The Rev. Canon Jan Naylor Cope
transcribed by Gaile E. Zimmer
Prayer: Be known to us in breaking bread and do not then depart. Savior, abide with us and spread thy table in our heart. Amen.
“Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
“ What things?”
“The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was handed over to be condemned to death and crucified. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They went to the tomb and he wasn’t there and angels told them he was alive.” [Luke 24]
I don’t know about you, but it’s been my experience that women astound men on a fairly regular basis. Happy Mothering Sunday!
In fairness, the story was astounding. Cleopas and the unnamed disciple are on the road to Emmaus, pondering the nature of what’s happened in the past few days. They, like all of the disciples, had come to love and trust this man Jesus, their friend, their teacher, their rabbi, the one whom they longed to be the Messiah who would redeem them from the crushing Roman occupation. And then he was killed in a most public and humiliating way. No question about it, he was dead; yet, there were the reports that he’s been seen. Could it be possible that he was alive? What would that mean?
I think that the disciples, like many of us, can become paralyzed by the problems of the present and not become able to open ourselves to the promise of possibility. It was an astounding possibility.
In her book Walking Home from Eden to Emmaus, Margaret Guenther makes the point that Jesus shows up without an appointment, not dressed as we expect, and never looking the part as he walks among us. The resurrected Christ: risen and abiding with us. It’s so hard, when we get bogged down in present problems, to open ourselves to that promise really to live into it. We need not look very far to see today’s troubles. Whether it’s the economic meltdown, soaring unemployment rates, tsunamis, earthquakes, the continuing embroiling unrest in the Middle East and Northern Africa, and the extraordinary events of this week in Pakistan and Afghanistan. It’s easy to get paralyzed, but Jesus has a habit of just showing up and reminding us that no matter what we face, we never face it alone. That the resurrected Christ is always available, yesterday, today, and forever to guide us, to direct us, to comfort us, to strengthen us, to sustain us, and to empower us to face our problems and challenges.
A few years ago I had the privilege of going on a Mission trip, a pilgrimage, with an international group of Anglicans with the Compass Rose Society to Malawi. Many of you may know that Malawi is one of the ten poorest countries in the world, a distinction no country would vie for. In Malawi, nine out of ten people are unemployed. Due to the ravages of HIV, AIDS, famine, malady, and scarcity of everything imaginable, the average life span has dropped to 38 years of age. Can you imagine anyone living beyond 38 years of age being considered old? Their very continued life is considered a miracle.
As my fellow pilgrims and I went around the Dioceses of Southern Malawi, we were hosted by Bishop James Tengatenga. We looked at the work of the Anglican Communion in this desperately poor country, attempting to make a difference, attempting to lift up the light of Christ in the midst of tremendous need. On about the third day of this trip, we got in our bus and went miles, and miles, and miles—way out into a rural area over hard, sun-baked, dry, dusty, red dirt roads to a rural area called Chapananga. In a desperately poor country, Chapananga had to be among the poorest of the poor. Only one person in that village was employed, and the women of that village, primarily, had the responsibility of trying to scrape and scratch out enough food to sustain their families. As Bishop James explained to us, with only one man in that village employed, most of the men in the village spent their days drinking or making children. It was a huge problem for them, with the scarcity of resources.
Partnering with an Episcopal Church in New York, the diocese has built a health clinic for maternal and neonatal care to try to address some of the most urgent needs in that village. I confess to you that as I looked at the situation on the ground, and all of their problems, I was almost overwhelmed. At one point, I had to step off by myself and, much like Cleopas on the road to Emmaus, reflect and ponder what that must mean. I, too, was paralyzed with the problems of the present. And when we were preparing to leave that village, all the women, the mothers, gathered together and burst into the most exuberant song and dance. It was indescribable and joyful. Our translator told us that what they were singing was: “We are confident we will meet again in Heaven.”
You see, those women embodied the resurrected Christ, and they astounded me with their faithfulness, with their living into the promise of possibility. In his book The Weight of Glory, C. S. Lewis wrote “I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen, not because I see it rise, but because by it I see everything else.” By it those women see everything.
In a few minutes you will be invited to partake in the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, where we know from this Gospel lesson today, and from Scripture, that Christ is always prepared to reveal himself to us. He told us to “do this in remembrance of me.” He told us to take the bread, bless the bread, break the bread, and give the life-giving body of Christ away. In her book The Sacred Meal, Nora Gallagher writes about the spiritual practice of the Eucharist, its history, how we live into it, and how we experience it today. She makes the point that a spiritual discipline is important, but we shouldn’t get too invested in the outcome. That unlike a habit, like taking the same road to work every day, the purpose of a spiritual practice is to keep us awake. That hidden in the repetition is the chance that on any given day, the mind or soul will connect with what is waiting to connect to us: the resurrected Christ living and abiding among us.
Be assured: he has risen. The Lord has risen indeed. Hallelujah!