Second Sunday of Easter, April 23, 2017
Acts 2:14a, 22–32, Psalm 16, 1 Peter 1:3-9, Luke 24:13-35
Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Augustana and Birka Lutheran Churches, Underwood, ND
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
The powers of death and hell have been broken. Christ is alive. He has promised to be with us, and he has promised to give us his Holy Spirit. And he is! Throughout every part of our lives, good and bad, we are never alone, for Christ is with us. That’s just as true for times of sorrow and suffering as it is for times of joy and celebration. But one thing I’ve noticed, throughout my life, is how easy it is to miss Jesus. To not notice the Holy Spirit. To walk around with God right next to me and be completely oblivious to his hand at work in me and in my life. Now, sometimes—a lot of the time!—that’s because I’m not paying attention. I’m just going about my life, following my own plans, and even though I know I should be trying to follow Jesus, it’s a lot easier just to go on about my business. But there are other times when I need God’s presence, when something bad has happened and I feel alone. And only later do I realize the ways in which God was with me all along.
So it’s comforting to read about Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances in the Bible and know that I’m not the only one who has trouble recognizing Jesus when he’s there right next to them. You see, our Gospel reading for today is only one of several places where Jesus appears to people after his resurrection—people that knew him well!—and they don’t recognize him. I’m not sure why that is. In the walk to Emmaus in today’s reading, the disciples explain to Jesus that the women at the tomb had a vision. They don’t believe that Jesus rose from the grave; they believe the women who saw the resurrected Jesus just had a vision. They are walking along right next to Jesus, and I’m sure they were wishing that Jesus was there with him in their grief and sorrow. They were with Jesus, but they didn’t recognize him. We are told that they were kept from recognizing him—maybe because they’ll understand more if they listen to him and speak with him before they learn he’s Jesus? Maybe it will have a better impact that way? Or maybe it’s their own wrong understanding that’s keeping them from seeing Jesus. Maybe it’s the fact that, despite the testimony of the women, they don’t believe that Jesus is really risen that keeps them from seeing him. Maybe, despite all they’ve seen and everything that Jesus has said, they just can’t accept the idea of someone rising from the dead. Maybe they’d say, well, resurrection is a nice theory, and I’m sure God could raise the dead if he wanted to, but it obviously couldn’t be true now, here, today, in my ordinary daily life. We think that too, sometimes. We don’t recognize God’s presence in our lives because our lives are too ordinary, we think, for God to be with us. And yet, God is there even if we don’t recognize him.
There are other followers of Jesus, too, who don’t recognize him after he rose from the dead. Earlier that first Easter morning the women went to the tomb and were surprised by the stone being rolled away. Mary Magdalene thinks he’s the gardener at first. She doesn’t recognize him because she’s looking for the wrong thing. Her grief is blinding her. She’s looking for a dead body instead of a living Lord. We do that, too; look for Jesus in all the wrong places, or mistake him for someone else when we do see him. Jesus is with us, but we don’t always recognize him.
But there is one place that we can count on Jesus being, absolutely for sure, and that is the meal we share together here in worship, the bread and wine that are his body and blood. Hear the words that Jesus told his own disciples, that have been handed down ever since: Take, and eat. This is my body, given for you. Take, and drink, this is my blood, shed for you. When we come together in the name of Jesus Christ, the bread and the wine become his body and blood. Even when our eyes are kept from seeing him, he is here. In the bread and wine, we can see him, touch him, smell and taste him—a tangible reminder that he loves us so much he died for us, and that we too will someday rise as he did, because we are tied to his death and resurrection.
Notice when the disciples recognize him. Notice when their eyes are open. Not on the way, as they’re walking and talking and learning from Jesus. They spent probably hours together, on that road. And they were good hours, hours spent drawing closer to Jesus even if they still didn’t recognize him. Hours of learning. Hours where their faith was nourished and grew. But they didn’t see Jesus for who and what he was until he took the bread and wine, and blessed it, and gave it to them. Just as he blessed it and gave it to them in his last supper before his death. Just as he gave his body and blood for them on the cross, so now he gives it to them again in this meal. And that’s when their eyes are opened. There’s something about this meal that does that: opens their eyes, and connects them to God. We human beings are tactile creatures. It’s one thing to intellectually understand something, or remember it, or think about it. It’s something else to have a visceral and bone-deep experience. Where our bodies are affected, not just our brains. We don’t get to be there at Gethsemenee or Golgotha or the empty tomb. We don’t get to put our finger in the wounds in Jesus’ hands, feet, and side. But we do get this. We get the body of Christ, placed into our hands. We get the blood of Christ, shed for us and for all people, to take and drink. How it happens that bread and wine become Jesus’ body and blood, we don’t know. I can’t scientifically explain the transformation. But we know that it happens, that Jesus meets us—always—in the breaking of the bread.
Today we are celebrating with several children who are coming to Communion, some for the first time, and all with a better understanding of it. We gathered weekly during Lent to learn about Holy Communion, and what God has done for us. And the first place we started was talking about meals: what meals do they remember? What events are marked in their family by special meals? Are there any stories their family tells about things that happened at special meals in the past? And every year I do this, kids tell me stories. Because in the human experience, food is one of the universal ways we build community and memories. Every special event is marked by a meal, and every time we share that meal, we remember. When we come together to share in God’s holy meal, the bread and the wine that are Jesus’ body and blood, we remember all that Jesus did. We remember the meals that he shared in life, with his disciples and with the Pharisees and with sinners. We remember how he fed the five thousand people in the wilderness. We remember his last supper, how he gave his body and blood in the form of bread and wine, and commanded his disciples to love one another. This meal that we share helps us to remember all the meals in the past that helped bring us here. This is important, because in order to know where we’re going we have to know where we’ve been. To understand what God is calling us to do out in the world we have to know what God has done for us.
But this meal is not just about memory. It’s not just about remembering what Jesus did a long time ago. It’s also about experiencing Jesus’ presence here and now. Because Jesus wasn’t just a nice guy who lived a long time ago. Jesus is present in our lives, now. Jesus didn’t just sacrifice himself for us once on a cross, Jesus offers his body and blood to us every week, to strengthen us in faith and love, to help us connect to him, and to nourish both our bodies and our souls. We may not always see Jesus, we may not always be aware of God’s presence, but in the meal we share in worship we can see, feel, taste, and smell our Lord’s presence. May it strengthen us in faith towards God and fervent love for one another.