Sermon for Secind Sunday after Easter – ‘Meals beyond words . . .’ Year A 2017

Sermon for Easter 3

Luke 24:13-35

 

‘Meals beyond words . . .’

 

Just a couple of weeks ago, we had guests for lunch who commented how unusual it was to sit down as family and share food together. In a world where there is much that is disturbing, perhaps there are few things as troubling as this apparently innocuous observation. For Eating Together is fundamental to our entire existence. Without Food, AND the presence of other human beings, we have no Life. Yet we have lost sight of both.
All too often nowadays we eat as if we were machines needing refuelling, as if in a pitstop – Alone. There is no sense of this being Life to us – indeed the language of refuelling is common attributed to what we used to call eating – indicating how we no longer understand it, or indeed ourselves as much more than biological machines, or dead things. There are very few things as deeply significant as a shared meal, or as troubling as their absence.

When someone comes to tell me they have a problem with someone else, sometimes I am led to ask ‘Have you sat down together to eat?’ The answer is rarely if ever ‘yes’. If our guest was correct then indeed it is true that families increasingly rarely sit to eat together. Of course, the width of your definition of family is indicated by the size of your table – to eat together is to be whanau, it is a Truth that the more we sit down together to eat, the greater is our Life – it is to acknowledge something which goes deeper than words – something powerful and intimate. If you wish as all children of God do, to make your enemies your friends, invite them to dinner – share Life with them, as Christ shares his very life with you.

That deep note of Intimacy is one of the things which comes to me through the text of this beautiful Easter story – it is the account of the first appearance of the Risen Jesus in Luke and in my mind is readily associated with Candle light, something which adds depth and atmosphere to any meal – candlelight  ‘for the day is far spent and the night is at hand’. Traditionally it was always the reading at Evening prayer on Easter Day – and it ‘Presence’ [sic] to us a profoundly intimate encounter with Jesus, not in the full light of day, but in the restrained light of evening in which shadows lend depth and a sense that mere sight is only part of the story.

It is a familiar tale – two of the disciples walking away from Jerusalem – a sense of tragic anticlimax – their eyes downcast as they talk between themselves of all that had happened, and then in their talking about Him, as Luke puts it ‘Jesus . . . came near and went with them’ a sense of appearing within their conversation, and their eyes were kept from Knowing him, for their minds are on their words, and they do not Know Him . . . ‘The Stranger’ gently interrogates them ‘What are you talking about as you’re walking along? Why so sad?’

Of course, to pick up on something we explored last week, they are ‘talking about’ Jesus. As I said we need to get away from all our talking about and learning about Jesus, as if we stood apart – as the disciples are stood, not recognising him . . .

So they recount the tale – assuming ‘The Stranger’ is an Outsider to it all – except of course at this point it is they who are the strangers to the Presence of Jesus . . . Their darkness of mind not yet illuminated by coming into the House

And they speak of their disillusionment – of how they ‘had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel’ . . . It is odd how we think of disillusionment as a negative thing, how we see it in a poor light – for surely as someone once said to me, ‘you can only become disillusioned if you are suffering from an illusion’
They have become disillusioned, but cannot See the Gift of it . . . and then to add to it all, the rumours of resurrection coming from the women of the group with their ‘vision of angels’ only sound like ‘an idle tale’ – indeed some of their number had checked the story out, ‘but they did not see him’ Funny, eh? Here they are standing in the presence Jesus, talking about Him, not seeing Him, recounting how earlier others reported that they ‘had not seen him’

‘How foolish you are . . .’ the word has resonances with an inability to See, to Know in depth, reinforced with another metaphor of Sight – ‘how slow of heart to believe . . .’ the Heart being the true organ of Seeing and perception, or ‘Beholding’ . . . ‘all that the prophets have declared!’

‘Beginning with Moses and the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.’

Now, if I could have a dollar for every time someone has said in my hearing, or indeed will in all likelihood say today ‘wouldn’t it have been great to be at that bible study!!’ I would indeed be a plutocrat 🙂 But note this – at the end of being led through the Scriptures, by Jesus himself. . . they still don’t see!! You see, The Scriptures in and of themselves are not enough . . . The Kingdom of God is not an endless Bible Study . . . the Scriptures have their place, within the whole, and as made known to us by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but it is Jesus we are looking for, Jesus himself – His Very Life . . . He is the Pearl of Great Price, He is the treasure hidden in the field . . . as St Paul puts it writing to the Colossians ‘For I want you to know how much I am struggling for you, and for those in Laodicea, and for all who have not seen me face to face. I want their hearts to be encouraged and united in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding and have the knowledge of God’s mystery, that is [?], Christ himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.’

