Sunday, April 4, 2021

Eating the Proof: An Easter Homily from Luke 24

It had been a long few days, no doubt thought Cleopas, as he and his friend hit that first mile outside the city limits of Jerusalem. Certainly it had been an odd morning. For the Teacher they'd followed, the one they'd held out hope for as the Messiah promised to Israel, had a few days ago been hanged on a tree, cursed by God. They still believed, somehow, he was a prophet. But their hopes were dashed, and not all the curiosities of the morning – reports by hysterical women that they'd had a vision of angels, and the words of that hot-headed Simon and that impressionable kid John that they'd found his grave unsealed and vacated – not even those could restore joy. They only created a confusing fog of unproven half-hints. Cleopas would need time to sort it out.

Cleopas and his friend journeyed on – until they stopped. A stranger fell in with them, somehow ignorant of all that had happened. Cleopas filled him in on the death of the prophet, on his betrayal by the priesthood and his condemnation by the Gentile overlord and his shameful crucifixion that obliterated their hopes. Cleopas was astonished as the stranger rebuked them for their lack of faith, and began to walk with them the remaining miles toward the village Emmaus. The stranger insisted that the Law and the Prophets were filled with patterns and promises making it utterly clear that the true Messiah would indeed suffer shame and death and bear the curse – that not only did these things not serve as grounds for giving up hope, but that they were grounds for clinging to hope, because the Messiah would indeed be glorified, would indeed live and flourish.

For hours this stranger, whose name they never managed to get out of him, walked them not only down the road but through the ancient testimonies of prophets and saints and sages. And as he did, Cleopas' heart yearned with red-hot longing tinged with hope, that little light once extinguished and hardest to revive. For the first time since the darkness fell, hope seemed so plausible, as this stranger wove his pretty words and fit the pieces all in alignment. But could they bring themselves to take the leap and believe? If only there were a conclusive proof!

Cleopas and his friend reached the village of Emmaus, and the prospect of parting from this peculiar stranger, who had a further journey to walk into the night, pained them. “Stay with us,” they insisted, “spend the night – it isn't safe on that road after nightfall. Come on, get a nice meal and some warmth.” And this stranger agreed. He came in. Made himself comfortable. Reclined at the table. And just as the homeowner prepared to bless and break the bread, this audacious stranger stretched out his hand. Cleopas was intrigued, perplexed. But the stranger took over, as if it were his house. He began to rip the bread. And as the bread parted, behind it they saw his face as if for the first time, as if waking from a deep sleep – and it was the familiar face of Jesus, with the marks of the thorny crown glistening in splendor! Their eyes were opened – the proof was staring them in the face! And as they took the bread he handed to them and placed it on their tongues, as they bit down and chewed, in an instant Jesus could no longer be seen. Wowed with wonder, Cleopas and company grabbed their dinner to go, racing through the waning sunlight the miles back to Jerusalem as fast as their weary legs, fueled by adrenaline and awe, could carry them. They now believed to the full. For they'd eaten the proof.

In the sustenance they received from the hands of a stranger who revealed himself to be Christ, Cleopas and his fellow-disciple found proof they could eat. The evidence fell on their own lips. The testimony was uncovered in their mouths and maws. And so might it be with us, when we come to this feast. For all this year so far, if you've been with us, we've learned the explanation of our faith in the ancient words of the Apostles' Creed, words we've begun this morning the practice of reciting together – the summary and substance of our faith.

We confess one God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. And the proof is here fed to us. When we prepare for this meal, grain that did not make itself is ground by the effort of hands that did not make themselves, and becomes “bread from the creation.” And grapes that did not make themselves are pressed and fermented by the effort of hands that did not make themselves, and poured into “the cup from the creation.” At this meal, none of these things could exist – not the bread, not the wine, not the table, not us – unless there were a Creator of them, who is Almighty God. So even in these bare elements, we taste proof of the faith we confess.

We confess that the Son of God, the eternal Word of God, is our Lord Jesus Christ. And the proof is fed to us. We have come to a royal banquet, and the host today is not me but the Son of the Great King. The Great King is God, and his Son Jesus hosts us. For it is his meal we come to eat – it is the Lord's Table and the Lord's Supper. And when we eat it, we receive food from Jesus, and his lordly hands place it in ours. When we come to this royal banquet, then, we find proof to taste of the faith we confess.

We confess that this Word of God became flesh, this Son of God became a Son of Man, when he was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, incarnate in the womb of the Virgin Mary. And the proof is fed to us. For if the Word had not been made flesh, then no material thing could mediate his presence to us. He couldn't be touched, couldn't be embraced, couldn't be tasted. But when we sit at this table, the bread we call 'body' is the body of the Word-made-Flesh, and the cup we call 'blood' is the blood of God Incarnate, in all his virgin-born simplicity and purity. When we encounter God through this material meal, we find proof to taste of the faith we confess.

