In the Name...
A pastor asked his elders what sort of things they would like people to say about them at their funerals. One replied, “I’d like them to say, He was a great family man.” Another offered, “I’d like them to say, He helped many people.” The third said, “I’d like them to say, Hey, look! I think he’s moving.”
Easter has come and gone. We have celebrated the greatest festival of the Christian year, the Resurrection of Jesus the Saviour, and now our church year, as our calendar year, moves on. Twelve months must pass before most churches are as full as they were two weeks ago. Once more, the demands which people choose to put upon themselves will take precedence and the special effort made by many to fit in a church visit will not be repeated any time soon. Life returns to normal. A cynical judgment, perhaps, but, a not inaccurate description of how things are.
When I lived in FL, our church was in the city centre and had a ministry we called "Walkabout." Every Tuesday morning, a group of us would “walk about” the streets and distribute sandwiches to the homeless people we ran across, striking up conversations and discussing their needs.
Well, on these visits I would sometimes ask, "How's the Lord treating you?" and I'd get replies such as, "Not bad, Pastor”, or "Can't complain." But, then, I enjoyed following up with, "That's great. Glad to hear. So, tell me, how are you treating Him?" And, you can imagine I got some interesting looks. But, I also got some very honest and reflective answers and the fact is that God is a bit better about making His presence known to us than we are at making ours known to Him. And this has been pretty much the case throughout history.
We think of the Hebrews who saw unimaginable miracles in the Exodus, and yet who still built a golden calf. Or the kings of Israel who needed prophets to remind them that they served a greater king.
Even in the New Testament, the people of Nazareth, who saw the most of Jesus, believed in him the least, and yet, a Samaritan woman, on the basis of just one conversation, ran to tell her neighbours that she had found the Messiah. Even in the agony and horror of tortured death, as the wisest and holiest in society made rude jokes at the foot of the Cross, a murderer recognized, in Jesus, a king who would remember him.
After the third day, the revelations continued. "He is not here, he is risen." the angel said, but nothing less than Jesus in the flesh could comfort the weeping Mary and the contrite Peter.
Consider, then, the two disciples walking along that road to Emmaus. They were sad, depressed. Jesus drew near, joined them, and made their hearts burn within them as they walked along the road. He interpreted the Scriptures, but, even so, they did not recognize him. In fact, it was not until they sat down at table with him that their eyes were opened and, it says, they knew him in the breaking of the bread.
And, it is this recognition which is so needed by so many, today.
People may know the Scriptures, or at least have a rough idea of the Gospels. Some may have a feeling in their hearts for Jesus, even if it isn't the intense burning shared by Cleopas. But, here it is. They may know of Jesus, but, not know him because they have not looked to find him in a certain place.
And where is this "certain place"? In the breaking of the bread, where even the disciples had to find him. Here in church, in the Holy Eucharist. That is why we have it. That is why Jesus gave it to us and said we were to do this when we met, because in it we encounter and experience him in a way that cannot be achieved by any other means.
There is no substitute for the Eucharist. It is truly the Holy Communion because it is the pre-eminent means of holy communication. It is, first and foremost, at the communion table that we can join ourselves with the disciples and experience Jesus in our midst saying, "Peace be with you." Jesus himself said that the Spirit comes and goes, but, the Eucharist is available to all, anytime.
A few years ago a Pentecostal church in Valdosta, GA, did something completely amazing. It voted to join the Episcopal Church. You don't often hear of something like that happening, but, it did there, and it all started when the pastor held a class on Early Church history. Now, the people of this church already had a great experience of the Holy Spirit. They spoke in tongues, witnessed healings, and had empowered ministries galore. But, the class opened up to them the fact that they didn't have the Eucharist and that without it, they were missing something important.
It was actually while they were reading about St. Ignatius of Antioch that the light began to dawn. Ignatius was martyred in the year 107 at the age of eighty and as he was being transported from Antioch to be executed in Rome, he wrote several letters, one of which contained this statement:
"The Eucharist is the self-same body of our Saviour Jesus Christ which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in his goodness, raised up again."
And so, a group of Georgia Pentecostals decided that if one of the first Christians, someone who had lived during the time of Jesus, and known Peter and Paul, was willing to die for this belief then there must be something to it.
You see, we don't have to think fondly of Jesus in the past, or, indeed, even think wistfully of meeting him at some distant time in the future. He is with us in the present, as he was to the disciples at the inn, in the breaking of bread, in the Holy Eucharist - Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity.
That's why we have tabernacles in churches. Indeed, that’s the reason we have church buildings. They’re not to say prayers or hear sermons or sing hymns, they’re to provide a place for the Blessed Sacrament to be kept dry and safe. As I said in the Good Friday sermon, Christ has no mausoleum because his memorial is his real and living presence in the Blessed Sacrament. He is standing before us today as alive as when he stood on the Emmaus road. And to see him, all we have to do is look at him.
May we, then, like the disciples when on the road to Emmaus, feel our hearts burn within us as we hear his words. May we, like those disciples when at the inn, recognize his presence in the breaking of bread. And, may we, like those same disciples who then rushed back to Jerusalem, tell the world, "We have seen the Lord."
In the Name...