Hope Embodied and Life Recognized
Yesterday a certain smart little someone, when told that today was the second to last day of Sunday school before summer break, asked if worship kept going after that. I told her yes.
Then she asked if church just keeps going our whole entire life. Yes. Yes it does.
What? Why? Why do we even go to church? Life is so busy; we have so much we are doing. Why do we keep on going? Why is this something we keep on doing, why does it just keep going and not ever stop? she moaned.
The question is often asked, this way, if Jesus is with us in all of life, why is it important to go to church? Why do we do this at all?
Why are we even here?
This third week of Easter we find ourselves on a road away from Jerusalem with two dismayed followers of Jesus, and a stranger who joins them right exactly where they are, in their questions and grief, their speculation and their wondering, their conversation and their journey. When they arrive in Emmaus and implore him to be their guest, he agrees.
And I imagine that when they washed their hands and came to their seats, the food spread out before them, they might not have known it, or maybe they did, but they needed to be fed, they needed to be served. They themselves were broken and bruised, tired and confused and sad, and they needed someone else to feed them.
And so nobody really stops him when their guest becomes their host, when he picks up the bread and wordlessly breaks it and gives it to them. But then the slow dawning starts and the light seeps in and the déjà vu of that moment stops them in their tracks.
Was it the movement of his hands? How he held the bread, the way he tore it? Was it their own reaching out to receive like they did on that night - or at least like they’d done in the days since that night because those who were with him then said he told them they should all keep doing that in remembrance of him. Was it that?
Or just the whole picture? That now this stranger from the road does that. His thing. Whatever it was the cracked it all open, the pieces fell into place – his words, his walking, their hearts burning within them…they fell into place and it suddenly dawned on them, like a brand new morning, and they opened their mouths about to exclaim something- what?
And he vanished from their sight.
You don’t get to grab onto this one, he doesn’t belong to you – you belong to him, you can’t make him be the messiah you want him to be.
You get glimpses.
You get warm hearts and aha moments and the realization you’re not alone and the occasional joy-terror that this is all way beyond you (and also, amazingly, includes you) and that’s about it.
You don’t get ongoing, constant confirmation, flesh and blood presence anymore –except when the flesh and bread is the Eucharistic type and the living person next to you type.
So it’s too much to bear alone, you’ve got to tell others what happened to you on the road, so you hoof it back to the community – wait until you hear what happened to me – bear this with me, hear me out, help me hold the enormity of this and tell me if I’m crazy. Oh, and also, I believe you now too. And I want to hear your story again because it’s so much like- and so different from - mine. How did the risen Jesus meet you?
And so we see a shift happening, a process unfolding. In this flesh and blood experience, this story of their walking feet and emotion-filled faces and discussing voices and interpreting heads and listening ears and burning hearts and hungry stomachs and seeing eyes and intuitive memory - they are indeed being brought into the body of Christ, they themselves are becoming the Body of Christ.
Resurrection makes this message of hope embodied inside them and through them and between them, in their community with one another, and their active living in the world. Certainly not just in this one human being Jesus Christ, any longer, who is risen, but fleeting and not staying put and who comes and goes as he pleases, gardener, journeyer, host, moment, appearing and disappearing but leaving you all to sort out the experiences together.
So why do we gather together in this thing called church?
Why does it keep on going and not stop?
Maybe because it is in the breaking of the bread that our eyes are opened to recognize him.
Maybe it’s in the meeting each other and the singing together and the praying confession alongside our neighbor, and hearing each other’s prayers and figuring out church budgets and serving meals and sharing space and mission, and hearing the word opened up to us and wrestling with our questions and doubts together, and in the breaking of the bread again and again, week after week, month after month, year after year, session term after session term, that our eyes are opened to recognize him. And by that I mean, maybe those things are what help us to know that he is appearing to us elsewhere too, but unless we meet him when we meet together, we wouldn't pay attention to how our hearts are burning all those other times.
And maybe when we come and we do all the things we do here, it also helps us recognize when our eyes are kept from seeing him. And this is why we pray a confession, too, isn’t it? Because our own pride, or distraction, or anger, or enneagram type, or baggage or busyness or tendency to look pointedly and repeatedly in the wrong places keeps us from seeing the God of love who bears our death and brings resurrection right here in our midst. So much of our lives we are kept from seeing Jesus, not least of all because we don’t really expect to see a risen Lord walking right alongside us in concrete and unlikely ways.
Have you seen that psychological experiment that’s been floating around the internet for a few years- where there are two basketball teams playing, one in white and the other in black, and you are told to watch carefully. So you do, and you see them run and jump and pass and throw and dribble and shoot. And when it’s over you’re asked – did you see the guy in the gorilla suit? And you think, the what?
And then it shows you the scene again, and low and behold, right in the middle of it some dude dressed in a gorilla suit saunters through it all, just behind the players, and you were so wrapped up in trying to watch the game well that you missed it completely.
That is what I imagine happening to these followers of Jesus- to all followers of Jesus. We are so wrapped up in the game, whatever that may be and it is so many things, so certain that we’re in it alone or that we’ve got to figure it out, or that we’re just paying attention to where we’re going like we should be, with our eye on the ball and our feet moving, that when the savior who has been through death with us and for us, and is now alive and calling us to life saunters through the scene- walking with us, engaging us in our own lives deeply and perceptively, we fail to recognize him.
So we need to gather together, we need to hear the others tell how he appeared to this one or that one, in this way or that way, and to admit our own failure to recognize, so that we can head back out into the world ready notice when he comes to us, or at least able to say the next time we come together and he is made known to us in the breaking of the bread, Was not my heart burning within me yesterday when that person gave me a ride and listened to my frustration, or I had a quiet moment of stillness and gratitude, or I prayed in anguish for those missing girls, or I played with my laughing niece or worked alongside my next door neighbor? And then we, who have been heard in our story, get to say to you, because of yours, The Lord has Risen Indeed! And he has appeared to Eva, and to Soren and to Elaine!
And then you or I are not sitting alone, walking along with a heavy heart and terrible worry, or busting with new “I just have to share” joy. We are carrying it here, to this community who is saying to back to us – we hear your prayers and lift them with you to God.
Because we are the Body of Christ.
Our own walking feet and emotion-filled faces and discussing voices and interpreting heads and listening ears and burning hearts and hungry stomachs and seeing eyes and intuitive memories. Resurrection makes God’s message of hope embodied inside of us and through us and between us, in our community with one another, and our active living in the world.
Jesus is here in our midst, made known to us in the breaking of the bread, and because of that, we get to realize from time to time, like the dawn of a new morning, that he is walking alongside us out there on the journey too.
This is why we come together. This is why we are here today. This is why we keep showing up, and why this church thing keeps going and doesn't end. That's not the answer I gave her in the car yesterday. But it's the truth of it.
So let us then, the gathered Body of Christ, invite the host to the table set before us, and see what happens next.