Wednesday, May 7

Third Sunday of Easter: Finding our way in the Liturgy

We are in the season of Easter; in celebration we enter this mystery:  Christ is risen from the Dead, and death has no more dominion over us.  How can this be?  What does this mean?  We like Cleopas and his companion may still have some questions, we’ve heard the witnesses, but the claims being made about Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus Christ, and the Resurrection don’t add up. We know death is still a reality; people we love are those among the dead to whom Christ is supposed to have brought life. Death, suffering, and injustice (the Cross) loom large, and we perhaps can’t quite escape the despair.  Distant and near there are instances of suffering, oppression, and injustice before which we remain powerless. 
The mystery is unfolded for us in the scriptures and Gospel stories we hear in the season of Easter. In Lent we heard stories that prepared us to receive again the way of the Cross.  In Easter we do the same as we view the mystery of our faith from the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus Christ. 
Last week we were encouraged in our faith. We were encouraged that even though we aren’t among those who saw Jesus Christ risen bodily from the dead, with the wounds still in his hands, feet, and side, we are still counted with those who first saw Jesus of Nazareth alive again. We are somehow closer to Jesus Christ, than those who saw him, more blessed. 
In the story of Cleopas and his companion on the way to Emmaus we get a glimpse of why we are blessed, and how we are like Thomas. Two disciples not numbered among the Twelve Apostles but among those who followed Jesus and the Twelve], are discouraged. They are leaving Jerusalem, they are despondent not sure yet what to make of Jesus death, and the events that we celebrated from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday.  They are in grief and shock.  As is common among the stories of Jesus’ appearances after the resurrection, they don’t initially recognize him.  And when Jesus begins to ask them questions they think he must be the most clueless and unconnected person in Jerusalem.  How is it possible that this person could have been in Jerusalem and totally missed the commotion of the last week, the social media sites were a buzz about all these events in Jerusalem. 
Strangely Jesus doesn’t speak to the events by sharing shock and outrage over the mob mentality, nor puzzlement at the strange and empty tomb (that is he isn’t focused on the power of death, but speaks from Scriptures, the Torah and the Prophets.  This stranger begins to explain the spiritual and mystical meaning of these events from the religious texts.  The meaning of the events needs God’s revelation.  It is God’s revelation in the scriptures of the Torah and the Prophets that unfolds the meaning of the relationship between death, injustice, and the empty tomb. From God’s self-revelation we learn the meaning of Jesus of Nazareth and his suffering, death, and Resurrection.
Yet it isn’t simply in the Scriptures that we come to understand the mystery but in the hospitality of a shared meal. Jesus pretends to be journeying on but the two disciples insist he join them at supper.   Jesus of Nazareth joins them and as bread is blessed and broken to be given to them to eat by this stranger, this rabbi, tthey recognize him and in that moment Jesus departs from their sight.  Blessed are those who do not see but believe.  These two disciples return to the upper room where the Twelve Apostles and others are gathered to report that Jesus of Nazareth was revealed to them in the breaking of the bread, that is the Eucharist, holy communion, the Lords supper.  The mystery of faith is Christ in our midst as stranger, teacher, guest, and host. 
We enact each week this story of the way to Emmaus.  Each liturgy we celebrate is that journey. We walk it again and again.  We come from the world puzzled, with questions, overwhelmed by the power of death and injustice in our world, and God in Jesus Christ comes to us and walks with us, and says see here this is what underlies all this, this is the meaning of the incarnation, the suffering, the death, and the Resurrection.
Let’s begin again to contemplate this mystery hearing Peter’s sermon and Peter’s letter to those who have believed and been baptized, that is to us.
Peter’s sermon on Pentecost, can be misunderstood in many ways. Two of which I want to focus.  first misunderstanding is seeing the “repentance” Peter enjoins his hearers on that first Pentecost as being to repent from the actions that lead to Jesus’s crucifixion.  True they are cut to the heart by Peter’s revelation that the one crucified is Lord and Messiah.  However, what Peter’s sermon is seeking to elicit is a move from one reality to another.  The metanoia, the change of mind, that comes in repentance, is from identifying as those who subject to death inflict death, to those who identify with the one who underwent death for the sake of all. Repentance here is to go from a certain and clear identity, to a loss of identity, by being joined with Christ in baptism, to receive a gift, of the Holy Spirit and of life.  This giving up on identity saves from a corrupt or crooked generation.  But why?  Here is the second misunderstanding.  We can see this talk about a corrupt or crooked generation as a moralistic escape from what isn’t pure.  But that makes no sense for in becoming one with Christ we identify with the one who became accursed, who is by definition impure.  Purity, moralistic or ritualistic, has no place in this salvation.  In repentance and baptism we don’t become pure, we become inspired with life. To escape a corrupt generation is to escape a dead end, to be freed from a trap.  We remove ourselves from those following a meandering and crooked path, which has no destination.  Through repentance and Baptism we no longer meander to our deaths.
This understanding of being saved from a crooked generation fits with the words we hear in 1 Peter when it says that we have been ransomed from the futile ways of our ancestors.  The paths of humanity without Christ, lead us nowhere. Merely human reasoning and tradition aren’t so much immoral as without ultimate purpose.  That is they are incapable of lead to us into true life.
But we are perhaps left with an unsettling question; does Christianity lead us away from death? Have not Christians been dying from the time of Christ’s ascension and  the day Pentecost until now?  Think of St Stephen the first martyr.
Here we need to hear again the words of Jesus of the necessity of the suffering and death of the Messiah and , of Peter’s insistence on our identification in Baptism with that death, with this one who died.  By death Christ beat down death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life. If in this age we still see death, it is because the present generation and age of the cosmos is a futile, pointless, dead end.  Yet living in the tomb of this age when we pass through death with Christ, we are in the age that is to come, we are in the eighth day we have passed through death.
Like Christ we too still die, yet not in futility.  We no longer meander to death, but know the truth about death, that deaths dominion has no hold on life, because life entered death and brought life to us who are in the jaws of death.  Thus for us to die is to live.  This is the mystery of the way of the cross, not that this age and generation dominated by death will become the age to come, but that in the midst of a death dealing age and generation in Christ we have life and are saved from the futility of our death. We are no longer of this meandering generation, but are Christ, the first born of a new creation, the first fruits of that age to come. 
This is what we taste; this is what we have in this liturgy and in the breaking of the bread. Here we have life and banquette. Here we have God in our midst, life itself sustaining us in this age that is passing away.  Amen.