Well, it was a long Bible study , ‘the things about him in all the scriptures’ – and they find they have arrived, but noting the time, in an act of typical hospitality – when Jesus makes to walk on, they invite him to spend the night with them . . . and here in the gathering dark the great reversal is Revealed. Last week we spoke of The Risen Jesus as the Visitor, around whom we accommodate our lives – but now, as they sit to eat, the Guest becomes The Host [no pun intended 🙂 ], the ‘Stranger’ becomes the Very centre of their lives

He is the one who ‘took bread, blessed and broke it . . . THEN their eyes were opened and they Knew him: and he vanished from their sight’ It is Then that they recognise what was going on on the road ‘Were not our hearts burning within us whilst he was talking-to us on the road’ The Eye of their hearts are enlightened in this encounter at the table.
‘Remembering Him’ in the Breaking of the bread gives life and light, illuminating the opening of the Scriptures. We might well say that here is the paradigm for Christian Worship as we Open the Scriptures and Break the Bread, the opening of the Scriptures warms our hearts, developing our appetite for the Living Word, who is the Living Bread

At the Centre of our Eyes being opened to the reality of Jesus in our midst, the awakening from the illusion of the dream of life without Him, an awakening which finds us hungry to break the fast, is the breaking of the bread. He feeds us in Word and in Sacrament, and this Feeding implies a deep intimacy, He nourishes us with his very Self.
As I pondered this earlier in the week, my mind was drawn to the deep roots in all of us of that first experience we have of feeding, at our mother’s breast. As we awaken, hungry, a Life beyond words, there two things happen, we are nourished, but also we learn that Eye contact, that Seeing that is before words and goes beyond words. They Saw Him and they Knew Him . . . (‘recognised’ does not do it justice)

Jesus is The Bread of Life, he gives it for our Salvation – for our Life – for our deep integration as human beings. In so doing, in this giving of the Holy Spirit as heaven and Earth are woven together in the Sacrament, so all Life takes on a Sacramental aspect. This is the deepest root of the mystery of a shared meal – for in Him all things in heaven and earth are woven together. This Meal, feeding on Jesus gives depth to all our meals shared together. Jesus makes us his friends by feeding us. It is this action, of sharing bread which is the most human thing we ever do, the first thing we do as our eyes are opening, and coming back to it over and over through our lives – the Gift of the Table which draws us all deeper into life.

Many people I know are deeply concerned about the future of the Church and the World, but Jesus came and was unseen by his disciples then, so Now he is present, offering us Bread for the Life of the World, and enjoining us similarly to make friends by sharing bread together. In sharing Bread we build up our common life in Jesus Christ.

he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread . . . it is all we need. We have everything we need to make him known amongst us and in the world. Go and do likewise

Amen

Do angels burp?? . . . One Must Laugh!

 ‘But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ John 20:11-13

 

As the women came to the garden they heard the song of the birds, and what was that other strange note? With stifled laughter mixed in?? . . . but no . . .

One of the ‘joys’ of parish work in the rural North of England was the friendships I developed with our local funeral directors. Often people who had grown up in what was a family business, they brought a necessary almost medieval earthiness to their work. Of course such grace notes are less and less in demand in these mechanised days, but many of the older rural folk still see and hear things the modern world hasn’t blocked from our imaginative existence.

One director in particular had a ‘naughty’ habit which it took me a few funerals to get used to, not least because cremation was not yet, it being a rural community, the Way of Things. On those less frequent occasions the director in question would give me a lift, driving with the hearse to the crem, with the family cars in close attendance. The man, for man he is, was meticulous in public, and upon leaving the hearse walked with a steady and dignified gait and solemn countenance, tall hat with grey scarf in hand, to open the car door for the chief mourners – leaving the Priest, to whom he had just told the most wicked joke, creased up and desperately trying to compose himself for the business of also facing the family and the liturgy of the committal.

I couldn’t help think of my friend this morning as we sat in the Church in darkness, waiting for the dawn and the Liturgy of Light as we bring the newly lit paschal Candle into the building for another year. Sat in the darkness as we listen to readings from scripture – one priest to the left of the as yet unlit candle, one to the right – one at either end, sitting where just a day or so earlier a cross had been . . . and there rising up from my hungry belly, only just supressed, a burp . . .

