Sunday, April 18, 2021
Third Sunday of Easter, Year B
Prayer of the Day
Holy and righteous God, you are the author of life, and you adopt us to be your children. Fill us with your words of life, that we may live as witnesses to the resurrection of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Readings and Psalm
Acts 3:12-19 Health and forgiveness through the risen Jesus
1 John 3:1-7 The revealing of the children of God
Luke 24:36b-48 Eating with the risen Christ
Title: Fed in Faith
Alleluia! Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!
Along with just about everything in our daily life, this year plus and counting of pandemic has caused us to reconsider, recreate, and revise common meals. Especially meals that are set in the context of celebrations that normally would be shared with larger groups of people gathered around a common table. Be it traditional Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners, Passover Seders, Feasts to mark Eid, birthday celebrations, or ay other occasion when the fellowship is as nourishing as the food; meals in isolation and quarantine have just not been the same. And not to keep an intelligent species down, people have gotten quite creative with overcoming the limitations of isolation and enjoying some level of the connection and the community that we are all missing from the normal expression when we are all in the same space, at the same table, sharing the same food.
One of those meals that we have been challenging ourselves to reconsider, recreate and revise our understanding around is the Eucharist, Holy Communion, our Lord’s Supper, the Feast of Victory (as one hymn of praise calls it). The simple elements of bread and wine in which our risen Lord is present. We do not believe the bread and wine are transformed into his body and blood, but rather Christ is present in our eating, present in the community that gathers and is made one, present for the sake of our living as his disciples in this time and place, present for the sake of the peace and joy, mercy and love that we find only in the presence of Christ who died, Christ who is risen, Christ who will come again.
Through the challenge of being separated by space yet gathered as one in the Holy Spirit, we have continued to celebrate this essential meal. And today’s readings provide us some of the foundation on which we stand as we practice this sacrament in a different manner, as we share this meal in an ever-changing context.
This morning’s gospel reading is the continuation of that wonderful Easter day story (known to some as the Road to Emmaus story) that Luke tells in which two disciples who are heading out of Jerusalem after seeing Jesus crucified and buried. Now the reports of his resurrection have pushed them over the edge and they are getting out of town. The resurrected Jesus appears to them, but they do not recognize him. The story tells of them talking with this one they consider a stranger, he teaches them and finally eats with them. And as he broke the bread they realized who this was and the risen Jesus disappears. The two high tail it back to Jerusalem, and we pick up the story in this morning’s reading as they are telling the others of their experience, and suddenly Jesus appears again. And again a meal is shared, again the word of God is shared, again minds are opened to a new understanding of God’s commitment to us, God’s love and mercy for us, God’s life granting us new life.
The resurrected Jesus has no use for doors. He moves from place to place in an instant. And yet the risen Christ is showing physical wounds and doing something very physical indeed – eating, wherever he goes. Christ’s resurrection is inviting us to not only reconsider death, but also life, life in the physical world and its seeming confines. Christ’s resurrected presence knows no limitations.
And it is this presence that fills our uniting action of meal-sharing. This presence that is with the disciples, with us, with the great cloud of witnesses that gathers with us each time we feast as the body of Christ. And we are nourished by this presence. For us it is a foretaste of the feast to come, for those who dwell in the nearer presence of God, it is the fullness of the new life that is ours through baptism into the resurrection of Christ. And for all, it is the true presence of Christ that knows no limitations of time or space.
And so, trusting in the fullness and the mystery of Christ’s presence, we can share in our Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, Holy Communion, the Feast of Victory in a new way. Though divided by distance, we are united in Christ.
We also rejoice that together we can continue to seek understanding through the Holy Spirit’s on-going work of opening our minds to scripture, even in the midst of our doubts and our best guesses, our struggle to make sense and our striving to live by faith.
This expanded image of Christ’s Table comes at a time when events (becoming too familiar in our country) invite and encourage, even demand, that we open our eyes to who is at the table with us, with whom we are joined, in whom we are to see Christ; as state violence against black and brown bodies seems to intensify with each newscast, as cries for justice and reform fall on closed bureaucratic ears regarding this violence and gun violence, as refugees and asylum-seekers are met with closed doors and well-established citizens are ignorantly told to “go back.”
In John’s letter we hear that we are children of God. This is the gift of baptism. This is our new identity for the living of our new life in the risen Christ. But then we are told that the world does not really understand what this means, does know us, know who we are as children of God. Going a step further, since we ourselves are still very much in this world, we can only deduce that we do not know ourselves in this new identity. We do not fully know what it means to be children of God. (This strange idea may make more sense, be easier to identify with if you are someone whose life journey has included growing into an identity that is different from what the world, or society, or family, or body was telling you.) But for all of us, this growing to understand, this coming out as children of God, is our journey of faith.
And if we are not getting it all, if we are having a harder time with a certain part of this new identity, if we are getting something wrong, or not seeing something that is hidden in plain sight; I do believe that our loving God is most understanding and patient. Encouraging bold steps in faith. Showing mercy for missteps.
Perhaps this weekend, we are invited to be more aware of risk-taking in faith as we mark the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s appearance at the Diet of Worms. The Diet met to discuss the controversy around indulgences and more started by Luther in 1517 with the posting of the 95 Theses. He testified on April 17th, 1521 and was asked to recant what he had written on the matters in question. He asked for a night to think about it. On April 18th, he stood before them and, in short, said he could not go against what the word of God had revealed to him or against his own conscious. So, we refused to recant. And then he might have said that famous line: “Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. So, help me God.” The Diet was unmoved and they condemned him a month later.
A few months later, in a letter written to his friend and fellow theologian and reformer, Philip Melanchthon, Luther wrote another often quoted phrase: “Sin boldly.” The fuller context of this sometimes misused and misunderstood line is:
Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong [or sin boldly], but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world.
He was telling his friend to know that we are sinners, there is nothing we can do to change that fact. But let that truth only cause you to trust more in the redeeming cross of Christ.
As we continue to celebrate our Lord’s Supper in a manner quite different from our traditional practice, let us trust not in our thinking, or in our reasoning, or in our getting it right. Know that we do not even fully comprehend who we are as God’s children. Instead trust in the presence of the risen Christ who is with us when we are running away, when we are gathered in hiding, when we are gathered in a sanctuary, when we are gathered on ZOOM, when we are questioning our identity, when we are confused, when we doubt, when we lament our own suffering and/or the suffering of others, when we feel powerless in the face of oppression, when we _______ fill in the blank. Christ is with is. And so, we share a meal in his name and presence as best we can. For we can and do say with faithful confidence…
Alleluia! Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!
The Rev. Mark Erson,