Saturday, April 29, 2006

April 3 sermon---Food for Faith

Sermon Text:
Luke 24:36-48

This past week, I went to South Carolina with some college friends. We had intended on driving straight through—but instead we decided to “crash” with some of our friends who lived in Nashville, and effectively cut the trip in half. Before we left, we had Salmon croquettes and macaroni and fruit provided by my family in Little Rock. We arrived at my friend Will and Carrie Churchill’s (Bill Churchill’s great nephew) house around 12:30 to find him picking his banjo on the front porch. After enjoying a beer on the porch, we hit the sack, then woke up a few short hours later to the smell of omelets and coffee. After enjoying a breakfast and a first sight of Will’s 6 month pregnant wife, we got on the road again for the remainder of our trip to Columbia.
Isn’t it amazing how a meal can energize us and open our eyes to the beauty of the friendships in our midst? What do we most often do when reuniting with friends we haven’t seen in a while? We eat a meal together! Should we be surprised to find the same kind of thing in the Gospel accounts of the resurrection?
Gospel accounts of eating
Craig Satterlee, a homeletics prof. at the Lutheran school of theology at Chicago, guided my attention to the fact that Easter, as Luke presents it, is not so much about an empty tomb as it is about food. Jesus spends Easter day eating. His followers celebrate Easter not at an empty tomb but a table. Here we experience resurrection by eating.
Have you ever been in the midst of a family meal and noticed the presence of Christ with you? It is probably a little harder to catch this vision if we are eating our meals in front of the television. Munching our meals in collective silence while the TV pumps us with entertainment like a gas pump fills our cars with gas. However, if we perhaps face each other and have conversation with our meal, it has the potential to turn into something very life-giving and life-changing. One of Lara and my attempts to give our life together some support and enhancement has been to take our meals at the table with Wesley’s high chair pulled up with us. We’re not perfect at it. Sometimes we just instinctively sit in the den when our show comes on—but slowly and surely, our life is enriched when we remember that we have a commitment to raising our son with a good tradition.
We enter Jesus’ dinner party between two of the courses. The 11 are discussing the first of these courses, bread served to Cleopas and a companion. In Emmaus, Jesus took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Cleopas reports that thy talked a lot about scripture, and experienced Jesus as the risen Christ.
What is the point of all this post-resurrection eating? Some New Testament scholars believe it has a very tactful purpose. In the early church, there was a debate among two different groups about who Jesus was and how he was resurrected. Some believed that Jesus didn’t have a bodily resurrection, and some even believed that Jesus never had a physical body at all. The reason that this group, called Gnostics, didn’t believe that Jesus had a body was because they thought of the physical world as being corrupt and bodies as unclean. They didn’t believe that a divine being such as Jesus would or even could dwell in something so unholy as flesh.
Certainly John and probably Luke and Matthew as well were aware of this group of people. John’s gospel was written for a community that seemed to either have these believers present or as competitors in the same community.
So, in order to prove to the “misinterpreters” of the Gospel message, Luke and John made many references to Jesus eating after the resurrection. A purely spiritual being would most likely not need to eat, you see, and Luke tells us that “even in their joy, some of the disciples still did not believe.” John singles out Thomas as the one who does not believe, and actually has to put his fingers in the wounds of Christ because many of these Gnostic Christians traced their tradition to the Gospel that bore his name: The Gospel of Thomas. So, one reason we have so much “lunchroom discussion” in the Gospels that we read is because they were written to convince the world that this man we call Jesus had a physical, a bodily resurrection. If Jesus didn’t have a bodily resurrection, the early Christians did not see any hope for the world being redeemed. Christ’s body being made new was a symbol and a foretaste of the whole world becoming new, as is told in the Book of Revelation.
But back to the story that Luke tells us—Right before the passage we read today is the Emmaus passage, when Jesus joins two disciples on the road to Emmaus and they don’t know it is him until they invite him to have dinner with them and he breaks the bread. They see him as they knew him, and he vanishes. “They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” The story we read today connects the dots in our minds between the meal in the upper room and the Emmaus meal and the meal that we share with one another that we call communion. The story told is not just about “ghost-busting” and refuting the Christians who believe Jesus wasn’t physically raised from the dead.
