Monday, April 15, 2024

Shown in the eating. . .

Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter (B), preached on Sunday, April 14, 2024.

The old story is told of a convert to Lutheranism.  The pastor taught him that the bread of this Sacrament was not just bread but the Body of Christ.  After a very long explanation, the pastor paused and asked the man if he believed the bread to be Christ’s Body.  “Oh yes,” he said.  “If that is the Bible says I believe it.  The only problem I have is believing that this little quarter sized piece of something is really bread.”  We are all looking for easy proofs to avoid the hard part of trusting. Unfortunately, God does not give us easy proofs.  He gives us what He gives us.  That is supposed to be enough.  

To a group of startled and frightened disciples, Jesus’ presence was no comfort.  They thought they had seen a ghost and were only interested in getting as far from this spooky spirit as possible.  Jesus insisted that He was real, real flesh and real blood and not a ghost at all.  In order to prove to them He was real, He offered them the scars of His hands and His feet.  It was, after all, enough for the ten who first met Jesus on Easter evening in the Upper Room and again for Thomas the week following.  Surely it would be enough for these disciples.  But it wasn’t.

They wanted to believe.  Scripture makes that clear.  They disbelieved for joy and marveled at who stood before them.  But doubt and fear was too strong.  Jesus had invited them to touch Him and see but the power of their fear was great and their faith was weak and shaky.  So Jesus must prove to them another way that He is who He is, has done what He has done, and is present now to bestow upon them His grace and favor.  He asks for something to eat.  Ghosts do not eat.  Jesus did.  He ate the broiled fish.  Then their hearts were opened and they believed Him and in Him.

Now here we are.  We have come from long and hard weeks.  Some of us are still transfixed by the hurts and pain of the days just passed.  Others are wrapped up in distractions so much more tempting than Church on Sunday morning.  Still others are carrying a heavy load of guilt and shame behind our scrubbed and smiling faces.  Not a few of us are worried about being found out for the hypocrites we are and the sinners who have made high art out of doing what God forbids.  Then the voice of Christ arose from His Word and bid us to be at peace.  Who is this Jesus to tell us what to do?  Does He think that words can make our upsets disappear or set our hearts at rest?  Is Jesus even real – could not He be simply myth and legend passed down through the ages?

The answer to our doubts lies in the wounds of Jesus.  We look to the crucifix and to the risen Christ hoping for an aha! moment.  Like the disciples in the Upper Room or Thomas, we long for a break through moment when our faith will be found solid and secure and our doubts and troubles will leave us alone.  We still disbelieve for joy.  We want to believe.  We want to believe that our sins are truly forgiven but they seem so big.  We want to believe that God knows our names and is paying attention to our lives but He seems so distant sometimes.  We want to believe that our pain and suffering are for something and not for nothing but mostly we just want that pain and suffering to go away.  We want to believe that death is not the end and that the life that awaits us will be worth all the crap we had to endure so far.  We want to believe it all but it seems so farfetched and so odd.  Can it be true?  Is Jesus God’s Son and our Savior – and does He love even me?

The proof is in the eating.  That is how it was so long ago and how it remains today.  It is not proof in the sense of incontrovertible evidence to sway a judge and jury but in the Lord who bids us eat and drink and believe.  Taste and see the goodness of the Lord or so the Psalmist says.  Touch and see or so Jesus invites.  It is not fish but flesh and not wine but blood.  This is where we touch Jesus and Jesus touches us.  This is were we bring our doubts and fears and sins and death.  Here is where Jesus opens His wounds to swallow up our anxiety and cleanse us from our sins and heal us from our death.  It is here.  Eat, drink, and believe.

Once Jesus showed He was real and no ghost by eating in front of the doubtful disciples.  Now He shows Himself real by our eating of this bread which is His body and this wine which is His blood.  It is the proof that is engendered by the power of the Holy Spirit.  He takes this taste of heaven and uses it to bind up our broken hearts, calm our fears, take away our sin, and give us the foretaste of eternity.  Holy Communion is not everything He gives but He gives us everything in this Holy Communion.

God’s Word is not all we need for our daily lives and growth in faith or God would not have given us this Sacrament.  This Sacrament is not sufficient for our daily lives and growth in faith or God would not have given us His Word.  Together they are the fuel and energy of our lives of faith and good works.  Hearing the Word our faith is born and directed to the good that He purposes for us and in us.  Eating and drinking at this altar gives strength to the body and soul so that we may endure whatever comes our way and be found ready and faith when Christ returns again.

We keep looking for light bulb moments when at last all the darkness of doubt and fear and guilt will be gone.  The light points us to Him who is the light, Jesus Christ.  In faith there is no fear – only love.  But there is another way of looking at this.  We do not eat one meal and find that enough.  We eat many meals, over and over again.  Our bodies do not need a miracle meal once to consume and never again to eat.  They need a regular and faithful diet of the best food and the best foods for us.  Is it any different for our faith?

We want a moment – a moment of decision or clarity in which faith becomes easy and understandable.  That will not come.  But what will is a meal, set in the presence of our enemies, with food that alone bestows what it signs.  What we get is a meal we eat and drink often for the forgiveness of our sins.  What we get is an invitation to touch Jesus and see Jesus – with the eyes of faith that behold this bread to be His body and this cup His blood.  What we get is a regular and daily diet of Word to transform the mind and of the food of heaven to feed our faith until the day when both shall be perfectly fulfilled by the Risen Lord who returns to claim what is His.

Is it hard to believe these words are God’s Word?  Is it hard to believe that this bread and cup are His flesh and blood?  Is it hard to believe that every battle of our lives has already been fought on the cross?  Is it hard to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, who is come to be our Savior and Redeemer?  Sure it is hard.  But it is harder when God’s Word is an alien voice and when we have been absent from His table so long that we don’t remember where to sit.  Come.  Touch.  See.  Listen.  Eat.  Drink.  See.  And give witness to all of this wherever you go and to whomever you meet.  Christ is Risen!

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