Sunday, Sunday, May 8, 2011

Three Easter
Acts 2:14a, 36-41
Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19
1 Peter 1:17-23
Luke 24:13-36

For to you is the promise, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call unto him.

I went to a retreat this weekend, a group of women gathered to do crafts together. Classes were arranged with teachers well versed in certain crafts, but the guests were also welcome to bring their own things to do. Though most people did manage to do some crafting over the weekend, there were a few who were there to enjoy the company of other women, to rest and relax away from the hubbub of life. I did some crafting, but also spent time finishing a novel I was reading and checking out the work of the women. Everyone enjoyed sharing not only their crafts, but also their stories.

One evening was especially fun, because every story led to other stories. Someone mentioned their cat and all the other ladies had stories to tell about their own cats. We laughed at the antics and were fascinated by how extraordinary our animals can be. We discovered very quickly that though we were women who were from different places and backgrounds, we had much in common. Our lives were diverse but we had shared experiences. We talked about books, our families, our camp experiences and whatever else came to mind, and in those conversations we got to know each other.

I’m sure on Sunday, when families gather around Mother to celebrate her day, everyone will have their own stories to tell. It is important for us to tell our children the stories of their life, to share their history with them so that they will remember their forefathers and where they came from. The person we become is built by adding the places we’ve been and the people who have been a part of our life to the person we were created to be. I would not be me if it weren’t for those people and experiences. As we hear the stories of our past, we better understand our own lives and they bring to mind our own memories, our own stories, that get added to the tapestry that is our world.

My husband and his brother were talking at dinner last night, remembering their favorite foods from when they were just kids in their mom’s house. They each had their favorites, some of which have been continued by their wives. They also remembered the food they hated and how thankful they are that their wives haven’t continued those meals. They didn’t always remember the same things and spent a long time describing items to one another to see if the memories came back. They tried to piece together some things, trying to remember how their mom made it so that they could have it again. As with the conversations over the weekend, one subject brought to mind another, and the discussion went on for a long time.

We read the text from the Gospel lesson and wonder how those disciples could possibly not know that they were talking to Jesus. Yes, there was a difference in His appearance and they were walking to Emmaus under the belief that Jesus was dead, and yet we still wonder how they could not know. I usually approach this text from the point of view that Jesus revealed Himself in different ways to different people with specific purpose, so that we would know that He is revealed to each person in a personal and specific way. To these disciples, Jesus was revealed in the breaking of bread, and we can know that He will be revealed to us that way, too.

Yet, as I was thinking about this Sunday being Mother’s Day, I thought about how storytelling helps us remember other things. The stories our mothers tell us help us remember our past, our experiences and the foundation of our lives. Jesus was doing the same thing. Though they recognized Him in the breaking of bread, I’m sure the teaching of scriptures built upon everything He had done before He died. He taught them these things, and in the storytelling, Jesus reminded them of the foundations of the future Church. “This is where you came from,” He was telling them, “this is who you are.” Then He showed Himself to them to guarantee His authority and the truth He was telling them.

The disciples were under a wrong impression. They thought Jesus would be their Messiah, but when He died they were lost. Everything they expected went wrong. They didn’t expect Jesus to rise, despite the number of times Jesus told them He would. He was rarely blunt about His future; He told them through His teaching of the Law and Prophets. But He did tell them that He would suffer and die. He told them not to worry. He told them God had a plan. When Jesus died, they thought God failed. They went on their way. They returned to their homes. They were disappointed and confused. But Jesus came and reminded them of the foundations of their faith. And from His storytelling, they believed.

In this story we see that God does not necessarily come to us in dramatic and forceful ways. Sometimes He comes to us slowly at first, laying out His story in a way that draws out our own memories, gifts and relationships. Though some Christians have extraordinary experiences of Jesus, like Paul on the road to Damascus, most of us learn about Jesus through Sunday school teachers and our parents and the stories they tell. Slowly, but surely, we hear the stories until one day we finally see Him and understand. Even then we wonder how we could have not seen, just like the disciples. “Was not our heart burning within us?” we ask. But in the stories of God’s grace we see that we are just like those who were there at the beginning, learning and growing in grace each day.

In the lesson from Acts, we see the end of Peter’s sermon on Pentecost. He just finished telling the story of Jesus and how they came to be at that moment in time. He summed it up with the statement that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, for whom they had been waiting. Despite the strange circumstances of Jesus’ death, Jesus is the One. Peter said, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly, that God hath made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom ye crucified.”

This is important news; this is a life-changing proclamation. It demands a response. The people wondered what they should do. Peter says, “Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” He tells the people to turn around, to see God’s grace in His gifts to His people. In baptism we receive the Holy Spirit, the faith and strength and hope to live in this world. Jesus met those disciples along the road and walked with them. He shared the stories they had heard perhaps hundreds of times before, but in telling them again, He helped them remember and become transformed by them. They were changed when He was revealed. And so are we.