 

And I wondered, that first Easter morning, was there perhaps a suppressed burp? Did one of the angels with a redeemed ‘wicked’ sense of humour tell a joke, were the angels laughing? Before those solemn moments?? ‘Quick! pull yourself together, they’re here!!’

For after all, they knew, what is more that had always known. This was The Moment in the temporary Created history when that which had always been true, would be manifested amongst mortals. Something beyond their ken, yet always present.

The association of angels and young children is an old and rightly treasured one, for it reminds us that ‘Heaven’, or life with God is Jovial, full of Joy and gladness, of happiness and delight and, if it is human at all, laughter! And one cannot but imagine these two angels, like children, in the Garden, full of Joy at the Revealing of something they have always known, that the Lamb slain since before the foundation of the world, has trampled down death by death . . . They unbound by time weren’t waiting for it to happen, there had never been a time when it wasn’t true, but Now Everyone was going to be let in on it – I doubt they could contain themselves

‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ For those who have not been let in on the great Story, for those who do not See, seems like a ludicrous question, but in the Presence of the One who is Life perhaps Not . . .

Time for laughter – Time for joy, for Christ is Risen!!!!

(and time for a bacon buttie . . .)

Sermon for Easter – Year A – 2014 ‘Do not be afraid!’

Easter 2014

Matthew 28:1-10

Christ is Risen

“One has died for all, therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised again for us”

Two events of personal ‘significance’ have come to pass this last few days. On Thursday, the Diocese in which I was ordained ceased to exist. As someone asked me, ‘how old does that make you feel?’ The Old diocesan boundaries have been swept away, and today something radically new has been established. The Country which I once inhabited has disappeared. So in a sense I am now homeless . . . But!!!

The second thing happened not only to me, but to my family and I a week ago Friday . . . We were finally granted Permanent Residency status in New Zealand . . . which means it is safe for me finally to come out and stop pretending . . . I hereby declare in front of you all, without fear of immediate deportation – I DO NOT like Pavlova. . .

No home to go back to – am I an insider or an outsider here? . . .

It is interesting to note how we use ‘Culture’ to denote insiders or outsiders. A few years ago in England a government minister suggested the key test of whether folk really belonged was ‘Who do you support at Cricket?’ It was a particularly barbed choice as his target was the English born Asian population who turned out in droves if either India, or Pakistan was playing . . . or rather the Indians turned out for India, and those from Pakistan for the Pakistani team . . . ‘Real English people support England at Cricket!’

And what drives that determination to define, to mark those who are in and those who are out? Fear. Fear of the other . . . and in the Ukraine for example we see where that leads – where it always leads – and will always continue to lead. I find it immensely sad if not tragic that in the church we seem to have baptised the idea of ‘culture’ – for it is a way of seeing the world that in the last analysis is profoundly contradictory of the Gospel of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – no matter how much we try to dress it up in the sheep’s clothing of ‘celebrating diversity’. As St Paul says ‘For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.

The hostility between us. As I have been teaching through Lent, our perception of healthy community is one in which we have sufficient power to negotiate a comfortable distance from one another, it has little if anything to do with Life in Christ. Our fundamental problem is estrangement. The more power, and generally wealth we have, the easier it is to believe that it doesn’t exist – that all is well with the world – one way or another it rules all human lives. Through the sin of Adam, all of us become strangers to one another, for we have become strangers to God. The relationship between the Man and the Woman, between brother and brother is broken – and that leads to only one place – ‘In Adam all die’. Fear reigns – Life is extinguished. As Baxter Kruger puts it, in his wonderful exposition of the gospel ‘Jesus and the undoing of Adam’ – ‘Anxiety became the matrix of human existence’.

And thus the New Life, The Life of The Risen One is heralded with these words ‘Do Not be afraid!’ Fear is no longer what it means to be human. The consequences of our estrangement have been overcome in Jesus Christ. To Be in Christ is Not to be afraid.

In dawn’s early light ‘Mary Magdalene and the other Mary’ come to the tomb ‘And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightening, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men’ And the first words out of the angel’s mouth? “Do not be afraid”??? And indeed the women struggle to take in this command – for they run from the tomb quickly ‘with fear’, but as it dawns upon them, also ‘great joy’. ‘Suddenly Jesus met them and said “Greetings!” As usual our diminished translations do this salutation little justice – Better “Rejoice!” “Be Glad!”. The women are already running ‘with great joy’, but now the words of Jesus to them as they worship him, “Do not be afraid”. ‘He is our peace . . . for in his flesh he has broken down the dividing wall, the hostility between us’, Life in Christ is never determined by fear and estrangement, for in Christ, the old order of things has been judged and done away with.

