April 22, 2nd Sunday of Easter

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of each of our hearts be acceptable to you this day, our Rock and our Redeemer.
Today, I thought I’d start things a little differently, by speaking about our Psalm. As you know, Psalms were originally songs – sometimes of praise, sometimes of lamentation, sometimes of joy, sometimes of sorrow. As such, they were frequently written with instructions for the director of music. Of course, we use the Psalter for our reading of the psalms, so we miss these directions. But this week, while I was preparing for today, I went to our pew Bible, just to see what was written there, and this is what I read: For the director of music. With stringed instruments. A psalm of David. Now, not all psalms are described as “written by David”. In fact, most of them seem to have no particular author. But this one is quite specific. Not only that, if we look at the Bible, rather than the Psalter, we see, after the second and fourth verses, the word: SELAH, which, quite simply, means: stop. Stop, and think about things. Stop, and smell the roses. Just, STOP. And you know, that could apply to ministers and to worshippers. It seems to me that we are always in a rush, always trying to get from one place to another – preferably in the least amount of time. I have a friend who was complaining the other day about the fact that a train trip she is planning is going to take 18 hours. She is fretting about wasting all that time, instead of treating it as a time to relax.
Even in worship, we are constrained by time. We have an order of worship, which must be followed each week. I sometimes wonder what it would be like if we were in some places where Sunday worship lasted three hours, at a minimum. I think that people may not like that too much.
I remember, in Labrador, our time of Sunday worship changed annually. You see, the building was shared by two denominations, which meant that there were two services each Sunday – one at 9:30, and the other at 11:30. If we were at the 11:30 one, it meant that we could sleep in a bit, but it seemed then as though the rest of the day was spent playing catch-up. The 9:30 time, however, even though it meant that we had to be earlier getting up and ready, was better because we had the rest of the day to do what needed to be done, plus we would get to the restaurant before anyone else so we could have a nice Sunday brunch.
If we stop, if we take time, we may not get to places when we think we should. But, if we look at the fourth verse of the psalm again, we can see what could be the theme for this psalm: When you are angry, do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent. Ponder it, and be silent. We could all do with more of that, I think.
As most of you know, I was away last week, on retreat. If you looked at the programme for the retreat, you would probably be surprised to see that FREE TIME was built into the structure of each day. This was done intentionally, as we felt that we needed this time to digest what had been discussed, and to think about it. Often, the next session began with questions resulting from the first one. And sometimes, the three of us just spent our free time together, especially if we had gotten into a really good conversation, and didn’t want it to end. But the point is that we HAD this free time, this SELAH, when we were not expected to do anything.
During this church season known as Eastertide, we should all take some time to digest the words of Scripture. We need to ponder what we have seen and witnessed during and immediately following Holy Week. We should also consider the holy disturbances which God sometimes places in our lives. Without thinking about such things, and trying to figure out why they happen, we will never understand God’s purpose, or what lesson we are expected to learn. This pondering is something we need to learn, just as the disciples did. It often took them a while to figure things out, so why should we be any different?
Just as we often need reassurance, so did the disciples. Incredible as it may seem to us, they didn’t recognize the risen Christ until he did something to spark this recognition. In today’s reading, for instance, the disciples thought that he was a ghost, until he ate a piece of broiled fish. Interestingly, in the section just before this, when two of the disciples were on the road to Emmaus, they also didn’t recognize Jesus until he ate with them. It is easy for us to identify with the disciples. Too often, we fail to recognize Jesus in our midst, because we are so caught up in the everyday things of life. But, again like the disciples, we have all longed for that recognition, for that moment when we share a meal with our risen Lord.
Throughout the Gospels, we read stories about Jesus sharing meals with his followers. But each of the stories tells us more than the simple fact that they were hungry. We read about Jesus’ observance of the Passover, or about a woman pouring expensive oil on Jesus’ feet when he was a guest for dinner. We all know how he fed the 5000, with just a few loaves and some fish. We have even been told that Jesus was criticized for eating instead of fasting. And of course, his choice of dinner companions was often not approved of by the religious leaders of the day. Regardless, food played an important role in Scripture, both before and, more importantly, after the Resurrection.
Today, food plays an important role in our lives as well. Of course, we know that we must eat a healthy range of foods, to keep our bodies functioning as they should. But there are times, times when I am worried, or stressing about something, when I toss Canada’s Food Guide out of the window, and seek comfort food. This can be different for each one of us. For some, it can be homemade macaroni and cheese; for others, it can be meatloaf. I know someone who, whenever he is feeling sick, nothing hits the spot quite as well as a grilled cheese sandwich. But I don’t know anyone whose comfort food of choice is a broiled chicken breast with a green salad. This is what we SHOULD eat, but it just doesn’t give the comfort and security that the other foods do.
We, here at St. Andrew’s, know all about the comfort that food brings. We share in fellowship every week, with something to drink and eat. When we have pot-luck meals, the variety is amazing, and the calorie count is through the roof. When a family is hurting, what do we do? We bring food. When a family is celebrating, what do we do? Again, we bring food. Whenever we lack words, or when we know that words are not enough, we bring food. We bring cookies, cakes, and casseroles.
For the past few months, my cousin and her family have been living with her parents, due to Renee’s failing health. So many people brought food that they had to buy two extra deep freezes. And it was good that they did this, because Renee was not able to tolerate the smell of food cooking, even though everyone else had to eat. My aunt was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support they received, and are continuing to receive, now that Renee has died. Aunt Edith said that every dish was seasoned with love, and garnished with hope.
And hope is what the resurrection is all about, which is why those post-resurrection meals are so important to us as Christians. Jesus broke bread while walking on the road to Emmaus, and today, he shared fish with other disciples. In doing this, he is sharing fuel for the body, but, more importantly, in verse 45, he opened their minds to them so they could understand the Scripture. So, in addition to food for the body, he provided food for their souls, which is thing we all crave more than anything. Even those people who are unchurched are craving this. We can see this every time we go into a bookstore, and see all of the books on self-help; all of the books on spirituality; all of the books offering to explain why a particular path is the only one to follow. There are seekers, people who are looking for what we already have – a knowledge of, a belief in, and a love for God almighty.
The disciples, if you will remember, were afraid after the crucifixion. They had not yet received the Holy Spirit – Pentecost is still some weeks away. But, after that meal on the beach, they were empowered and equipped for what they had to do. Even though Jesus instructed them to stay in Jerusalem until they would be clothed in power from on high, they still knew that they would be able to do what was required. They took their faith, and shared it, until it was spread over the entire world, as they knew it. And because of that, we are Christians today. Because of that, we share in the great heritage that was started on that beach; or in the Garden on the first Easter; or on the Mount of Calvary; or in a stable in Bethlehem. Whenever and wherever it started, it has come down to us, and we are also empowered and equipped through word and meal.
But many of us are still like the disciples BEFORE the resurrection, BEFORE they accepted the fact that Jesus had risen. We shrink away from much of what Jesus says – we don’t want to hear about carrying the burdens of others; we don’t want to hear about suffering for love; we don’t want to hear about giving up family and home for the sake of the gospel. Nor do we want to hear about how good people, people like Jesus, have to die before they can become fully alive. None of this is GOOD NEWS for us, just as it wasn’t good news for the disciples. But it should be.
We hear Scripture every Sunday, and some of us even read it at home on other days. Our spiritual comfort food comes to us in the form of the Lord’s Supper, when we share bread and wine, a meal that is low in fat and calories, but high in God’s mercy and love.
Now, back to the disciples, the people who still weren’t sure if the resurrection had really happened. Jesus appeared to small groups at a time, almost as though he was trying to take it a bit easy on them, as though he thought they would be less fearful if there were fewer of them each time he appeared. He didn’t criticize them for being skeptical, but just set about to prove that he was no ghost, that he was the embodied Christ, risen from the dead. He encouraged them to touch him, and when they still remained skeptical, he asked them for something to eat – proof positive that he still had a body. It’s as though he said to them: See, I told you that I’d come back, and I did. You can really believe what I said to you.
In his book, Luke for everyone, theologian N.T. Wright says: “People often ask me, ‘What after all is the point of Jesus dying and rising again? It’s no doubt very nice for him to be alive again, but what does it have to do with the rest of us?’” Think about that for a minute. What DOES it have to do with the rest of us? What is the point of the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and why are we here today? Are we here because we were raised in the church and because this is what we do on Sunday? Are we here because we are from another place, and maybe feeling lonely for home? If we look at the Gospel reading again, we will find the answer to that WHY question. and he said to them, “This is what is written: the Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” Just 42 words, in our translation, but they not only contain our reason for being, but also a call to action for each one of us to be witnesses to the things.
But you know what is interesting? So many of us see this as an individual all to action, instead of a collective one. We are ALL called to be witnesses. We are ALL called to repent of our sins, and to forgive those who have sinned against us. We ALL must turn from destructive ways, and to follow the path that leads to salvation. We are to look for life in the valley of the shadow of death, to move forward when things seem darkest. And THAT is why we are here, in this church, in Quebec City, more than 2000 years after Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Here we will receive forgiveness AND give forgiveness. Here we will support each other in community, AND gather strength from community. Most importantly, here we will soon push each other out of the door to be witnesses of these things in the world. In the Small Catechism, Luther wrote: “We are called, gathered, empowered and sent,” by the Holy Spirit, into the streets, with the message of God’s amazing Grace. Christ is Risen. Can you remember the response from Easter Sunday? He is risen, indeed. Thanks be to God.

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