Communion Opens Our Eyes
Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost • September 8, 2019
Scripture Lesson: Luke 24:13-35 (NRSV)
Pastor Jeff Wells
I am so glad that we are pondering the Emmaus story today. It is typically only read in the Easter season, but we ought to read it more often because it is such a powerful reminder that we can experience Jesus among us even though he is not physically present. That was not just true for those who had known but also for us who never heard him preach, listened to him teach, watched him heal people, and shared a meal with him.
I am convinced that Jesus is present with us all the time, yet we are able to experience his presence only fleetingly. And that often happens in our times of greatest need or in our moments of deepest spiritual connection. The sacrament of Holy Communion can be one of those moments for us. The word used in the Greek New Testament for sacrament is mysterion, often translated mystery. It signifies that through sacraments, God unveils things to human beings that we could not otherwise perceive by our reason alone. In the sacrament of Communion, God uses simple, tangible, material things – bread and wine – to convey God’s grace and open our eyes to see Jesus.
Friends, this is the beauty and the power of Communion. It is a means of grace that makes it possible for us to recognize and see Jesus not through our intellect, but through the eyes of faith. When we truly able to open ourselves to the experience of Christ (as opposed to mere “belief in” Christ), we can be transported into a new liminal space where we can see beyond seeing and know beyond knowing.
Let’s admit from the start – it’s not so easy to see Jesus in our midst. Just look at the disciples on the road to Emmaus. They walked with Jesus for seven miles and had significant conversations with him over the course of two and a half hours. Yet, they failed that whole time to recognize him as the Messiah they had come to know and love. Perhaps because their faith had been shaken, they saw him as a stranger.
While I believe Jesus’ is continually available to us in various ways through the Spirit of God in our midst, our perception of Jesus’ is inconsistent. Remember that as soon as the disciples in the scripture lesson recognized Jesus, he disappeared. Christ is elusive, moving in and out around the edges of our awareness. Our ability to perceive Jesus is unpredictable. So, we have to continually use practices and vehicles that open the eyes of our hearts.
I never met Jesus in the flesh, but I know Jesus and I love him. He has been a huge and powerful influence on my life. He has been my best teacher. I came to know Jesus because I absorbed the Gospel accounts of his life through studying the scriptures and through hearing them preached and interpreted repeatedly. I know that is true for most of you as well. In a sense, we have prayed with him and learned at his feet. We have ministered with him and witnessed his healing power. We have set down to eat with him. But we are called not just to learn about Jesus. We are called to make Jesus alive in us. As Augustine put it, “We eat the body of Christ to become the body of Christ.” Jesus is not just alive with us, he lives in us. We can learn to recognize Jesus in ourselves and in those who sit across from us in worship. We can see Jesus when we pray with others, when we teach one another, when we minister to those who are sick, and when we break bread together. And in this holy meal, we can meet and see Jesus. And we do not attend this meal simply as passive observers or partakers. We come together in order to be formed and shaped and led by God’s Spirit to become the body of Christ for the world.
For several hundred years, Christians disputed about the “real presence” of Christ in the sacrament of Holy Communion. In Catholicism and, to some extent, in Lutheranism, the differences devolved into a debate over whether and how Christ is actually present in the bread and wine. Catholicism settled on transubstantiation, meaning that in the sacramental act, the bread and wine were changed into the actual body and blood of Jesus, even though their outward appearance remained the same. Lutherans adopted a version of the same idea called consubstantiation – that the body and blood existed alongside the bread and wine. I don’t wish to offend anyone but, really, all of that seems to me beside the point. What difference does it make how Jesus may or may not be in the bread and wine. What really matters is whether Jesus is in our hearts and spirits! When Christ is in our hearts and spirits, then this bread becomes for us living bread.
Who has had the experience of having your eyes opened in the taking, blessing, breaking and sharing of this bread? [Two worshippers shared their experiences.]
Our eyes are opened to see Jesus in community and in relationship with one another. Over time and with deepening faith, we become God’s body in the world that strives for righteousness and justice, practices extravagant hospitality, welcomes and heals people considered untouchable, and gives hope to those who have been outcast or diminished. In order to have our eyes and our hearts opened, we have to practice the presence of Jesus. Communion is one of the primary ways we practice.
The two disciples in the story failed to perceive the messiah who accompanied them on their journey. They failed, that is, until they arrived in Emmaus, invited Jesus into the house, and sit down for a meal. Then Jesus, who was the invited guest, became the host of the meal. [pick up the bread]. He took a loaf of bread, lifted it up to God, blessed it, broke it, and shared it with his two followers. Then the disciples remembered this is what Jesus had always done. He did it at so many meals they had with him and the other disciples. He performed this same ritual action when he fed the 5,000 people on the hillside. He did it at the disciples’ last meal with him the night he was arrested. Suddenly, their vision cleared up. They recognized who it was sitting at the table with them. The disciples had their eyes opened to see Jesus in the taking, blessing, breaking, and sharing of the bread and cup.
That same act of faith and expanded vision is available to us. It is the foundation of our life together. In a very significant way, each time we come to this table, we relive not the Last Supper, but the experience of the disciples in Emmaus whose eyes were opened to see the risen Christ in the breaking of the bread. So, come and experience the good news embodied in the Emmaus story. Come with all your hunger for God and Christ will meet you here. May our eyes will be opened today to see Jesus.
Join me in a spirit of prayer: Come, Lord Jesus. Walk with us. Break bread with us. We need your help as we struggle to seek you and to see you. Inspire us to continue to gather as often as possible as your community of love and justice so that our eyes of faith and our hearts of love might be open to see you more each day. Help us to answer your call to be the body of Christ together for the sake of all God’s children. Then, send us out to go and tell others about this holy mystery and bring them to experience Jesus for themselves. Amen.
Copyright © 2019 by Jeff Wells
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