SERMON Easter 3A 5/8/11
In my teens, my family left a small rural Methodist church and we joined a medium sized Baptist church fifteen miles away from our home. The service was very different from that with which I grew up. Every Sunday, Sunday night and Wednesday night (we went to church a lot); the service had one primary focal point which was the sermon. In that little Baptist church, there was no sacrament, except occasionally once a year, we shared the Lord’s Supper, but that was it. Worship seemed to be for me a mental exercise only. I, the impatient teenager spent my time in church looking at my watch as the preacher droned on for 30, 40, and yes, sometimes 50 minutes each and every Sunday. Now we know that a sermon that long in the Episcopal Church would never EVER happen. WE can be assured that a couple sermons of more than 15 minutes in duration would result in the formation of a priest search committee.
In that church in East Tennessee in the 1970’s, I remember vividly how my heart longed for more. I knew I was ready, when on one particular Sunday, bored beyond measure, I suddenly found myself waking up from a nap, just as the closing hymn was being sung. Embarrassed, I realized that I had missed the whole service. Later on in life, I would discover something, which I had missed, and I would embrace something, that would make the Word and Sacrament equally fulfilling in worship.
In our Book of Common Prayer, there are two major parts to the service of the Holy Eucharist, “The Word of God” and “The Holy Communion. It is in these two portions of the sacred whole of our worship, that the Word and Sacrament remain dependent and inseparable. We have glimpses of that tradition of Word and Sacrament in the Acts of the Apostles, in which the early church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” In addition, as we heard in today’s gospel, the two disciples who traveled on the road to Emmaus with Jesus experienced the Risen Christ through his proclamation of scripture and in the breaking of bread.
These two disciples (Cleopus and the other unnamed one), walked along with Risen Lord recalling the events of the crucifixion and empty tomb, but they did not recognize that it was Jesus with whom they were walking. Something happened to them as Jesus revealed in scripture the prophecies of his death and resurrection. Their hearts burned upon hearing the word. Through their brief journey, Jesus opened the scripture up for them, so that through it, their hearts would be able to recognize that he was God incarnate.
Scripture in early Jewish tradition was not merely a scroll placed on a shelf, it was cherished in the synagogue, it was memorized, and it was pondered daily. Our hearts should burn as well when we study scripture and when we hear the Gospel proclaimed, because it stirs our logic, and yet, the Spirit moves in us, stirring transformation in us. By studying and hearing the word, our hearts engage in a rational dance with God by which, we encounter the Risen Lord. Through our open engagement with the scripture narrative, the Spirit moves and readies us for the next page of The Great Thanksgiving, through which, we receive the Body and Blood of Our Lord, and commune with God.
In the Holy Eucharist, the community gathers, and through the prayers we say, the actions we do, the taking/blessing/breaking/ and sharing, we recall, we celebrate, and we look with hope. In the Eucharist, we recall the Last Supper with Jesus (and his death and resurrection), we celebrate the presence of Christ with us now, and we look forward to the “Great Supper of the Lamb” to come. In this communion, we believe that when we gather and do these things, that Christ is present in Bread and Wine. Jesus said, “Take, eat this is my body; Drink this all of you, this is my blood.” We do not come to the table merely for solace, but for strength. When we eat from the same loaf, and we drink from the same cup in this meal, our eyes are opened and we truly recognize the Risen Lord.
In our liturgy, in The Holy Eucharist, we do not jump past the word and move straight to the table. No, we begin the journey where the Holy Spirit can work in and through the proclamation of scripture, in the singing of hymns, and in the unpacking of the word through sermons. Our hearts are prepared to receive the Blessed Sacrament, so that we can recognize that The Lord is risen. In the Eucharist, we experience the word that teaches us, we receive the Body and Blood to strengthen and feed us, and then we are sent out to share that Good News in the world. Remember, the two disciples did not stay at home when they recognized that the Risen Lord had been present with them. Late at night, tired and probably still hungry, they made the long journey back to Jerusalem to make known their experience of the resurrected Lord.
When we gather each Sunday, we ask the Holy Spirit to burn in our hearts as we hear and ponder the narrative of scripture, then when we receive the Body and Blood of Our Lord. Fed and nourished, strengthened and taught, we are made ready to go and witness to that miraculous transformation that has happened in us. The Great Thanksgiving is the hearing of the word, the breaking of the bread, the sharing of the cup, the receiving of the Body and Blood of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Through this playful, spiritual dance, we experience the way in which the Risen Lord continues to be present with his disciples today and in the generations to come.