Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold Jesus in all his redeeming work..
I am a sucker for transformation.
I’m not talking just about change. We all know that some of us like change and many of us don’t. There are multiple light-bulb jokes about change. How many therapists does it take? Just one, but the light bulb needs to really want to change. How many Anglo-Catholics does it take? Change???? Did you say change??
Change is what you do to light bulbs or to the living room furniture. Change is getting a new sign in front of the church or changing our altar frontal from purple to white or, as we will on Pentecost, to red. Transformation is something different. Transformation is Easter. Transformation is when someone left for dead comes back to life, or when someone living life as though he wants to die, changes course and becomes someone who wants to live. Transformation is what happens to a garden from one season to another.
Transformation is what happens to Peter after the resurrection.
Remember way back in Epiphany when someone said about Jesus: “Is this not the carpenter’s son?” I always imagine a scene in the Book of Acts where people listening to Peter are saying “is this not Simon Peter, the dumb fisherman who never really understood what Jesus was talking about? The one who denied Christ? The one who said: ‘Lord, how ‘bout we eat and send the others away to get food?”
That Peter. But now after Easter, he’s the leader. He is eloquent in his speech, commanding even. He presides over amazing growth in the early church, not just numerical growth—although 3000 baptisms in one place is mighty impressive—but also growth in the power of the Spirit.
The Book of Acts is all about the church experiencing transformation of its own. Acts contains story after story that I commend to all of you, of what it means to be church: how leaders are chosen, how conflicting traditions are reconciled, how diverse groups are incorporated into the faith community, even how finances are managed and apportioned. If you’re looking for a satisfying chunk of scripture to read during this season of transition from Easter to Pentecost, you could do worse than read Acts from beginning to end.
The story of the disciples along the road to Emmaus is this same story of transformation in microcosm. Just as the Book of Acts is the story of the whole church figuring out what it means to be a community of Jesus-followers when Jesus is no longer around to follow, so the little micro-community of Jesus-followers on the road is trying to figure out the same thing.
I imagine they are wondering: How could God let this happen? What is going to happen next? What will we do without Jesus? Who’s in charge now?
They answer these questions by telling, over and over again, stories of when Jesus was with them, and what happened, just as Peter does throughout the first chapters from Acts. We thought he was the one to redeem Israel. Some women found the tomb empty. We are trying to sort out what that might mean.
And they answer their questions by listening to stories from the stranger, stories from their shared tradition, just as we listen to stories every Sunday from our shared tradition. But it is not from scripture alone that the travelers encounter Jesus, just as it is not by scripture alone that we encounter Jesus.
They encounter Jesus by welcoming the stranger, extending themselves to him when they say “stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is nearly over.” Now, we all know this is not the moment when the disciples recognize Jesus once and for all, but I believe that it is in that moment, when Luke tells us that they urged him strongly, that they become leaders, rather than dazed followers. Even if they didn’t know it, they had an impulse to community, a sense that in order for them to continue in their journey, they needed to incorporate the stranger. They needed to be the ones to invite, the ones to offer. They did not wait for a Jesus stand-in, a priest or a deacon, perhaps, to say: “follow me,” but themselves said: come with us. Join us. The encounter with Jesus is in this invitation.
It is this invitation that leads us, of course, to the climax of this much-loved story. When he was at table with them, doing those things that we will do here at this table in a few minutes—taking, blessing, breaking and sharing—they recognize the stranger as the one who calls them friends.
I had a conversation with our Senior Warden a while back in which she talked about what she loves most about being a Eucharistic minister. (I would have told this story about an anonymous person except that you can read about her saying it in the current issue of our diocesan magazine.) She said it was her favorite thing to do in church because it is in sharing the wine at the altar that she realizes, over and over again, the centrality of the Eucharist to all of our life and work. When she says “the Blood of Christ, the Cup of Salvation,” she has an urge to say to people: “this is it. This!”
This, this bread and wine, are of course themselves objects of transformation. The bread is still bread; the wine is still wine, grain and fruit of the earth transformed through yeast and fermentation, and then transformed still further, through prayer and community, into the source of recognition, new hope, and the power of the Spirit to transform us.
At times, the Eucharist is as mysterious to me as the stranger on the road was to the bereft disciples. And yet, when they recognized Jesus, it was as if they knew it all along. This is how this simple symbolic meal is for us. It is a mystery, and yet. This is it. This.