It is often our mother who gives us the first stories about Jesus. She got us our first bible, a picture book with the stories about God’s people. She took us to the font and made sure that we received our first communion. She made sure that we went to church and sat beside us in worship. She taught us about giving our offering, sharing our resources, taking time for others. She made sure our name was in our underwear and that we had plenty of batteries when she sent us off to summer camp. I suppose it is possible that some who read this won’t remember those experiences with their mothers, but most of us can say that it was our mother who taught us about Jesus.

The transformation might take time. St. Augustine’s mother patiently prayed for her son and lived as a faithful example for him. It was a priest, after a long life of wicked living, who gave him to words that convinced him that Jesus was the way. For the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, it took the breaking of bread. What was it that brought about the change in you? Were you baptized as a child or did you learn about Jesus later and choose to be baptized? Did you reject God but learn about the peace and joy that comes from recognizing that Jesus is the Christ? What stories did you hear that changed you? And when you heard those words that gave you faith, how did you respond?

The Gospel message—that Christ died for your sake, His blood shed for your ransom—demands a response. It is not enough to believe. It is not enough to simply accept Jesus is the Messiah. He died so that you might live and live abundantly. This Good News calls us to turn around, to go back into the city, to tell others that Jesus is not dead. He is alive, and He’s calling His people into relationships of love. In faith we live forever, no longer condemned to death.

We inherit from our past so many things: health, tradition, culture, finances, property, business, personality, habits, politics, biases, debts, feuds, religion and interests. Some of these things can be good and are worth continuing into another generation. However, some of the things we inherit from our past have no value and can actually be harmful; there are things that we have to set aside to become the person we are meant to be. Jesus made it possible, redeeming us from the failures of our past. The sacrificial system had little value because it was not lasting. Jesus, as the perfect Lamb of God finished for all time the need for atoning sacrifice. In His grace, we are called to trust in God and love one another.

The disciples recognized Jesus at the breaking of bread, and we are given that same opportunity every time we approach the altar for the Eucharist. Is that what we are experiencing at Communion on Sunday morning? Do we really recognize that in the bread and wine we are seeing Christ? Have we lost touch with the purpose of communion? The cup bears the very blood of Christ which was offered for our sake on the cross. “This is my body, given for you. This is my blood, shed for you.” Christ did this for you. And there at the table, whether once a year or every day, Jesus Christ is revealed anew in that cup. We are made new every time we receive that gift, forgiven, transformed and purified by His Word so that we can go forth another day to trust in God and live in love.

When the disciples recognized Jesus, He vanished from their sight. They did not sit around waiting for something special to come. Fed and renewed, they ran back to Jerusalem to share the good news with the other disciples. “The Lord has risen indeed!” So too should we, strengthened by our Lord Jesus Christ, go out into the world to proclaim the good news of salvation found in Christ.

The psalmist sings, “Because he hath inclined his ear unto me, therefore will I call upon him as long as I live.” The Lord God is gracious and merciful. He hears the cries of His people and He answers their prayers. Our psalm was used as part of the liturgy for the religious festivals throughout the Jewish year. It is a hymn of thanksgiving and praise for God’s deliverance from death. The worship of God was tied up in many aspects of their lives. Each festival had significance at several levels. They were times of remembrance and looking ahead, times of feasting and fasting, times of joy and sacrifice. They worshipped God with their hearts, their minds and their resources, bringing Him into their ordinary world.

That’s why our New Covenant experiences include the sacraments. God did not simply speak to us; He gave us ordinances that were connected to very real, very tangible things of this earth. In Baptism the word is joined with water, reminding us of all those times when God used the water to make the world clean while cleansing us for the future. In the Eucharist the word is tied to the bread and wine, reminding us of the last supper, Christ’s death on the cross while also giving us a foretaste of the feast to come. In this way God’s story has woven together the ordinary with the extraordinary, reason with mystery, the past with the future, the grace of God with our response.

Every year someone asks the question of the pastors, “Do we celebrate Mother’s Day or do we follow the text of the day?” Some of the resources give other texts that might be used, like the ones involving Jesus’ mother or the commandment to honor father and mother. One Mother’s Day sermon included Proverbs 31, the perfect woman. But we don’t have to separate the two. Jesus as Jesus is revealed through the bread and the wine, He is also revealed to us by the people who love us and the stories they tell. Can you imagine the scene of Jesus and the two men, but replace that scene with a mother sitting there and carefully teaching the scriptures to her children? Mother’s Day might be a secular holiday, but our mothers are among the tangible gifts that God gives to us so that we might see Christ active in the world. With the bread and wine, and the water of baptism, God reveals Himself through those we love so that we’ll go out into the world and proclaim that Good News to others.

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