Pausing, looking back toward where the story began there is symmetry, a type–antitype. The place God began his self-revelation was at Mamre, which wasn’t much even then except for one world-class oak, In fact the place was known as the Oak of Mamre as the tree gave it about its only reason for being.
God and two archangels some say or perhaps God, the Trinity, dropped by for lunch with Abraham and his wife Sarah. Since most have not seen an archangel and no one at all has seen the Trinity, it’s a little hard to know where one left off and the other began. It is safe to say that neither wife nor husband recognized their guests until all was revealed over lunch.
Abraham bent over backwards showing hospitality that day and Sarah would have baked a cake if they had given her warning. The holy ones gravely accepted Abraham’s spread under the spreading branches and then got on to the business at hand. You know how it turned out of course. The childless couple had a boy come new-year and Sodom and environs became the Dead Sea by year end.
Turning toward home, see the script? Cleopas and his companion are running away from home and bump into Jesus and then it all becomes clearer over supper. Both stories come to the moment of insight because of hospitality. Extending ourselves in service of the comfort and welcome of the stranger will often lead to gifts unforeseen. Do not neglect hospitality for some have entertained angels unawares. So you never know who might put their wingtips under your table, either expensive shoes or feathers. Prepare to hear the good news.
Jesus came near Cleopas and his un-named companion on the road from Jerusalem and Emmaus. Let’s get the actors straight on our program before we get confused. Hegsippus (early historian) records that Cleopas was the brother of Joseph the husband of Mary and step-father of Jesus our Lords. His companion may have been his son, Simeon. who became bishop after James, Jesus’ brother, was martyred?
Cleopas and company are running away from the scene of the crime. Their deepest hopes have become their deepest wounds. There is no one more cynical than a deeply wounded idealist. Their eyes were “held” so they did not recognize him. When they explain their distress, Jesus showed them, beginning with Moses and so showed them that another way to read and understand the Scriptures was exactly what happened to Jesus. Thus he reframed their history and made bad news into good news.
Anyone who has lived for very long has come to know that sometimes the only thing worse than the disappointment of not getting what we want is the remorse of getting exactly the thing longed for only to learn how bad it was for us and our souls. Of course, hopefully we learn from the consequences of getting what we want. It may well be that our “wanter” is broken. Actually it has been since Adam at the apple. It may be that God knows better what we need and want than we do.
They come to Emmaus, perhaps to the family home, where Cleopas and his older brother Joseph were brought up. It was there it happened. They were sitting at the old family table, the very one that for all their lives on Friday they had the prayers and only the day after the Passover Supper where again they had eaten and told the story of rescue, how God brought them out of Egypt into the promised land and where they hoped for Messiah, the anointed one of God.
Here Jesus did what is always done at this table, all Christian tables, at this service of Holy Thanksgiving.
The four movements of the Eucharist, He took, he blessed, broke and gave.
In reply to Satan who suggested he turn loaf-shaped stones into bread Jesus said, “Man does not live by bread alone.” Of course he doesn’t live without it either. In the only story told by all four Gospels (other than the passion) Jesus took a lunch of 5 loaves and 2 fish and fed 5000 people. If Jesus is God, then he was on the ground floor when the Universe began and if you can make matter from scratch then he can stretch molecules of bread in hand.
What folk should have learned that day was (and is), whatever we make truly available to Jesus can (and will) be used. In addition, we should have learned by now that when Jesus takes something (any old thing) it is transformed and it becomes enough..
Now, think of all the “castoffs” of our lives. . It is a hoot seeing what Jesus does when he up-cycles what we distain into something needful. Today, look around, take inventory and then offer what we find to Jesus. He can do more with less than anyone I have ever I have ever known.
A couple makes promises and then is married but when they are blessed their relationship is filled with divine content. Having taken the bread, ordinary stuff to sustain life in the body, Jesus now makes the bread “different/holy” and it is no longer just bread, but, like Manna in the wilderness, it is the bread of Heaven.
Blessing changes things. It changes relationships. It changes effect. It changes value. To be blessed by God gives dignity and worth. If we are worthless by all human standards not so with God, divine love and blessing creates value where none existed before.
What we will give up, Jesus will take up. What Jesus takes up, he blesses as he did that day when the children came running to him. And what he blesses has merit and dignity if for no other reason, because he blessed them. If God can do that with ground wheat seed mixed with water and baked, what can God to our lives?
The most solemn moment in any Eucharist is the “fraction” – the actual breaking of the bread. On a day with low humidity there is a discernible “cracking” sound heard through the room. In that moment we are confronted symbolically with the suffering of Christ.