And so it is unsurprising, totally unremarkable that the Resurrection is twice heralded with the words ‘Do not be afraid’ – The most oft repeated command in all of Scripture comes forth with full force in these Resurrection accounts – the declaration of New Life in the Risen Christ. The Old way of fear and separation is done away with at the cross.

The Old has gone, the New has come. Matthew marks both the death of Jesus and the Resurrection with earthquakes. As we know only to well, here on the PAcific Rim, Earthquakes change everything. As many have remarked following the Christchurch earthquakes, nothing can ever be the same again. But Matthew does not tell us that the Earthquakes changed everything, rather he is telling us through this metaphor, that everything has changed. The Old has gone. The Old life that was our life has been judged and declared finished in the death of the representative human, Jesus of Nazareth. We are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died.
Now He is Risen – The New has come and so we who know our old life to be done away with as the One man dies are invited to walk in newness of Life. As Paul reminds us And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them. We, the baptised are called forth from the death of Sin, to Participate in the New Creation, of which the Resurrection of Jesus is the first fruits.

This is no ‘better’ life than those amongst whom we live – it is a life of a totally different order. There is no continuity, between the life we once lived, and that which no pertains in and through the Risen Christ – and we should expect no less – for if the Resurrection is ‘beyond belief’, then surely its consequences also lie beyond categories that we can simply lay hold of. It is Radically New

And this is why we observe the discipline of participating in Holy Week – for without that full participation, that dying to ourselves that we might in the words of Thomas ‘go with him that we might die also’ – without that then, all we do is keep rehearsing the Old story which has been judged at the Cross – our lives just echoing the words of Macbeth

“To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”

Without participation in Holy Week, the Resurrection is at best a plaintive hope, and at worst a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing. This is why we go with Jesus through Holy Week.

It is why we walked in here last week waving our ‘palm branches’ – worshipping the one who comes to us ‘meek and gentle on the colt of an ass’, in our worship of the one who makes himself nothing accepting that as our Way also.

It is why we have gathered in the dark three evenings to be with Jesus in Holy week, to strip away our illusions about our lives, about Light and Love.

It is why we came together to share in a common meal, to wash one anothers’ feet, that we might grow deeper into fellowship with Him and with one another – Knowing that this is no mere ceremony but our Way of Life together.

It is why we joined in The Last Supper, and watched in the dark as the story was played out in the night. Finally it is why we joined together twice on Friday – to rehearse the tale and then to hear these words ‘It is finished’ To hear God’s judgement on the way of sin and death – to See in the death of Jesus our own dying to that old life controlled by fear, that life lived on our own terms. To see there the death of History as we know it. To Know the End in ourselves. To know in truth what St Paul tells us ‘that one has died for all, therefore all have died

These are not things that are put on by the church for us – they are the actions of the Body of Christ – for this is the story of Christ, who is our life. Participation. And it is Knowing our Participation in his death – that we might know our participation in His Life. that we might with those women Know the Joy of the Resurrection – and HEAR the words deep within us – Do not be afraid!

So, to conclude I fearlessly proclaim amongst you ‘I do not like Pavlova!’ 🙂 Because if we are participating in what Christ has done, through the Cross, those things that divide us, both great and small are swept away. What matters is no longer my culture or yours, that which divides and therefore is a token of fear. What matters is a New Creation, and that, our lives hidden in the Risen Christ, we are brothers and sisters, with Christ and one another.

And the end of my old diocese? When I was in the UK in July I visited the diocese for the last time – it is no longer there – I cannot go back. That the new diocese comes into being today is a powerful statement. For so it is with the death and resurrection of Jesus. The old order of life has come to an end in the death of Jesus. The Earthquakes heralded the End, yet also an utterly New beginning. As with the diocese – all the boundaries of the life we once knew have been swept away and something new has been established. This is why if we hang onto our life we lose it, for upon the Cross it has come to an end. What is on offer is nothing more that participation in the Life of the Risen Jesus. The Life that we call eternal life. For what is God doing? Baxter Kruger once more – nothing less than ‘recreating the human race through death and resurrection’

“One has died for all, therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised again for us”
Christ is Risen from the Dead. The Old has gone, the New has come
He is our Life
Nothing can ever be the same again