Blessed and broken

Sermon for Easter 3

Luke 24.13-35

Two people walk to Emmaus, at their lowest ebb. (One, Cleopas, is named; I suspect the other was his wife, Mary.) A third joins them, and draws them into conversation.

This stranger shows them from the scriptures that was inevitable that the Messiah should suffer; that a blameless life was bound to attract persecution, and even judicial murder.

As they draw near to their place, they invite the stranger in for a meal. Remember, these are two people whose hopes had been dashed; now, through the ministry of the Word offered by this complete stranger, they are able to offer hospitality rather than fall straight into bed and the oblivion of sleep. In fact, they want to hear more.

At the table, the undreamt-of happens. The stranger “took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them”. And they knew. They began to comprehend the incomprehensible. Before them was none other than the Lord, the Living One, who had won the victory over death itself. He was there, with them—and then he vanished from their sight.

I never get tired of hearing this fabulous story. It shows us that even where we have lost all hope—when the absolute worst has happened, and we’ve given in to despair—Jesus Christ is there with us. We are never alone.

Jesus isn’t with us to help us wallow in our misery. He doesn’t want us to feel that we are victims—he became the Victim for us. But he also doesn’t want us to deny that the way is sometimes hard. Jesus wants to show us that if we keep faith with him, suffering can lead us to a deeper knowledge of God and of ourselves. Suffering accepted in the right spirit can make us more whole people, deeper people, more mature and insightful people. That doesn’t mean that suffering is a good thing. We shouldn’t ever celebrate suffering, we should always try to relieve the suffering of others.

Once Jesus has taught us about the meaning of his suffering and ours, he reveals himself to us in the Breaking of the Bread, this thanksgiving meal, this Holy Communion that we shall soon share.

At Emmaus, just as at the Last Supper, Jesus took bread–gave thanks–broke it–and gave it. This is what we do every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper.

But let me take it one step further. Jesus said of the bread, “This is my body given for you”. But we who eat it are also his Body. We are the Body of Christ.

Can we imagine that it is us who are taken by the Lord, and blessed by the Lord? That we are bread in the Saviour’s hands? Can we imagine that it is us who, though we are broken, can offer ourselves to others in our vulnerability? We who are not perfect can help others who are not perfect. Can we imagine that it is we who are given to others to relieve their suffering?

When you come to this holy meal tonight, take in this truth: we are the Body of Christ, we are the bread taken, blessed, broken and given for the sake of the world. As we receive the bread and the wine, we receive the deepest truth about ourselves.

We will say these words later:
   Let us receive what we are.
   Let us become what we receive:
   The Body of Christ.

This comes from St Augustine, who lived in the fourth and fifth centuries. In his sermon #272, he says:

What you see is the bread and the cup; that is what your own eyes report to you. But what your faith obliges you to accept is that the bread is the Body of Christ and the cup the Blood of Christ. … ‘You, however, are the Body of Christ and his members.’ If, therefore, you are the Body of Christ and his members, your mystery is presented at the table of the Lord, you receive your mystery. To that which you are, you answer: ‘Amen’ … For you hear: ‘The Body of Christ!’ and you answer: ‘Amen!’ Be a member of Christ’s Body, so that your ‘Amen’ may be the truth.

Receive him tonight; let your eyes be opened, that you may see him; and also receive the truth about ourselves: we are the Body of Christ.

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