Sunday, December 02, 2012

Eyes that See - Hearts that Burn


Luke 24:13-35

13         Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem.

14         They were talking with each other about everything that had happened.

15         As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them;

16         but they were kept from recognizing him.

17         He asked them, "What are you discussing together as you walk along?" They stood still, their faces downcast.

18         One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, "Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?"

19         "What things?" he asked. "About Jesus of Nazareth," they replied. "He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people.

20         The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him;

21         but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place.

22         In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning

23         but didn't find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive.

24         Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see."

25         He said to them, "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!

26         Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?"

27         And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

28         As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther.

29         But they urged him strongly, "Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over." So he went in to stay with them.

30         When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them.

31         Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.

32         They asked each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?"

33         They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together

34         and saying, "It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon."

35         Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.







In a little while we will participate in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.  Holy Communion.  The Eucharist.

On one level, this meal might seem like a reminder of some of the snacks we’ve had elsewhere -- like the cookie and juice we were given by our first grade teacher and like the bag of pretzels and soft drink we are given by the flight attendant.  Before we leave here this morning, the ministers and elders will give us a bite of bread and a sip of juice.

But why? This spiritual snack is not needed to help us concentrate on our current tasks nor is it intended to curb our hunger until lunch time.

What's the purpose of our eating and drinking here in church? Why do we have this tiny little meal in worship?

This is not just a snack.  This is not just a nice, attractive little ritual.  This is a Sacrament.  It is an outward sign of an inward, spiritual grace.  It is not just communion – it is HOLY Communion.

            Something special happens at this table.  Something meaningful and profound. 

            It is so special, that in Luke’s Gospel it has the power to open the eyes of those who did not recognize Christ – it has the power, in the words of these disciples, to make their hearts burn with passion.

            But --- why?

            Why is this such an important part of who we are as Christians?

            What is this meal all about?          

1.    Obedience

One reason we do this is simple obedience. 

Christ commanded us to celebrate this meal on a regular basis.  When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, he told us to “do this.” 

He didn’t say, “if you happen to do this that would be nice,” or “if you would like to do this from time to time.”

It was a definite, clear cut – do this!

When we come to the Lord’s Table, we are expressing a commitment to be obedient to Jesus Christ. 

In the Old Testament book of Isaiah, chapter one, the prophet writes this:

18 "Come now, let us reason together,"
       says the LORD.
       "Though your sins are like scarlet,
       they shall be as white as snow;
       though they are red as crimson,
       they shall be like wool.

19 If you are willing and obedient,
       you will eat the best from the land;

            Our obedience is a willing expression.  We are not slaves.  God does not oppress us.  We are invited into a life of discipleship, and an important aspect of that discipleship is a willing obedience to obey Him.

            One of the dynamics of this Sacrament is that by doing this, we are living out our obedience to Christ.

Communion helps us to know to whom we should be obedient.


John Kenneth Galbraith, in his autobiography, A Life in Our Times, illustrates the devotion of Emily Gloria Wilson, his family's housekeeper:

It had been a hard day, and he asked his housekeeper Emily to hold all telephone calls while he took a nap. Shortly thereafter the phone rang. Lyndon Johnson was calling from the White House.

"Get me Ken Galbraith. This is Lyndon Johnson."

"He is sleeping, Mr. President. He said not to disturb him."

"Well, wake him up. I want to talk to him."

"No, Mr. President. I work for him, not you.”

When Galbraith returned the President’s call, Johnson was delighted and tried his best to convince the housekeeper to leave her job and work for him.  It is, after all, rare to find someone who has that sort of focused obedience.  (John Kenneth Galbraith, A Life in Our Times,  Houghton Mifflin, Reader's Digest, December, 1981.)

We live in a world where all sorts of things are calling for our attention.  Work, pleasures, greed – are we to obey them – or can we focus our obedience onto God? 

Communion helps us to focus obedience onto the Lord.



2.  Remembrance

Participating in this sacrament is an act of obedience, but why? 

Why does Christ command us to do this?

Earlier in Luke’s Gospel, we read the familiar story.  If you have been in this church for a while, you have heard these words over and over.  On the night in which Christ was betrayed, he met with his disciples for a meal.  After the meal, he took the bread and broke it and gave it to the disciples, saying, “This is my body given for you, do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:9)

Why are we to obey Christ and “do this” – we do it to remember.

How do we remember people and events in our lives?

If you want to remember something or someone, what do you do?

You might take photographs and put them in an album.  From time to time, you take the photo album out of the cabinet and open it and look at the photographs – and you remember.

Or you might keep a lock of hair from your child’s first haircut.

Or you might buy a souvenir and whenever you see it you remember that wonderful day you had in Paris.

What Christ did is to take a ceremony that was already an important part of Jewish culture.

He and his disciples were not just having a meal on the night in which he was betrayed.  They were having the Passover meal.  That’s a big deal.

In our culture, we have our Thanksgiving dinner – or Christmas dinner.  But in Jewish culture it was the Passover meal that was so important.  It was a great feast.  It was a time to be with family and friends.  And it was a time to remember.  For Jews, they were remembering how they had been in Egypt.  The Lord passed over the homes of the Israelites and struck down the Egyptians, allowing the Israelite slaves to escape their slavery (Exod 12:24-27)

But on the night Jesus was betrayed, while he was still with his disciples, he gave this meal a new meaning for Christians.  He called on us to celebrate this meal and to remember how we were able to escape the spiritual slavery of sin, and how the bread is for us the body of Christ broken for us and for our salvation, and how the wine is to be for us the blood of Christ poured out for our redemption.

When we are obedient to Christ’s command to celebrate this meal, we do so in order to remember the sacrifice of Christ for us.

3.    Enlightenment

But the Sacrament is not just a way of living in the past and remembering what happened long ago.  It is also a means of being nurtured in the present here and now, so that we can move ahead into the future.

Our reading from Luke’s Gospel is an interesting scene.  It is, on the surface, a story of two disciples walking along the way.  They encounter the risen Lord, but they do not recognize him until, in the words of the Gospel “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them.  Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him.”


            There is something about this meal that has the power to open the eyes and to give passion to the hearts of those who receive it.  I can’t explain it.  I simply know that it is true.


            Years ago, I was in a nursing home to give the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper to one of our shut-ins.  The poor woman had no grasp of reality at all.  She thought I was her son.  She thought the elder with me was her husband. 


            I took the bread and the wine out of the small kit that I carried and began to prepare the nightstand next to her bed as a sort of Lord’s Table.  As I began the service, we had prayer.  When I began to recite the familiar words of institution, her eyes became very sharp. 


            The elder read a portion of Scripture and when he finished, said, “This is the word of the Lord.”


            Without hesitation, the old woman replied, “Thanks be to God.”


            When we prayed the Lord’s Prayer, her voice was clear and every word rolled off her tongue with ease.


            I took the bread and gave it to her, and then the wine.

            For one brief moment, her eyes were opened.  Her heart was on fire for the Lord.  The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper served in a small nursing home had the power to break through.


            When the service was over, her mind was once again gone to whatever place it had been.  I was no longer her minister, but her son, and the elder was her husband, and she had no clue where she was or even what her name was.


            But every time we went to the Nursing Home, until she died, the serving of the Sacrament had the power to open her mind to the clear presence of Christ.


            It doesn’t always happen that way, but at every Communion, SOMETHING powerful happens.  It happened on the road to Emmaus, and it can happen today. 



Copyright 2012, The Rev. Dr. Maynard Pittendreigh

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