I was standing in line at the CVS at 97th and Lexington a few days ago when it happened. A little boy, accompanying his mother on errands, had just seen the clearance rack of chocolate bunnies and jelly beans and neon-colored marshmallow Peeps.
“Mom!” he said. “Look!”
Her eyes followed his enthusiasm, and immediately she shook her head. “No way, mister. You’ll ruin your appetite.”
The boy began offering an intense array of alternate scenarios.
I learned, through what I’m going to call my holy, Christian eavesdropping, that his name was Jason. Jason may one day be a very effective lawyer or negotiator. His arguments were compelling. He definitely needed the candy to eat after practice tomorrow. Or, it’s a long bus ride home—a snack would be ok. He would be willing to save it until after dinner. Or, he would even be willing to share it with his sister.
His mom, however, clearly nearing her wits end, simply said, “Jason, we’re not buying Easter candy. Easter is over. End of story.”
Of course, you and I know that’s not true, don’t we?
Part of me wanted to interrupt and offer Jason some theological justification to strengthen his argument, but I could see in his mother’s eyes that this was not a good time for such things.
But here’s the thing: you and I are here today because we trust, or because we want to trust, that Easter is not over. That Easter, really, is never over, not anymore. Now, let’s be very clear about this: Easter is absolutely a moment in time, a critically important, world-changing moment in time. And Easter is also a way of being in the world, because like we said last week, the love of God that is strong enough to break the power of death is a love that is far too strong to leave us alone in life.
It’s a curious story. Jesus has just appeared to two men walking on the road to Emmaus, and now he appears to his disciples, terrifying them. They think they are seeing a ghost, because apparitions and hallucinations are much more reasonable explanations than resurrection.
He says to his friends, his dearest, closest friends, look, really, it’s me, I promise, and the way Luke tells it, the disciples were joyful, but it was a joy that was still chock-full of doubt and disbelief, because it was simply too good to be true, wasn’t it?
So, let me ask you this—if you were wanting or needing to prove your identity to someone, how would you do it? It’s not terribly difficult, and it is asked of us often. We have social security numbers and pin numbers, passwords and passports, driver’s licenses and birth certificates, visas and green cards. A few days ago, I swapped my Kansas City phone number for a New York City number, and just to do that I had to show a picture ID, a major credit card, and a previous account statement.
But when Jesus is faced with the same sort of situation, the identification he reaches for is a question.
He says, “Have you anything to eat?”
Here’s how absurd this is. Later today, Christina Cosby, our dear Director of Christian Formation, will fly back to Virginia, where she will be married this coming Saturday. So, imagine her standing in line at the security check-point, and when she reaches the front of the line and the TSA agent asks for her identification. Christina just looks at the agent and says, “Any chance you’ve got a snack back there?”
It sounds ridiculous because it is. Or it would be if it were anyone other than Jesus.
One of the very first things the world knew about Christians is that they ate together. All of them, rich and poor, slaves and free, Jews and Gentiles, young and old, women and men, they gathered around shared table. And while each community, even in the church’s earliest days, worshipped a bit differently, most practiced communion by enjoying a full meal together, with special prayers of thanksgiving for the bread and wine. Furthermore, church historians teach us, the focus of these early communion services was less about Jesus’ death, and more about Jesus’ friendship—his presence made palpable among his followers.
But if you look at all the stories about Jesus and meals, any time Jesus eats—never once do we encounter a story about Jesus eating alone.
Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners, and when the Pharisees complain, he says, those who are well have no need of physician, but those who are sick. I have come not to call the righteous, but the sinners, to repentance. (Luke 5)
He eats with the crowds, with more than 5,000 who follow him to learn about the kingdom of God, and when his disciples ask for help with logistics, he tells them, you can do it, and then he blesses and breaks bread that just keeps on breaking until everyone has eaten and there is plenty left over. (Luke 9)
He eats with Zaccheus, that wee little man, who had plenty of money but zero respect in his community. He walks right up to Zaccheus and says, ‘Please come down out of that tree, because I’m hungry and I need a place to stay. I thought I’d stay with you.’ And, it turns out that it’s not just Jesus that visits Zaccheus, salvation does, too. (Luke 19)
He eats at that last table, when his hour has come and the end is near; he gathers his friends and gives them instructions—when I am no longer among you, he says, do these things, eat this bread and drink this cup, and you’ll realize I am with you still. (Luke 22)
And he even eats with strangers on the road, after he is raised up from the dead. The men don’t recognize him, not until he takes some bread in his hands, and breaks it and gives it to them. It was then, the gospel tells us, that their eyes are opened, and they see him for who he is. (Luke 24)
So, of course, it happens that way in this morning’s story, too. His disciples see him, and they experience every emotion under the sun, but he can tell that they are still unsure. So, he does what he has done so many times before.
He asks, casually, if they have anything to eat. And he eats, right in front of them.
I can’t help but imagine what the disciples must have been thinking. I imagine that one of them, at least, was having trouble looking at Jesus, because he was lost in grief and here this guy was, rubbing salt in the wound. So, rather than listen to all this, he draws lines in the dirt and sand with his sandal. He wonders, briefly, if he can get his old job back, his job tossing nets into the sea and hauling them back out again, time after time after time, all day long. It wasn’t life-changing work, but it was life-sustaining. It put food on the table for himself, and his mother, and his brother. His brother. He wondered how that conversation would go—his brother had criticized him for leaving home, for leaving steady work. He’d probably never hear the end of it. But he had been so sure—not of every detail or every answer—but so sure of Jesus himself…every time he was in his presence, things just felt more…possible. He was different from anyone he’d ever met before. I imagine that at least one of the disciples was lost in thought like that, when he heard those words: “Do you have something to eat?”
