doing what they expect the messiah will do. But they are also puzzled, because they have heard the reports of the women that Jesus has been raised from the dead. They don’t understand it, and they are heading home. There seems to be nothing else to do.
Suddenly, there is a stranger walking with them. They tell him the story of Jesus, and what they hoped would happen. They tell the stranger about the arrest and crucifixion, and the puzzling report that he had been raised from the dead. The stranger then helps them understand how it had to be God’s plan, as written in the ancient scriptures, that the messiah was to be crucified and then raised from the dead.
When Cleopas and friend arrive at home, they invite the stranger to join them for supper. He begins with the traditional prayers of blessing for bread: “Blessed are you, O Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.” The stranger breaks the bread, and Cleopas and companion realize it is Jesus. Jesus disappears; his job with these two people is done.
I have always loved this story and especially two lines from it, “They knew him in the breaking of the bread,” and, “Weren’t our hearts burning?!!”
Cleopas and friend hurriedly finish their meal and head back to Jerusalem, to join the other disciples gathered in the upper room. This is the same upper room, the same story, where John reports Thomas isn’t present the first time Jesus appears. In Luke’s version of the upper room story, Jesus asks the disciples if they have anything to eat, and they offer him some fish, which he eats.
The point of these two eating stories, breaking the bread and eating the fish is to prove that Jesus is real, really alive, not just spirit, but flesh and blood alive. The resurrected Jesus is able to sit up and take nourishment!
We have a tendency to think of the Son of God as Christ, as more spirit and power than human. But these stories in Luke prove to us that the resurrected Jesus was present with real skin, real breath, real ability to do whatever other humans do. Before and after his death and resurrection, Jesus is God-with-skin-on.
His message, his purpose for coming is this: “Proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins in God’s name. You are witnesses to my resurrection and to God’s plan. Now, I send you to share my message with people of all nations, beginning with Jerusalem. I do not ask you to do this alone; wait, and I will give you the power of the Holy Spirit to help you do this.”
From these two stories, especially the first one, I get excited about two things. First, the disciples knew Jesus in the breaking of the bread. They didn’t know Jesus was with them until Jesus chose to reveal his presence.
There are often times in our lives when we didn’t recognize God’s presence and power until we looked back at the event. We can see God’s activity in our lives by noticing how God made something very good come out of what seemed at the time to be very bad. Jesus’ death and resurrection are an example of something good coming out of something bad. But we don’t need to think of such extremes.
There are many simple examples in our every- day lives. Too many accidents at a corner lead to the installation of a traffic light. A serious illness makes our faith stronger. Financial struggles force us to budget better, and to give thanks to God for every penny we do have.
Sometimes, also, we realize after we have been with someone that God’s Spirit was present in a powerful way. I remember a conversation some friends and I had with Pastor Mel. Even though he disagreed with what we wanted to do, he was so caring in the way he spoke with us, we all said to each other later, “It was like sitting in God’s lap when we were with Pastor Mel.” We knew Jesus was present in that moment.
The second aspect of these stories that excites me is the comment, “Weren’t our hearts burning when he spoke with us?!” When something exciting happens, our hearts do burn. Our day becomes memorable, special.
Having the tenth anniversary of my ordination honored by you-all made my heart burn. Hearing the Confirmation students say that they saw the Holy Spirit through me made my heart burn. Recognizing the increasing presence of the Holy Spirit at Hope makes my heart burn. Hearing your stories of faith, how you came to Hope, why you are still at Hope, how you survive despite the troubles you face, all of that makes my heart burn. Giving C... communion for the first time on Easter morning made my heart burn, especially since she used to turn away from me every week when I tried to bless her.
I would miss an opportunity if I did not also make the connection that we see Jesus every week when we break the bread of Holy Communion. We don’t eat just any bread. We eat the bread of Jesus’ body. And we receive God’s forgiveness in his name each time we partake of this meal. We gather around the table, kneel as we are able, and take nourishment. We receive God’s forgiveness of sin in this bread, this meal.
When have you realized Jesus was present with you as you looked back? What has made your heart burn? Do you recognize Jesus in the breaking of bread each week? Is there someone you know hungering to hear your stories of Jesus’ presence, stories of your burning heart, stories of forgiveness, stories of the breaking of the bread, stories of times when you were grateful to be able to sit up and take nourishment in Jesus’ name? What is preventing you from telling those stories? You know, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to help you tell those stories! You just have to get started, and let Jesus do the rest.
Please pray with me. Lord Jesus, we give you thanks for the many ways in which we are able to discover you and your presence with us. Nourish us today and always, and send us out, to tell others these stories, for they are hungering to hear them as much as we are. Amen