Chris Satterlee writes in a recent issue of “the Christian Century,” that Bread and fish are not much of an Easter dinner. Why bread and fish, loves and fishes? Our minds race to other meals that appear to be courses in Jesus’ resurrection feast. Jesus served the first of this pairing in a deserted place when he blessed bread and fish and gave them to a multitude. All ate their fill, and there were leftovers to boot. This meal served as a foretaste of the feast that Jesus will serve when the reign of God comes in all its fullness. Surrounded by people of every time and every place, surrounded by all of creation, Jesus will serve up the great and promised feast, the final course of Jesus’ resurrection banquet. No one will be hungry: all will be satisfied. The last will be first and the first will be last, and the feasting will continue forever!
What about all those other meals Jesus attended and served? Could Jesus’ eating and drinking with the poor, the outcast and the despised also be courses in this resurrection feast? Jesus certainly raised people to new life at those dinner parties! People were given a new chance as a follower of the new covenant—to love and live in a new way with a new purpose. And if resurrection happened at those tables, does that mean that Jesus, risen from the dead, is present and bringing new life to every table at which the hungry are filled, the despised are loved, the outcast are welcome and the poor receive the reign of God?
Dare we allow our minds to wander to still other meals? What about Abraham’s feast with angels, manna in the wilderness and the cake that the angel of the Lord provided Elijah—were they also courses in Jesus resurrection feast? What about the family dinner, the business lunch, the snack shared between classes? Are they part of Jesus’ Easter feast?
We are called back from our wondering by Jesus, who confirms our musings. Jesus has finished eating and is talking about scripture. We are not surprised, since scripture seems to be the topic of conversation at this Easter feast. Jesus gives those gathered a panoramic view—the law of Moses, the prophets and the psalms—all in one sitting. Jesus points out that he—and with him death and resurrection, repentance and forgiveness—can be found throughout scripture.
It may be easier to testify to the risen Christ by making a trip to the empty tomb than by eating around a table. A trip to an empty tomb confines Easter to very early morning on that first day of the week when the women went to anoint Jesus’ body. We know when, where and how resurrection happened. We know Easter is over.
Celebrating Easter by eating means that Jesus could show up, that resurrection could happen, at any table, at every table. We have no way of knowing when, where and how the risen Christ will bring new life. Rather than being confined to one day, or to the 50 that we observe in the church, Jesus’ Easter feast continues as one meal leads to another, and tables get larger and larger, and closer together.
Only time and space separate all the courses in Jesus’ resurrection feast. Overcoming time and space does not appear to be a problem for our risen Jesus, who can be in Emmaus for the bread course, Jerusalem for fish, and at every table around which people testify to Christ from the scriptures, preach repentance and forgiveness in Christ’s name, and share bread and wine in remembrance of him.
Rather than making an annual trip to the empty tomb, we celebrate Easter by eating together and sharing scripture until that day when Jesus, risen from the dead and standing in our midst, overcomes time and space and everything else that separates the tables around which we gather.
So take the Easter message to your tables. Take the Good news with you to your Sunday lunch. Take it in a sack lunch to work. I know that our sister Nadine takes it every day to McDonalds where she has a breakfast sausage biscit and shares the word of her church with anyone there who she decides to converse with. Like Nadine, we all have the ability to bring Easter into our daily lives and conversations. We all have a mouth, and we all have to eat. In doing so, the Christ is resurrected all over the world. People find new hope, people let go of old grudges, people believe in a love that is so broad and powerful that even they can be within the Love of God. This is how Christ comes into the world! Think of it as practice for that heavenly banquet.
Our communion liturgy asks God to “Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and wine. Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ, that WE MAY BE FOR THE WORLD THE BODY OF CHRIST, REDEEMED BY HIS BLOOD. Have you ever really heard that? It means we are the physical resurrection of Jesus in this day and age. We can be bread for the world. To do so, we must open our mouths and share the Good News.


At 9:40 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Profound and insightful sermon!!
I enjoy reading your sermons so much!


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