Sunday, April 30, 2017

Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter, 2017

Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter, 2017
Fr. Michael LaRue at St. Barnabas', Houston


The 35th verse of the 24th chapter of the Gospel according to Luke:
"And they told what things were done in the way, and how he was known of them in breaking of bread."
+In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
We are now beginning the third week of Easter-tide, the second after Easter week itself. We celebrate one major feast this week, that of the Apostles Philip and James the Less on Monday, May 1st. The Cathedral has mass at 12:05, but if you cannot get to mass, I encourage you as always, to read the Liturgy of the Word from the Prayer Book. According to the Book of Common prayer we also commemorate St. Athanasius, the great defender of the divinity of our Lord on Tuesday May 2, and St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine of Hippo, on Thursday, May 3. As this coming Friday is a Friday in Easter season, the Prayer Book requires no abstinence or other act of discipline or self-denial.
The first thing that always puzzles people about today's Gospel is why the disciples did not recognize our Lord. Some, those who do not believe in the Resurrection of the body, have taken this to mean that he was not physically there. Yet, we know that the physicality of our Lord's Resurrection body is elsewhere affirmed in Scripture, and indeed in this very passage, where he performs the action of breaking bread. I think that key to understanding why they did not recognize him is the question of faith that recurs throughout the passage.
The passage first says, when Jesus joins the disciples "their eyes were kept from recognizing him" (Luke 24:16), or as the Authorized Version puts it, "their eyes were holden that they should not know him." What kept their eyes from seeing him? The thing that helps me understand this best is something that happened to me when I was working outside Scranton in a rural area. I was in the habit of taking a walk every day, and one day, when I turned the corner of the trail, I saw a large animal, whom I must have startled, moving away from me at some speed. My first thought was "that's the biggest dog I've ever seen." It took me about a minute to realize that it was not a dog, but a bear! At that point I was very glad that I had come no closer.
Now, I knew there were bears around there, but still my mental frame of reference did not include the possibility, yet, that I might actually run into one. So my brain interpreted the animal as a dog. For, do you see, part of knowing is a kind of faith, a belief that the thing known is in the realm of possibility. If we do not believe that something is possible, then it is hard for us to know it. And indeed, our Lord, later on in this passage, upbraids the disciples for their lack of faith. Let take a hypothetical case, given, I believe by Abp. Michael Ramsey. If Pontius Pilate had been driving by in his chariot, would he have recognized our Lord walking with his disciples? He would have seen a man walking with them, but he would not have recognized the man whom he had condemned a few days before, as he knew that man to be dead.
The disciples make their lack of faith clear when they are discussing our Lord. They said "He was a prophet" (v. 19), and "But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel" (v. 21). With our Lord's death, they had given up any idea that he was the Messiah, the Christ, for they had failed to understand who the Messiah was. This lack of faith should not surprise us, indeed we ought to be very familiar with it. Like many in our own day, including, I fear many who call themselves Christians but do not believe in the Resurrection, the disciples wanted and expected a Messiah who would bring about a worldly political solution to their problems. For him to die meant a failure of this mission. Their mental frame of reference, their belief in what was possible, did not include him rising from the dead.
So our Lord has change their frame of reference. He points out to them their folly. He points out the necessity for the Messiah to suffer before entering into glory (v. 26). And "beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the Scriptures" (v. 27).
However, as with people in our own day, argument is not enough. It is not argument that convinces the disciples, not something that our Lord says, but something that he does. When they sit down to supper, just as he did the night before his passion, our Lord "took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them" (v. 30). It was then that they could see, that the whole course of our Lord's action became clear, include his sacrifice on the cross, effectively symbolized in the breaking of the bread.
We are like those disciples. Sometimes our own preconceived notions, and our lack of faith, prevent us from seeing who he is. Like them let us have recourse to the Scriptures, for in them we encounter our Lord. And, like them, faith comes not just by hearing the Scriptures, but also by the encounter with our Lord in the breaking of the bread. In fact, this whole passage is a model for the mass, where we hear the Scriptures, and then encounter Christ in the Breaking of the Bread. And like the disciples, when we prayerfully participate in the mass, our eyes are opened and our faith is strengthened.
And after their encounter with our Lord, the disciples went and told others. They went out and shared what they had experienced in their encounter with the living Christ. So likewise, when we have studied the Bible, when we have received the Bread that is his Body, and drunk the wine that is his blood, when we not only have met the risen Lord, but have the risen Lord living in us, let us go, and tell how our hearts burn with love for him.
For, just as God predestined the messiah for glory, so he has predestined all of us, and all those whom we meet for glory. And those who do not yet know him, meet Christ, not in the Eucharist, as we do, but in us. It is the love of God shown forth in our lives, Christ living in us, whereby they meet him. So let us live lives worthy of him, and not let our own sin, our own folly, our own lack of faith stand in the way of that encounter. Then truly we can have the joy of leading others to Christ, and of entering into glory together.

And now (turning and bowing to the crucifix) "We venerate they cross, O Lord, and praise and glory thy Holy Resurrection, for by virtue of the cross, joy has come into the whole world." Amen.

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