Seeing Jesus 2017:
In the Breaking of the Bread
Fourth Sunday of Easter • May 7, 2017
Reading: Luke 24:13-35
Pastor Jeff Wells
When they encountered the stranger on the road to Emmaus, the two followers of Jesus had given up. As they shared with this stranger what had occurred over the past three days, they concluded, “We were hoping Jesus was the one…” –the one who would “free Israel,” they said. That sounds familiar, doesn’t it? We too, hope that Jesus is the one – the one to bring us a faith that can liberate, who can deepen our commitment to love and justice, who will do away with exploitative, oppressive systems, the one who will finally convince everyone that Black Lives Matter and Queer folk are created in God’s image, too, the one who would tear down all the walls.
The disciples’ hopes had died on the cross…because they had not believed – they had not believed what Jesus himself had promised and they had not believed the eyewitness account of the women who had found the empty tomb. So they were having a very hard time at that moment seeing and believing what was right in front of them.
Can you relate to not being able to recognize Jesus? I can. I have been seeking after the experience of Jesus for a long time and still the deep sense of Jesus’ presence is hard to see and harder to hold on to.
I am convinced that Jesus is present with us all the time and once in awhile we are able to recognize him – especially in our moments of doubt and despair, fear and sorrow – times when we most need him – and also in our moments of deepest spiritual connection.
The disciples walked with Jesus for seven miles, but finally recognized him only when they ate together, and then he disappeared. So, it seems that, while Jesus’ is continually present and available to us, our perception of Jesus is fleeting. And we rarely get to “see Jesus” the way the two disciples did.
How often have you heard the appeal to “see Jesus” in the face of the other – especially the other you are serving. Mother Teresa put it this way: “I see Jesus in every human being. I say to myself, this is hungry Jesus, I must feed him. This is sick Jesus. This one has leprosy or gangrene; I must wash him and tend to him. I serve because I love Jesus.” We should not suppose that Teresa had a superior ability to see Jesus – she just had a lot practice. We should also remember that she famously had a crisis of faith toward the end of her life.
Seeing Jesus is hard. When I first started going down to the HNN food pantry on Tuesdays, I was not feeling it. I believed it. My faith told me Jesus was there, but I didn’t feel it. But as time went on, I got to know people’s names and stories, guests and volunteers – Donna, Ana, Shirley, Dan, June, Mollie, Rich. And we have rituals – Sheila and Shirley and I get up and lead everyone in singing. Every week, I tell everyone how much they are loved by the Church of the Village and we consider them part of our community. I invite them to write prayers on the cards and we pray for them right there and I tell them we will pray on Sunday morning and send them out to our prayer chain. It feels more like a community. Now, I have an easier time seeing Jesus there.
I think that is because we are relational beings at our core, just as God is relational. To me, it is harder to see Jesus in the face of a stranger. So, our ability to see Jesus develops over time and requires deepening our relationship with Jesus – through learning about him, prayer, and worship – and also deepening our relationships with the persons around us in our communities where Jesus is surely present.
Moreover, seeing Jesus is not just about our brains receiving sensory input. We are not disembodied minds, nor are we only mind and body. We are mind-body-spirit and it is with our whole selves that we perceive Jesus.
In relationship and community with one another, we can come to not only perceive Jesus in our midst, but to “practice Jesus.” As Augustine put it, “We eat the body of Christ to become the body of Christ.” This absolutely connects with us taking on Jesus. We do not eat merely the crucified God or the resurrected God, but the God of love and justice – the Just Jesus – the one who preached the connection between righteousness and justice, practiced extravagant hospitality, defended the woman accused of adultery, healed people considered untouchable, and gave hope to the woman at the well. Recognizing and practicing the presence of Jesus means taking on his identify – becoming like him – in the ways he modeled inclusivity, openness, forgiveness and mercy, hospitality, community building, peacemaking, and extravagant love. Jesus calls us to participate in the liberative tasks he proclaimed as essential aspects of the kin-dom of God.
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 remembered their relationship with Jesus. They recognized who it was sitting at the table with them. The word “cognition” means to know or understand something through thought, experience, senses, and intuition. So we can say that to recognize means to perceive or know again. The disciples came to perceive and to know Jesus again in the taking, blessing, breaking, and sharing of the bread and cup.
That can happen for us, too, in our shared communion in relationship and community with one another. That does not happen in an instant. Our perception of Jesus in the breaking of the bread grows as we allow the sacrament to mold and shape us over a lifetime. So, if you don’t see Jesus yet, wait for it. Be patient. Don’t give up. He’s here.
I invite you to experience the good news and, like the disciples at Emmaus, see the risen Jesus, in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup. It is the foundation of our life together. This is also the foundation of our prayer today: Come, Lord Jesus. Walk with us. Break bread with us. We need your help as we struggle to see you and seek you. Inspire us to continue to gather as often as possible as your community of love and justice so that our eyes and hearts and spirits we might be open to see you more each day. Amen.