Sermon preached by the Reverend Nicholas Lang
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Third Sunday of Easter – April 19, 2015
May the wonder of Christ’s rising be seen in every dawn, the love of God as wide as the skies, and the power of the Holy Spirit invite us into each moment. Amen.
“Food, Glorious Food,” written by Lionel Bart, is the opening song from the 1960s Broadway musical Oliver! It is sung when the workhouse boys are dreaming and fantasizing about food while going to collect their gruel from the staff of the workhouse. There is something about food, isn’t there? Whether it’s truly glorious as in fine dining or the slop doled out to the half-starved orphans in the musical, food and eating is central to our existence. People have come together around the table since the beginning of recorded time.
Luke’s passage today is a feeding story. Jesus asks for food, a meal with his friends first, then he teaches them. Jesus showed us again and again that caring for one another’s needs—even the mundane like eating—must take precedence over teaching and evangelizing. Jesus never let people go hungry.
Can you imagine what they were thinking and feeling when he just showed up that day? What would it be like to have lost someone you love, someone you knew had died, in whose burial rites you participated, scare the living daylights out of you by appearing in your living room or kitchen?
This Gospel is a story about real people who experienced just such an amazing phenomenon and who tried their best to convey it to the next generation and for generations to come— even to us who are centuries and centuries removed from them. Their confusion and lack of understanding is very real and very present in this text and that is testimony to their humanity. They were startled and terrified by it all. Who wouldn’t be?
These first disciples of Jesus did not experience resurrection as some triumphant single event, but rather in fits and starts, in hours of both uncertainty and elation, during days of numbness and grief, interrupted by moments of holy presence and powerful faith.
Resurrection can be very threatening. It would be easier for the disciples—and easier for us—if Jesus never really broke free of the tomb. If Jesus stays dead, they can go back to their families and their businesses and their comfortable routines. If Jesus stays dead, they don’t have to follow him or continue on this risky mission. Resurrection can be very threatening—and wonderful.
We may believe, as did the first disciples that we are still beyond resurrection’s reach, then we look up and see the that loaf of bread, food glorious food, and hear the words: “Be present, be present to us, Lord Jesus, as you were present to the disciples, and be known to us in the breaking or bread.”
Just like our holy ancestors, we come with belief and we come with doubts; we come with joy and we come with sadness; we come with confusion and we come with certainty—yet, we come—and no matter who we are or what we think of ourselves or what others may think of us, we are fed as the beloved children of God. And maybe, just maybe we recognize Jesus present with us because we have tasted that holy food.
There may be times when you have come and extended your hands to receive that bread when you have all but pronounced hope dead, given up on the possibility that life could be better or richer or fuller. Maybe you had figuratively prepared the spices for burial and were ready to climb into the tomb. Then, that holy food is placed in your hands and you hear again the proclamation that new life is about to commence in you: The Body of Christ; the Bread of heaven.
Cynthia Lindner, professor of preaching and pastoral care at the University of Chicago Divinity School, preached it this way: “We make pilgrimage to the tomb of some long-dead dream or desire, only to be surprised by the contractions of resurrection: hope still stirs.
“We glance up from our daily commute and our eyes meet the eyes of a stranger who nods in a moment of holy recognition: the birth pangs of resurrection, once again. We clasp the weathered hand of an aging loved one or playfully count the toes of a toddler; our heats and hands open when we hear that oh-so-human and oh-so-divine request, ‘Do you have anything to eat?’ We break bread around cafeteria tables, soup kitchen tables, dining room tables, communion tables—and our minds are opened to understand ourselves and our place in the world yet again, God’s affirmation that creation matters, that love and justice matter, that humanity, in all of its ambiguity and complexity, is still fearfully and wonderfully God-made.”
Congregational development gurus like to say, “If we feed them they will come!” Perhaps it’s not the best sales pitch or the most spiritual, but the promise of community, a radically open table, homemade goodies, and laughter are things that draw people in. People are starving—not unlike the orphans in the workhouse in Oliver—for something to fill the emptiness, the hunger for affirmation, peace, and the bread of life.
Jesus told his disciples that they were witnesses. And so are we. And so are we. Can we set aside our self-consciousness and talk about what we have seen, tasted, experienced here in this refreshingly unique community? Can we really be witnesses to the power of the resurrection and share what we have?
The musical Oliver opens with these lyrics:
“What wouldn’t we give for
That extra bit more
That’s all we live for
Why should we be fated to do
Nothing but brood on food
Food, Glorious food.”
Right here. Every Sunday. People are starving for it.
Believe Out Loud is an online network that empowers Christians to work for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender equality. What if we were to Believe Out Loud—to share our experience of God’s unconditional love, broadcast the experience of radical welcome you find here, tell people who have been burned by religion to forget about the god they don’t believe in and come and meet the God who believes in them.
Let’s really be witnesses. Spread the word. If all else fails, use FaceBook! If we feed them they will come!