The rubric (stage direction) in the Prayer Book is, “The celebrant breaks the consecrated Bread. A period of silence is kept.” What can we do in face of his sacrifice other than be silent? I believe that the breaking of the bread is all the broken things in our lives, our souls and bodies, those things done, those things left undone, are all (everyone) broken there as well. It is a good breaking, like re-breaking a leg that was inadequately set, in service of fullness of life.
What Jesus’ taking, blessing and breaking make, he gives. It is food. It is life. It is healing. It is celebration and it is joy. Above all it is Viaticum, literally “food for the journey.” That which God requires of us, God in grace provides us. We need not grow hungry, forced to eat fast-food along the shoulder of the road. Lest we succumb to the junk-food at the Jiffy Mart, Jesus provides us nourishment such that we will arrive prepared to do what needs doing.
When we come for “solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal;” (BCP. Page 372) then we miss the best part. And what is the best part, you ask?
Why, the best part is going out and doing what Jesus said for us to do and seeing that indeed it is happening. What’s not to like? Join a ministry team and find out. These are the four movements of the Eucharist.
In truth there is a fifth movement: they went. Having the last say, the Deacon exhorts, “Go and do what needs to doing. If you have been fed – be bread.” (My language)
Jesus gave them the bread, they eyes were no longer “held” and they recognized him. Then he vanished. Then, no longer tired; (interesting how that happens) Cleopas and company marched immediately from Emmaus back to Jerusalem with the news of Jesus’ resurrection. Upon arriving they discover that the risen Christ has been busy and there afore them.
Our hearts burned as he reframed the scriptures to include Messiah’s “failure” death upon a tree, they marveled. It’s really a simple matter, you see. Their unconscious got it even if their eyes were “held” and the same, beloved, is true in our own day.
Ever since Emmaus, Christians know that Jesus shows up when the bread is broken. We don’t have to see him with our physical eyes. Our hearts will tell us even when our eyes fail us. Pay attention to the awaking fascinations of your soul. The soul turns unconsciously to God, as sunflowers follow the sun. .
The Angel’s Egg
One of my favorite passages from a man whose writing always teaches, amuses and inspires me: Robert Farrar Capon – Rest in Peace.
“What we need at this point of course are some fresh images of life and death. Having discarded the comforting if vague picture of a ghost that survives the shipwreck of the body, we’re in danger of simply denying the possibility of eternal life altogether. Unless, that is, we can come up with another way of figuring it.”
Think therefore of my life from birth to death. And take with utter seriousness the assertion that it’s the only life I have. Don’t be any more tempted to wonder what my life will be like in the year 2182 than you were to fuss over its details in the year 1783. In terms of time and space – in the world of when and where in which my threescore plus or minus occurred – my life just wasn’t there at either of those times. Don’t try to solve the problem of how I can have an eternal life by imaging pre or post-existences for me. Let my life after I die be exactly what it was before I was born: non-existent.
Focus your attention instead on the days in between when I unquestionably did live; and then imagine that single, shortish life as held in two very different grips: mine on the one hand and God’s on the other. Let me help by picturing them for you.
I have on my writing desk at this moment a hard-boiled egg that I intend to snack on by and by: let that represent the whole time of my life. Now since the first of the grips on my life is my own, I shall represent that by putting the egg in my left hand and closing my fist around it: behold, my times are in my hand. But since the other grip on my life is God’s or more precisely, the grip of Jesus who as the Eternal Word of God makes and reconciles me at every moment – let me represent that by making a second fist over my left hand with my right. Behold again: not only my times but even my very holding of them are totally in his hand as well. The illustration is going swimmingly. We have even touched base with Psalm 31:15: “my times are in thy hand.”
Examine next, however, the differences between those two grips. As I hold my life, I have only a weak and partial purchase on it. Any one of a thousand accidents can snatch it from me in an instant. And even if nothing goes wrong, I can hold onto only the smallest portion of it at any given moment: of all my times, only the present is really in my grasp. The past I hold only in remembrance – mental, physical or psychological; and the future I hold even less adequately – in guesswork, hope or fear.
Worse yet, I hold none of those times fully. As far as my present is concerned, I have an effective grip only on what I’m actually paying attention to at the moment. The pencil in my hand is under control; the bread I forgot I was making is now a hopelessly over-risen mess in the kitchen. And as fat as past and future are concerned, things are worse still. Even if my memory of the past is better than it was of my bread there is no way I con go back to remedy a single mistake or improve a single performance – or even make sure I have not remembered the whole of it partially, tendentiously or wrong. And as fat as the future is concerned, there is simply no way of getting to it al all. Except of course by waiting. But that does no good because by definition the future as such never arrives. When it does turn up, it’s only one more present: what is really yet to be just hides out there in the dark as before.