I imagine there was something about that voice, and the way it sounded saying those words, that even without realizing it, he jerked his head up—because there is something so familiar—and he sees, really sees, Jesus again.
Somehow, every time we come to the table, Jesus meets us there, revealing more and more of himself to us until we can recognize him. His voice, his actions, and his body.
Luke wants deeply for us to understand that this resurrection was bodily. I know that can be a hard thing for even the most devout Christians to wrap their heads around. And what I’m sharing now is simply my understanding of things—which is no guarantee that it is right. I think it is very, very good news that God is bigger and doing bigger things than we have the capacity to comprehend all the time.
I wasn’t always in this place, but I do believe the resurrection of Jesus Christ was, in fact, a bodily resurrection. Because incarnation from the beginning, tells us that bodies matter. It matters how Jesus came to us in our own flesh and blood, to be with us in a whole new way. It matters how Jesus was crucified, actually dead and actually buried. So, if his body mattered in his birth, and his body mattered in his death, surely his body matters in his resurrection as well.
And even if we can’t explain it, I believe it is worth trusting. It’s not an argument to win or a question to resolve—it’s a mystery that we swallow, every time we gather around a table, some bread, maybe a broiled fish.
It is worth trusting, because to insist on the reality of the resurrected body means accepting and expecting that our present reality is the place where transformations of ultimate significance can still take place. (Stephen A. Cooper in Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2)
To insist on the reality of the resurrected body means accepting and expecting that our present reality is the place where transformations of ultimate significance can still take place.
And I don’t know about you, but with every update about the situation in Syria, with every report of misconduct, with every statistic about hunger and homelessness, with every denial of visas to our friends in Zimbabwe, I need to be reminded—I need to be convinced—that even this present reality, is a place where transformations of ultimate significance can take place.
This table is perhaps our greatest reminder of that. Because it was with food that Jesus taught us his most important lessons: we learned his love of sinners and outcasts, his ability to feed people than logic declares possible, his deep and abiding love of his friends and his followers, which includes even us.
Food is tangible. We cannot live without it. Eating is as bodily, as incarnational, as it gets. And so, the table continues to teach us that the transformation we are almost afraid to hope for can and will become reality.
Rev. Michael Curry is the Episcopal Bishop in North Carolina, and he tells the story of his parents attending church together back in the 1940s. They visited a church, and when it was time for the sacrament of communion, they watched as everyone came forward took bits of bread, and then drank from a common cup. The Currys were black. The church was otherwise all white. Right in the heart of segregated America, where black people and white people didn’t drink from the same water fountain, never mind from the same cup. And yet they went forward. They stood before the priest, who hesitated, uncertain of what to do. And then he lowered the cup for them and said, “The blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for you.”
Reflecting on that piece of family history, Rev. Curry said, “Communion is a sacrament of unity that can overcome even the deepest estrangement between human beings.” (Story shared by Rachel Held Evans in Searching for Sunday.)
Because the table, the meal, is always revealing something of Jesus to us, it reveals who he is and who he loves. We are, each of us, made in the image of God, claimed by Christ, together the body of Christ, and the more that is revealed to us, the more our anxieties about our differences fall away.
This meal is known by many names and practiced in countless different ways. It is celebrated at different times and with different frequency. Sometimes it is bread, sometimes a wafer, sometimes a cracker. Some cups are filled with wine, others with juice. The mood may be celebratory, or it may be somber. The words we say, even those vary some. The body of Christ. The blood of Christ. The bread of life. The cup of salvation. The mystery of faith. The supper of the faithful. But, in every tradition, I know someone, at some point, says: remember.
“Remember how God became one of us? Remember how God ate with us and drank with us? Laughed with us and cried with us? Remember how God suffered for us and died for us and gave his life for the life of the world? Remember?” (Again, Rachel Held Evans)
And so, to his followers, Jesus says: Take, and eat. Take and drink. Do this, and you will remember what I taught you.
And to the parents of the Rev. Michael Curry, Jesus says: Take, and eat. Take, and drink. You are worthy of this meal and you are welcome at this table. Do this, and remember this.
To that imaginary, doubting disciple, Jesus says: Take, and eat. Take, and drink. You’ll recognize my voice eventually, and I will be here waiting for you, as long as it takes. Do this, and remember this.
And to little Jason in line at the CVS, Jesus says, Take the candy. Take, and eat. Take and drink. Because I am not particular, and so at every table, with every bite, it is possible for you to encounter me—and I am telling you, Easter is never over, and my promises always are true.
And to you and to me, Jesus says, “Take and eat. Take, and drink. You are my beloved. And any time you are looking for me, any time you are worried that I am gone and that you are all alone—when you eat this meal but also when you eat any meal—be reminded—I am right here. I am with you always. I love you, with a love that never gives up and never lets go.
How are your table manners? Truth be told, it doesn’t matter a lick. In the interest of full disclosure: when it comes to communion here, I’m currently 0 for 3. We’ll see what happens in a few minutes. I have messed up the table routine every time I’ve stood here, because it’s new to me. But in the big scheme of things, it doesn’t matter. Because everyone is welcome, and everyone is served. Those are the only manners Christ insists upon, and they are more than enough. That’s the way we eat in here, and if we practice it enough, it’s the way we’ll eat — and the way we’ll live — out there, too.