We confess that this Jesus Christ suffered under the rule of Pontius Pilate, and that he was crucified and killed. And the proof is fed to us. For it isn't in an intact loaf of bread that we recognize him – it's when the bread is broken. And it isn't in the bottled wine that we recognize him – it's when the wine is poured. “When you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord,” Paul reminds us (1 Corinthians 11:26). We could not eat this meal of bread ripped as his broken body and wine poured out as his shed blood if Jesus Christ had not suffered, had not been crucified, had not died. “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Corinthians 5:7); “through him, then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God” (Hebrews 13:15). When we see this broken and poured, we have come to the very cross, and so taste proof of the faith we confess.

But we confess with joy that this same Jesus who was crucified to death was then raised from the dead on the third day, and is alive forevermore! And that is the cornerstone, that is what we're all about! And that is exactly what the Emmaus disciples found in the breaking of the bread from Jesus' hands. So do we, whenever this feast is truly tasted. In the breaking of the bread, we – like them – recognize our living Lord. In the cup we drink, we discover our risen Redeemer – now. For he lives in victory! And we taste the proof of the faith we confess.

We confess also that Jesus thereafter ascended into heaven where he has become seated at God's right hand, and the proof of this is fed to us here. Because the hands that hand you the bread and the cup this morning will not bear the marks of the nails. The nail-pierced hands of Jesus will be working through the unscarred hands of a man of his appointing. And the reason for that is that the nail-pierced hands are not on earth. He left the earth so as to extend his presence on the earth, by forming for himself a Body out of many. So when we receive this food, the very way it is brought into our midst, and the authority by which this grace takes place, are edible proof that Jesus is indeed on heaven's throne.

We confess that Jesus will one day return again as judge of the living and the dead, and proof is fed to us today. That Jesus is the Judge, this meal proves, for “anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body,” says St. Paul, “eats and drinks judgment on himself: that is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died..., judged by the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:29-32). This meal has the potential to be the judgment seat. But we eat it and drink it “until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26), when he will eat and drink new with us in the kingdom of his Father (Matthew 26:29). He has promised to come again, and is already active to judge – we taste the proof.

We confess also our faith in the Holy Spirit, and proof is fed to us today. For, since time immemorial, it is the Holy Spirit who has been invoked, called down upon these gifts, to change them from ordinary bread and wine into something altogether uncommon: the very presence of the living God. We receive this food, not as symbol to be toyed with, but as a holy thing and a spiritual reality, made so as only the Holy Spirit of the Lord can do. Hearing the word with ears of faith, seeing the altar with eyes of faith, receiving them with the tastebuds of faith, we know that it's true: the impact made on our souls is the activity of the Holy Spirit in this feast. And we taste the proof of the faith we confess.

We confess also our faith in the Holy Church, and proof is fed to us today. For Paul reminds us that this meal is eaten precisely “when you come together as a church” (1 Corinthians 11:18), and to mistreat this meal would be to “despise the church of God” (1 Corinthians 11:22). When we eat this meal, we eat in the Church, and we eat from the Church, for it is the Church who “feeds with the eucharist” her children. This is the new Passover sacrifice, and just as the old one was to be eaten by the family in one house without being taken outside, so it has long been seen that “the flesh of Christ and the holy things of the Lord cannot be carried outside, and there is no other house for believers except the one Church.” We would not take this meal if we did not trust the Church, for we cannot make it on our own. And so we find proof to taste of the faith we confess.

We confess, moreover, the prospect of forgiveness of sins, and proof is fed to us today. Didn't Jesus himself announce the cup as his “blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:28)? And so when we worthily receive this sacrificial gift, the power of sin actually is shattered, the guilt of sin is freshly obliterated, forgiveness becomes a present fact in our hearts, and we taste the proof of the new covenant, we taste the proof that we are forgiven.

And we finally confess our hope in resurrection and eternal life. Today we are fed the proof. “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood,” Jesus said, “has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:54). “If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever” (John 6:51). When we eat this feast, we know from experience the promise of the resurrection and the eternal life of Jesus dwelling in our very bodies – a life which a puny thing like death could not possibly conquer. In this meal, we taste proof of our hope for the future.

So what are we waiting for? I invite you, this beautiful Easter morning, in a few minutes, to eat and declare that Jesus, once crucified, is the Christ risen indeed! Let us all eat the proof of our faith, and taste and see that the Lord is good, for the Lord lives! Thanks be to God! Amen.

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