In other words, not only is my grip on my times weak and partial, it is also unreconciled and unreconcilable. Change the illustration slightly” imagine the hard-boiled egg that represents my life as a peeled, sliced one. And while you’re at it make it extremely large so that it can have as many slices as I have days – but leave all the slices together as a whole egg. Now then. As I go through the egg of my days slice by slice – beginning with my birth at the big end, proceeding delightedly through the days of youth and yolk and coming at last to the ever-decreasing slices of nothing but white – I can have a real influence only on the slice I happen to have reached and on the portion of it I have managed to pay attention to. If I wasted or abused a previous slice I can do nothing to help that now; any yolk I didn’t eat today remains uneaten forever.
In God’s grip however – as he hold the slices of my time – all my days, past or future, are simply present. To me they may be then and then but to him they are all now. The yesterday I cannot reach is as accessible to him as my present pencil is to me. The future I can only guess at is as known to him as any other slice of the whole egg he holds in his everlasting now. God, in other words, is the eternal contemporary of every moment of my times. Accordingly, there is no moment of them that is ever lost to him – and consequently no single, briefest scrap of my life that is not as he holds it safely ensconced in eternity.
Eternal life therefore, is not another life after this one but simply this life as held eternally by Jesus – by the Wisdom of God who mightily and sweetly orders all things, even the things we disordered. And death? Well, for openers death is just one of the boundaries delimiting the things that make up a particular life. But it’s a good deal more than that, and if you now put all the images together you’ll se how.
Bring the peeled sliced egg down to size again and put it back in my left fist inside my right fist. Then ask: what happens when I die? Well, obviously I lose my grip on the egg: my left hand, if you will, becomes …nothing. All its records of its dealing with the egg, all its knowledge of details, all its mistakes, all its missed opportunities simply cease to exist when it does. When I’m dead: I have no brain to think with, no nose to smell with, no eyes to see with – nothing at all good, bad or indifferent with which to hold onto a single thing.
But when my grip goes, God’s grip does not. The egg about which the left hand could do so little even while it had it, is still held for endless exploration in the right hand. All the days I could not keep are stored for me at home in him. My death therefore is not simply an end; it is an absolution. It is my release from my own radically imperfect way of holding my life and my introduction at last to the best of all possible ways of holding it in the hand of Jesus.
Do you see what we have done? By getting rid of the unnecessary philosophical baggage of the immortality of the soul we have in one easy leap gotten back onto the solid ground of the promises of the gospel. Jesus came to raise the dead: not to diddle with those were half-immortal anyway into some other slightly improved life but to take those who had completely lost their grip and give them back every last one of the days that he, as their resurrection and there life, had always held for them. He never met a corpse that didn’t sit right up then and there because, although it may have been dead as a doornail on its own terms, it was alive willy-nilly in him and just couldn’t help showing it.
When Jesus cam to raise Lazarus, the dead man’s sister Martha had her doubts. Like the rest of us she could imagine eternal life only as something out there – as a blessing to be achieved only after the protracted clanking of some religious or philosophical contraption. And therefore when Jesus told her her brother would rise again, the furthest thing from her mind was that it would happen on the spot: “I know,” she said “he’ll make it at the last day.” but what Jesus in effect said to here was: “Wrong! He’s made it now. I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, eve though he’s dead, will still live. And whoever lives and believes in can’t possibly die in eternity – because in eternity is exactly where I’ve got him for good.” Lazarus, in short, might lose his own grip on his life but he could never shake loose of Jesus’. Ergo forth he comes when the Word who holds him speaks his name.
One more refinement of the illustration and we’re through. If you want to do justice to the note of believing that Jesus insisted on with Martha, put a glove on the left fit. Do you see now? The life of faith is simply the constant willingness to trust that just beyond that glove there’s another hand that holds out life along with us. We are invited to believe not that we will rise or that we will have eternal life, but that we have it right now and that we can enjoy it at the price of nothing more than slipping off the glove of unbelief that’s the only thing separating us from it.
To me, that’s a big improvement in the imagery department. With the old immortal soul I always ended up with a picture of myself sitting around the eternal body shop while God took his time about putting me on the life. This new way I see a much more sign on the premises: Father, Son and Holy Ghost – Three Mechanics – No Waiting.”
Robert Farrar Capon from THE YOUNGEST DAY pg. 33ff.