Sunday, May 04, 2014

Open Eyes

13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been

A few days ago I thought about my baseball glove.  I hadn’t seen it in a while.  Not since moving here!

I asked my wife about it.  She suggested I probably threw it away or gave it to Goodwill.

No – that would not be possible.

I started looking for it in the garage.  It wasn’t there.

My wife said, “why would you keep it?”

Are you kidding – a man doesn’t throw away his baseball glove.

Thursday, 2 am, I sent my son a text message. 

“Do you know where my baseball glove is?”

He texted back – “Yes, I took it.  I have it.  Go to sleep.”

I can’t tell you what a relief it was to know that my glove was safe.    

I think I have had this same glove since 1964 – what was that?  Ten years ago?  Wait.  That was 50 years ago!!!! 

I remember playing baseball in the neighborhood where I grew up.  One of my buddies hit the ball and I reached out with my glove and missed it!  That ball went right toward a car that happened to be at the intersection nearby.  Thankfully, this was in the day before all cars were air conditioned and that ball went sailing right through the open windows.  It’s a good thing it went through the back windows and not the front! 

I remember that like it was yesterday.

I remember on another occasion playing baseball at the YMCA.  I loved that place as a kid.  I was in the outfield and the other team hit a homerun – or it looked like a home run.  I ran all the way to the fence and caught that ball – barely had a hold of it.  But we won that game that day.

I remember it like it was yesterday.

Mostly I remember after supper my Dad would sometimes ask if I wanted to go outside and toss the ball for a while, and we would.  We would just stand there and throw it back and forth and have the most marvelous conversations.  Sometimes he would use those times to quiz me on my multiplication table, or my spelling words.  And sometimes we would talk about space travel, which was new back then.  Or we would talk about what I wanted to be when I grew up. 

I remember it like it was yesterday.

Years later, I would often ask my son if he wanted to go outside and toss the ball around for a while.  And we would have the best conversations – or we would be silent, but we’d be together.

When my Dad died, I found that tossing the ball with my son caused all these wonderful memories about my Dad to flood into my mind, almost to the point of bringing tears to my eyes.

When I tossed that ball with my son, it was a way of remembering the way I had tossed another ball with my Dad.

In a little while we will participate in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.  Holy Communion.  The Eucharist.
 But --- why?
 Why is this such an important part of who we are as Christians?
What is this meal all about?  
We do it, in part, to remember.

Earlier in Luke’s Gospel, in a section that comes just before this morning’s reading from Luke, there is a familiar story.  Luke talks about how 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)


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.

Or you might do it through a tradition of some sort.  A simple activity.

Tossing the ball with my son helps me to remember my Dad.

Jesus didn’t have baseball back then, but what he did was 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.

But the problem with memories is that you get stuck in the past.

A wife grieves over the death of her husband, and day after day she sits in her chair remembering.  

Just remembering.

A high school graduate goes off to college and finds it to be a lonely place.  He sits in the dining hall day after day, alone, not making new friends, but remembering the buddies who are at other colleges far away.

Just remembering.

On the other hand, some memories motivate.

“Remember the Alamo!”  It was the motivational cry to Texas patriots over a century ago.

A couple of weeks ago, the Boston Marathon was held.  One of our own members, Scott Porter was there as a participant.  Watching the marathon from afar it was clear that many were remembering the tragic marathon of last year.  Remembering helped their grieving process, but it also became a rallying motivator that the criminal acts of a few would not destroy the tremendous goodness of a whole city.

We are not made to live in the past, and when Jesus says, “Do this in remembrance,” he is not saying, sit there and just remember, just vegetate and live in the past.

In the reading from Luke, Jesus has communion with the disciples he meets on the road to Emmaus.  And then, reflecting on this after Jesus leaves them, the disciples say, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”  And what happens then?  Luke says, “They got up and returned to Jerusalem at once!”

They didn’t sit there and say, “Ah memories, wonderful memories.”  They got and got moving and they went out and changed the world.

This 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 by the past for the present and 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 the shut-ins of the church.  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 2014, The Rev. Dr. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved.