This is the sermon for our yearly service (2016) where we have breakfast in church around the Communion table. It begins with an introduction, after which we begin breakfast with some suggestions for conversation. Then I reflect some more on a text and we move on to celebrate the Meal again.
I was at the bakery the other day and Wendy was talking with our son Chris. One of his co-workers saw me and said, "That must be your father!" I don't think we even look that much alike, but I made some smart comment and she burst out laughing: "You sound even more like him than you look like him!"
We often don't see this about ourselves— how much we look and sound like our family— but other people spot it straight away. And as we grow older we sometimes begin to understand just how much we are the product of where we come from.
My sister said to me once that my maternal great grandma was by all accounts a piece of work! I think that could be true… Mum and her sisters and brothers were all a bit scared of her. My maternal grandfather, on the other hand, although strict, was a pillar of the community around him, a leader, a worker; always do your best. Do the right thing. Work hard.
And I recognise a certain hardness in me, two and three generations later, which can never relax, and which always needs to keep working. My great grandfather on Dad's side was a very rich man— he bought a mansion for his daughter's wedding, just for the ballroom, and then sold it again a few weeks later. His first wife died very young, and grandpop was sent back home to be brought up by my great great grandparents. All these years later, I can recognise some of the scars in Grandpop… a certain distance and loneliness, a kind of resentment and bitterness at life— who could blame him. And despite my Dad's immensely stabilising kindness and generosity, some of that is in me too. Especially my solitary nature.
We are so little "just ourselves." We are a product of where we began, and who we came from. When you criticise me I almost always have to remind myself that it's ok, you are not the bullies at school, you don't get to control me— actually, you are probably only asking a question and not even out to get me at all… Have you noticed that very careful listening on my part, even a little distancing if you've been sounding off? That's me working hard not to be great grandma, and not to be afraid of the bullies, and working hard not to lash out because sometimes that was the best way of survival.
Somewhere in our 30's and 40's, even earlier if we are lucky, we begin to wake up to the history which is driving us and choosing for us, and making us. We wonder, "Who will I be? Who am I? Will I let this history drive me and make me? Is there another guide?"
And as you know, even seeing who we are, and what is driving us, is hard work. And changing, getting free of it, is even harder.
The theologian James Alison points out that we learn who we are as a baby from our parents and the people around us. They teach us to see ourselves as loved or hated. He says, "We are given to be who we are through the eyes of another."
He says the
pop psychology picture presupposes that somewhere relatively independent of the accidents of birth, background and upbringing, there is a real me. This real me is authentic, has its own desires and that's what makes me different from everybody else.
But it's not so. We are shaped and moulded and created by what has preceded us. "We" can become aware of and change and grow from the "we" which we were given and taught. But if we are not careful, we can remain sublimely unconscious of who we are, what drives us, harms us and, perhaps, tortures us.
So, over breakfast, who are you? What made you? What are the big things in your past? What would you like to be free of? Who do you follow?
After Breakfast: The Road to Emmaus, Luke 24:13-30
Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. 18Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ 19He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people,20and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’ 25Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ 27Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. 30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ 33That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ 35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
So, Emmaus: We have two people walking, completely confused about life and themselves. What does it all mean?
You can never read a story, or an event without bring an interpretation to it. Read the Advertiser without your eyes open and you are reading what some editor thinks Uncle Rupert wants you to know. Read the bible, and unless we are careful, we will be reading with the eyes of our mother, or a childhood minister, or maybe our Sunday School teacher. Whose eyes will we use. A question for Jewish people would have been, "Who is your Rabbi? Who is teaching you how to read the stories of the bible, and who is teaching you how to read the stories of your self?"
Cleopas is on what James Alison calls the "B team." He's been with Jesus, but he's not one of the heavies… he's one of us. And the other person? Alison wonders if he is not named because he is like "N" on a form: put your own name in here. This story is a story which can happen for any one of us. We are Cleopas and John, Cleopas and Valerie, Cleopas and Coral…
And Cleopas and N— that's you Max! — meet a person on the road whom they do not recognise. He reads the scriptures for them. He shows them how to read the story. And at the end a strange thing happens.
As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on.
This is what James Alison says: one of the things that YHWH often does in the Hebrew Scriptures is pass by, and have to be grasped at as he vanishes beyond. YHWH does that to Moses, and Moses only gets to see God’s hind parts. I love that translation. The same thing is referred to in Mark where Jesus walks by the fishermen on the water and they have to call him back to get into the boat. So here we have a Lucan hint: you’re about to get a Yahwistic theophany, an appearance of God. YHWH is about to put in an appearance. So they constrain him and he goes in to stay with them.
And their eyes were opened (διηνοίχθησαν) and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight (αὐτὸς ἄφάντος ἐγένετο).
Well, this sounds as though it’s three consecutive moments — first one of amazement “Wow!”, then one of recognition “Oh, look, it’s him!” then another (with a wave) “Yes, it’s me, byee!” However in fact, it’s all one flow in Greek, three dimensions of one movement. Their eyes were opened — this is something that someone does to them, the verb is passive, as it was earlier when it said that “their eyes were kept from recognizing him” — they recognize him, and then, well, our word “vanished” is too active, it suggests a movement away from them. What it says is “he unappearing became”. This is not even something like “Now you see me, now you don’t.” This is a Yahwistic theophany, where there is a build-up to something, and then only in immediate retrospect, “as it passes by” do you realize that you have had the experience, because YHWH can’t be grasped.
This happens in Communion. Do this to remember me, we say. Do this and I will be in some sense present. Do this and I will rewrite your story. I will tell you who I am. And we experience that some of the time… we are touched by something not quite definable.
It's not surprising that it happens in Communion, because the meal at Emmaus is a communion meal; "When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him…" (Luke 24:30-31)
And in the meal he rewrites our story. He lets us see ourselves through the eyes of God, not only the eyes of the people to whom we were born and with whom we grew up, and those who abused us or wounded us. He tells us we are loved. We are the honoured guest at his table. Do you see that the invited him to tea, but then in their house he became the host, and they became the guests.
One reason I have encouraged us to have this breakfast is because the communion used to be a meal. It was where rich and poor met in equality, and where the stories of people were rewritten. It's where people learned to see each other iwht the eye of God's love and then learned to see themselves.
When we have coffee, when we have café, when we have fellowship, what we are doing is continuing the communion. We are being the community of Jesus who helps us— not reinvent ourselves— who helps us see who we are as loved. As the body of Christ we help each other see ourselves as God sees us. We help each other write a new story for our lives. We remind each other that we are the precious people of God.
So let us remember
This is not only our table,
it is the table of the Lord.
made ready for those who love him
and who want to love him more.
It is the table of harvest
where the gifts of life are given,
food, love, and new ways of being.
So, we may come,
whether we have much faith or feel little... (adapted from Iona)
Reference: James Alison The Forgiving Victim Essays 1 and 2
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