THE RISEN CHRIST IS A REALITY IN OUR LIVES
April 26, 2020 – 10:30 AM
THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER
Saint Cecilia Catholic Community, Palm Springs, California
Rev. David Justin Lynch
Acts: 3:13-15;17-19 | Psalm 4:2;7-10
1 John 2:1-5 | Luke 14:35-48
+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, AMEN.
Deacon Sharon and I are fond of taking train trips, although we will not be doing so this year because of the coronavirus. The overnight trains on which we travel have a dining car which furnishes meals at no additional charge to those of us who travel as we do in the sleeping cars. When you eat in the diner with a party of four or less, you are seated with strangers at the same table. It’s called “community seating.” Although some people don’t like sharing a meal with strangers, we like doing it very much. It’s one of those things that makes us really love train travel.
We’ve met all kinds of people at the table on the train. They’ve been liberals, conservatives, and somewhere in between. As the disciples did in today’s Gospel, we did much conversing and debating, usually about religion. Yes, I know, there’s some kind of social convention out there that says you should avoid religion in talking to people, but Jesus was accustomed to conversations that were lively, loud, and filled with gesticulations and frustrations. But like Jesus, I’ve never been one to follow social conventions if I disagree with them.
For Jesus, discussion and debate on religious matters was part of his culture. As I have repeated many times, Jesus was not a Christian. He was devoutly Jewish. Discussion, debate, and dialogue have been part of the Jewish cultural and intellectual tradition for thousands of years. For example, even the creation of the world as described in Genesis is not really the beginning of existence. With all due respect, the Bible misunderstands this point. It is a subject that rabbinic commentators discuss at length.
Today’s Gospel speaks of Simon Peter and an unnamed disciple on a journey walking along a road to Emmaus, a village about seven miles from Jerusalem when on the way the encountered Jesus. At first, they didn’t recognize Him as He interpreted scripture to them, and only when he broke bread in their midst did He reveal Himself to them…and then inexplicably disappeared. So awed by this experience were Peter and the unnamed disciple that they had to go tell the others about it.
Deacon Sharon and I can relate to that. For many years, we journeyed long distances to Church every weekend. Like the disciples in the story, we talk about our journeys, particularly our stories about our church experiences, our experiences of Jesus, revealed to us in the celebration of the Mass, in the breaking of bread.
That is exactly what Jesus invites us to do here, to talk to other people about what’s important to us as Christians. The usual name for that is “evangelism”, and that’s kind of an uncomfortable word for those of us who come from a Catholic or Anglican background – we haven’t traditionally done that sort of thing. But the command of Jesus in this Gospel is that we do exactly that. That’s what Peter the Apostle was doing in today’s first reading, giving a speech to get people to believe in Jesus. Peter was showing he knew and loved Jesus by keeping the command that Jesus gives us in today’s Gospel: to preach the Risen Christ. Jesus tells us to do that to everyone, to the whole world, not just the people we like, or the people just around the corner. The good news of Jesus is good news for everyone. Just as the invention of the printing press in the fifteenth century facilitated a new narrative of the faith, so too the Internet today is fueling new ways of expressing faith and doing church like we do every Sunday by broadcasting our services on the Internet.
One of the debates in the history of Christianity is whether Word or Sacrament should be more prominent in the life of the Church. Catholic Christianity has traditionally been oriented towards the sacraments, particularly, that of the Eucharist or Mass. Those of us who fall into that tradition, whether they be Old Catholic, Anglican, Eastern Catholic, or Roman Catholic, celebrate Mass as the principal act of Christian worship every Sunday. Outside of worship, reading and study of scriptures was non-existent, and often discouraged. By contrast, the Protestant tradition emphasized the Word. Protestant services are characterized by long sermons and infrequent communion.
The liturgical reform movement that transcended both the Catholic and Protestant worlds of Christianity in the twentieth century addressed these imbalances. The norm in Western Catholic liturgy, that is, the Mass found in Old Catholic, Anglican, and Roman Catholic churches, now features three or four portions of scripture at every Mass, and they all follow a three-year lectionary, a fancy word for the cycle of readings, so we experience so much more of the Bible than we did in former years. And, believe it or not, some of our Protestant sisters and brothers now celebrate the Eucharist every Sunday. A weekly Eucharist is now the norm in many Lutheran parishes, as well as for some Methodists and even a few Presbyterians. The point is, that both Catholic and Protestant iterations of Western Christianity have taken to heart what Jesus did here. He opened the scriptures to His disciples, AND he made Himself known to them in the breaking of bread. Isn’t that the classic formulation of the Mass, Liturgy of the Word followed by the Liturgy of the Eucharist?
Word and Sacrament are not an “either-or”. They are a “both-and”. Like today’s Gospel demonstrates, I can’t think of a more explicit example to shun dualistic thinking. What is dualism? It is approaching life with the notion that everything is black and white, right or wrong, good or bad, one way or another, with no in-between and no possibility that proponents of seemingly opposing views could both be correct and could be harmonized with one another.
