The Rev. Elaine Breckenridge
Easter 3A 2014
Listen to this…Sermon 2014.05.04 EHB
I begin with a prayer today taken from the service of evening prayer in our prayer book. “Lord Jesus, stay with us; be our companion in the way, kindle our hearts and awaken hope, that we may know you as you are revealed in Scripture and the breaking of bread.”
That of course is a synopsis of the Gospel we just heard. It is a story of companionship, hope, and the on-going revelation of the divine in Scripture and Eucharist. Of all the Easter stories in the New Testament this one is my favorite. Why? Three reasons. First, because it is about the transformation of two disciples on a journey. Eyes were opened as they saw Christ made known in the breaking of the bread. Ears were opened as they hear stories of salvation beginning with Moses. Minds were opened as they made the connection between Jesus and the promised Messiah. Hearts were opened as they experienced the Risen Christ.
It is a favorite because their story is our story. Each of us, like this couple, find ourselves on a journey, on a path traveling at times either with eyes wide open or with eyes wide shut, sometimes to or away from hope but always as the Gospel reminds us, with the Risen Christ as our companion.
And finally, it is a favorite because this Gospel is also the Church’s story of what it looks like to live the Christian faith. Like a map, it gives us directions. Where can we find Christ? In the scriptures and in the Breaking of the Bread. In the Liturgy of the Word and in the Liturgy of the Table. The Emmaus Gospel is a testimony of how in the Eucharist, people’s eyes, minds and hearts can be opened so that they experience the Risen Christ.
Now of course we meet Christ in other contexts. I could just as easily talk about walking and sharing a meal among friends as an excellent means for meeting the Risen Christ. Of course, Christ is revealed in creation; in other people, in pain and suffering; in stories, in poems and in music which is not church approved. Christ is revealed in our dreams, fantasies, thoughts and feelings. Christ is to be found in the world.
But, speaking for myself, there is something compelling about the Eucharist, our gathering for a bite of bread and a sip of wine that makes Christ’s presence Real.
In one of my meditations on Maundy Thursday, I told the congregation present how I loved to make Eucharist in our backyard, consecrating potato chips with my younger brothers. It was play at its best. But after awhile, I got tired of playing. I didn’t like kneeling at the altar rail getting a blessing while my mother got something to eat and drink. I wanted the Eucharist and I wanted it bad. It was then and there, at the age of seven that I began my career as a sacramental criminal. I began stealing the reserve sacrament.
It was an easy thing to do. Since my father was the priest of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Pocatello, we lived right next door to the church. I knew what and where the reserve sacrament was. I knew that Christ had invited me to participate, even if my parents didn’t understand that. I believed that to really be in Christ, Christ had to somehow be in me. And so I fashioned an altar in my bedroom and every Saturday, I would sneak into the church and reverently take one consecrated host, wrap it up in a Kleenex and take it to my altar at home.
Then on Sunday, right after church, I would return to my altar say the Lord’s Prayer again and this time receive communion, alone, in my bedroom on a Sunday afternoon.
For awhile, I felt a sense of triumph with regard to my new ritual. I was taking care of my own spiritual needs, thank you very much. Then the guilt began to set in. I knew what I was doing was wrong. And I wasn’t worried about the stealing as much as I worried about the secrecy and the isolation. Somehow I knew communion wasn’t about hiding out alone with Christ.
I knew even at that age that it was something that I was supposed to be doing with others. I did not have the words for it at the time but I knew intuitively, that, “We who are many are one Body because we all share one bread, one cup.”
Eucharist is the central means by which we create church. As Episcopalians and Anglicans, we believe in the transformation of the congregation gathered for the sacred meal as much as we believe in God’s transfiguration of our offerings of bread and wine.
The Eucharist that we have received from Jesus was always meant to be a communal act–a banquet shared among friends. As we look at his ministry, Jesus longed for people to become whole human beings, that is, individuals set into a community where all were cared for and where justice prevailed. Jesus never healed individuals without also restoring them back into community. Look at how our Gospel story ended today. The two travelers who had first been depressed and surely tired, suddenly in that moment of recognizing Christ in the breaking of bread, found the energy to hit the road again, walking seven miles, seven miles so that they could share their news with the rest of the community. They had been changed from a people of little faith to a people of hope. That was Good News to share with their community.
Eucharist has that much power, the power to transform lives. Some of you may have heard of Sara Miles, a priest serving on the staff of St. Gregory of Nyssa in San Francisco. Here is her story of personal transformation in her own words:
“One morning when I was 46 years old, I walked into a church, ate a piece of bread, took a sip of wine. This is a routine Sunday activity for tens of millions of Americans—except that up until that moment I’d led a thoroughly secular life, at best indifferent to religion, more often appalled by its fundamentalist crusades. This was my first communion. It changed everything. Eating Jesus, as I did that day to my great astonishment, led me against all my expectations to a faith I’d scorned and work I’d never imagined. The mysterious sacrament turned out to be not a symbolic wafer at all but actual food—indeed, the bread of life. In that shocking moment of communion, I was filled with a deep desire to reach for and become part of a body.” —Sara Miles in Take This Bread Eucharist is that powerful. It changed Sara Miles’ life and now she participates in a very successful feeding ministry to the hungry of that city right from the church where she first met Christ in the breaking of the bread. St. Gregory’s altar table feeds the congregation the Eucharist on Sundays with bread and wine. On Fridays that same table and room is used as a food pantry. Instead of bread and wine, the altar holds grocery bags filled full and given freely to others. St. Gregory’s offers both spiritual and material nourishment to the hungry.
It makes me wonder, when might the next Sara Miles walk through our doors? Thinking about my story, with regard to our children and grandchildren, do they all have access to the table? Might we be missing an important avenue for ministry if our Eucharist is not accessible to both the unchurched and children? We have a ministry of extending communion to the sick and the shut-in, but what is our specific Eucharistic ministry to seekers and children? I wonder if our eight and ten-thirty celebrations are really inclusive? I wonder if we need other venues to reach out to those who are not here yet?
As it has been said, we are here to “Gather the folks, tell the stories, break the bread.” (John Shea) In so-doing we participate in feeding one another just by being present, but we are also here, to be that blessing for others who may in fact wish to join us on this faith journey.
Speaking of blessing, you are going to hear that phrase repeated often in the weeks to come. “We are called to be a blessing.” Why? Because we believe that as a congregation we have blessings to share even as we know ourselves to be blessed.
In the weeks ahead you are going to be invited to remember how this church has blessed you and then yes, we are going to ask you to give back, in the form of a gift and/or a pledge to our capital campaign so that we can continue what Jesus started in the obscure town of Emmaus.
Obscure? We really don’t where Emmaus was located. Several possibilities exist but the actual location remains a mystery. But such a mystery is also a revelation, because Emmaus is everywhere, even at this very location.
Let this church become an Emmaus Center. A place where with intention, we help people make the connections between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith, the stories of scripture and our own personal stories. Let us chart new adventures, in a spirit of openness. Christ is with us, before us, behind us, besides us and within us. With eyes, minds and hearts open, may we reach out to new companions who wish to join us on the way. Amen.