April 1 2018
Isaiah 25.6-9; Psalm 118; Acts 10.34-43; Luke 24.13-49
Rev Páraic Réamonn, Church of Scotland
Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.
Last Sunday, I said God loves us so much that he gives his only Son to suffer and die for us and thereby touch our hard hearts and lead us to salvation. This Sunday, I can tell you that it works.
Many times in the course of the Easter triduum, God touched my hard heart. But never more, perhaps, than when on Holy Thursday we sang:
My beloved, my beloved: tell me where can I find you?
You who drank the cup of suff’ring all that your people might have life.
Where do we find the risen Christ?
We have not been to an empty tomb on Easter morning; we’re not even certain where the tomb is. We have not embraced the master we mistook through our tears for a gardener. We have not seen the risen Lord nor touched his hands and side. Jesus has not appeared to us, as Paul says he did to Cephas, then to the twelve; then to more than five hundred; then to James, and to all the apostles; and lastly, to Paul himself. We hear or read about these things, but they do not happen to us.
Where then do we find him?
The first answer is, within these walls – in word and water, bread and wine.
In the waters of baptism, we die with Christ and are raised with him. In the words of scripture and – on a good day – the words of the sermon, we hear the Word made flesh and now made flesh again. In bread and wine, gathered around the Lord’s table, we know him present among us.
This isn’t just a manner of speaking, still less a figment of our Christian imagination. In word and sacrament, the risen Christ really is here.
On Holy Thursday in the Church of the Redeemer, our good friend Carrie Smith referred in passing to Luther’s doctrine of consubstantiation. But it has long seemed to me that in focusing, and indeed fixating, on what happens, or doesn’t happen, to the bread and wine in communion, we are looking in the wrong place.
Our communion hymn, inexplicably dropped from CH4, says all that needs to be said.
This is the Lord’s table. We are the guests, his is the feast. We gather as they gathered in the upper room. From his hand we receive the bread and the cup and share his risen life. And in receiving and sharing, we are made one: one with him, and therefore – and in spite of all our differences and disagreements, large or small – one with each other.
Where do we find the risen Christ? The second answer is, outside these walls.
Here, Matthew says all that needs to be said.
When we feed the hungry, we feed the risen Lord. When we hold out our hand to the stranger, the alien, the immigrant or refugee, we welcome him. When we clothe the destitute, care for the sick, or visit those justly or unjustly in prison, he is the one we meet.
This isn’t a manner of speaking either, still less a figment of Matthew’s imagination.
The risen Christ needs nothing from us directly. We can do nothing for him directly. But in our caring for our neighbours, in particular those in greatest need, he is the one we encounter. He is as really present here as in word and sacrament.
For Henri Nouwen, the resurrection of Jesus has a hidden quality. Easter is not a victory in neon lights. It is not a knock-down argument against those who condemned him to death, not a smug “I told you so”. The most decisive event in human history is deeply hidden.
“Jesus appears as a stranger,” says Nouwen. “Mary of Magdala sees a stranger in the garden. Cleopas and his friend” – some of us would say Cleopas and his wife – “find themselves walking with a stranger to Emmaus.”
This chimes with what I have been saying. We don’t get to see the risen Jesus face to face. His presence among us is real, but it is also sacramental. He stands on the other side of Jordan, while we, like Moses, are stuck on the eastern bank. He lives within the circumstances of the kingdom, while we – however much we are being changed from glory into glory – must live within the circumstances of this life until we too die.
But when we eat this bread and drink this cup, we come to him – and he comes to us. When we trust in him who slakes our thirst, we are strengthened and sent out into the world to be his body, his sacramental presence to the other. When we reach out as best we can to the poor and the downtrodden, the exploited and the dominated and the oppressed, there he is in the midst of us.
We are not called to save the world. This is undoubtedly just as well: the world has troubles enough as it is. Dying and rising, Jesus of Nazareth has already done this for us.
We don’t need another messiah, and we are certainly not called to be the messiah. We are called to be the servants of a servant messiah. We are called to make Christ’s salvation real, to change Christ’s world for good.
Let us go forth then, in the strength of the risen Christ, and get on with it.
Henri Nouwen, The Road to Peace, ed John Dear (New York, Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1998) 164.
Christ is alive! Let Christians sing! (CH4 416)
Oh, set ye open unto me the gates of righteousness (CH4 78 Psalm 118)
Christ triumphant, ever reigning (CH4 436)
Come, risen Lord, and deign to be our guest (CH3 572)
Thine be the glory, risen, conquering Son (CH4 419)