My friend and mentor, Father James Farris, who tutored me for Holy Orders, has long promoted what is called, “non-dualism.” non-duality, means “not two” or “one undivided without a second”. Non-dualism is sometimes called “nondual awareness.” It is another term for union with God, which is the aim and goal of the entirety of human existence, also called theosis and the divinization of human persons. It is the experience of mystics in the Christian tradition, and it is echoed in other spiritual traditions, principally in Hinduism and Buddhism. For Christians, non-dualism is the Way, the Truth, and the Life that is Jesus Christ.
Living toward union with God is by definition, non-dualistic, and is truly the heart of Christianity. It goes beyond the petty concerns of everyday life in this world which consume so much time and energy for so many people. It sets aside judging others for their actual or perceived faults and instead looks at the big picture of the overall relationship between God and humanity. You will recall that Jesus, in the Gospel of John, told us, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you…love one another, as I have loved you.”
The relationship between God and the human Jesus is what made possible the overarching mission of Jesus, to restore and reconcile the relationship between God and humanity that first went astray with the sins of Adam and Eve and was exacerbated further by the behavior of the Israelites in early history, the worst of which was idolatry and oppression of the poor.
As recounted in detail in the Old Testament, the worship of false Gods and taking advantage of weak and economically challenged people marked the alienation of God from humanity. Jesus, however, came to save us from that stuff. Such is the essence of salvation. Jesus gave us the two great commandments, “love God with all your heart, mind and soul” and “love your neighbor as yourself” to make that happen.
God worked through Jesus to show us what God was like. You can see this throughout the teachings of Jesus. Our faith is not just about ideas and concepts. No, our faith is flesh and blood. It is a tangible action, a doing of the Gospel. Our Risen Lord, taking on a new form of life in His resurrected body, wounds and all, invites us to take on a new form of life in the ways we live with each other.
Restoration of relationships is the exact opposite of dualism. The structure of our Eucharistic celebrations illustrates this. Word and Sacrament are not contradictory. They go together. They are inextricably linked. To do one without the other fractures that relationship. It is definitely in the “both-and” category. Humanity needs to hear the Gospel. Bur humanity needs to receive the grace of God contained in the Gospel by way of the Sacraments.
For far too long, Christians have been estranged from one another by human rules and undesirable human emotions. Motivated by fear and the pride of our egos, we’ve thrown up barriers between each other that don’t need to be there. The human relationships and the wholeness of non-dualism displayed in today’s Gospel are not only a template for liturgy but for the church as a body. Living into the fullness of the divine image means becoming fully transparent to divine attention and love. Jesus, as an image of God, is an icon that shows the way into this reality.
Jesus personifies what each of us might become. There is divinity in all of us as well as humanity. Yes, we are flesh and blood, but we were created in God’s image. The power of God manifested in Jesus demonstrates what is known as “relational vulnerability”. Theologian Cynthia Bourgeault has called the encounter between Jesus and His disciples on the road to Emmaus a “textbook study in spiritual recognition.” The relationship between Jesus and the disciples on the road to Emmaus illustrates this. They were open to Jesus as He opened the scriptures to them. He revealed his true identity to them in the breaking of bread after leading them through the scriptures.
Many Christians within the world’s political establishments want to use Christianity as an institution to enforce social norms. But Jesus did not come to vindicate what is conventional and normal; after all, normal people die. If Jesus was a normal person, we would have a Jesus that stayed dead rather than Jesus resurrected. But Jesus was anything but normal. To the disciples on the road to Emmaus, and to today’s overly-rational human world, the resurrected Jesus in His spiritual body was as unseemly and strange as his radical way of loving others during his earthly life. Jesus invites us to be anything but normal. Associating with tax collectors and sinners, advocating forgiveness, eschewing retaliation, and insisting on the practice of religion without hypocrisy, was controversial then, and remains controversial now.
Non-dualism represents the continuity between the earthly Jesus and the resurrected Jesus. Jesus remains what He is now as Jesus always was. This continuity is a radical statement that opposes the dualistic trap into which it is so easy to fall. Life with the resurrected Jesus lifts the veil of separation between God and humanity and between each other. The resurrected Jesus enables us to see God in one another. In every facet of our existence, God’s image always shines.
Jesus came to reveal and bear witness to the truth. That truth is the Kingdom of God, the experience of God’s unconditional love for us, and our unconditional love for our neighbor. It is the whole of humanity, and indeed, the whole of creation, living out that awareness as reality. The path of Jesus is the path of love for God and the path of love for our neighbors which will enable us to grow from narrow individualism into an all-embracing divine consciousness. Following the path of Jesus enables us to see beyond the mundanity of our individual lives and instead look at who we are in the overall context of the universe, to see forests instead of trees, to step back and look at the overall picture, and to look forward in time rather than wallow in the present and dwell on the past.
After Jesus had revealed Himself to the disciples at Emmaus, they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning as he spoke.” As we travel with Jesus along the road of our life, allowing the scriptures to be opened to us, and encountering the risen Jesus in the Eucharist, may our hearts burn with desire to love God and our neighbor, now and always. AMEN.