Sunday, April 06, 2008

Living Into Easter Joy

One of the most memorable communion services I ever attended happened during my time in seminary. As part of a global campaign to close the School of the Americas, a US sponsored training camp for Latin American terrorists located in Columbus, Georgia, a small group of seminary colleagues and myself had decided to participate in 14 day fast for justice. Holding daily vigils, we ate nothing but our daily portion of communion bread served to us at a brief service each evening.

Here we were, a handful of friends and acquaintances gathered in the cold, damp basement of Theology House, circled around a stained plastic table stuck in the corner of a vacant room. Each night had been the same. We raised prayers for the victims, naming some one by one: Vincente Ramirez, Rosa Santiago, Oscar Romero… A loaf of bread and a bottle of Welch’s passed from hand to hand without much ceremony, without many words. We ate our tiny portion of life even as dwelt in the midst of death.

We were a solemn bunch, keeping ourselves subdued and silent, mournful as we remembered the torture of our Christ in the context of the torture of thousands upon thousands of victims throughout the Americas.

This was serious business. After all we were starving ourselves for justice.

But one night, somewhere in the middle of the fast as we silently and solemnly passed the loaf from person to person, one of my friends, Sara, broke our silence in protest. Looking at the pathetically small scrap of bread handed to her by her partner she yelled, “Hey, I want a big hunk of Jesus!”

In a moment, we were all undone, laughing and giggling at what seemed a most inappropriate outburst in the midst of our somber gathering. Of course, we had all been thinking the same thing…who in the midst of a fast would not want a big hunk of fresh, delicious bread? We all wanted more….but this was holy communion. You can’t be greedy before God, right? Communion bread should be miniscule…it’s just a symbol in the end. Who needs to really taste it to understand and know God’s grace?

Yet, Sara was right after all. Who are we to deny ourselves the abundant life that Christ has promised for us? Taking a small scrap of bread seems quite frankly ridiculous in light of what this meal is supposed to help us remember. How in the world do we think a meticulously cut cube of dry, white wonder-bread is supposed to help us experience the presence of the risen Christ?

Holy communion is not some magical rite of symbolic transcendent spirituality. It is a concrete, earthy, fleshy experience of the real presence of a hungry Christ. Christ never intended for us to spiritualize this ritual by making it into some somber funereal symbolic meal. Christ wanted us to make it real, to embody and live it out, to truly experience throughout eternity the love, peace and joy God gives us.

Think about the story that we just read from the Gospel of Luke. What happened? There were two disciples on the road to Emmaus, a village about 7 miles from the city. They were walking away from Jerusalem, leaving behind all of the trauma, chaos and disappointment of the prior week. Believing everything over and done, they were getting out of there. Nothing more to see, nothing more to do. It is finished. I imagine as they walked that road together their grief was overwhelming. Perhaps still in shock and wallowing in their own sorrow, they were probably a sad sight to see.

As they were walking a stranger appears to them and asks them, "Why the long faces? What’s going on? What is it you two are talking about?"

“You have got to be kidding me? You don’t know? Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know what just happened?” The disciples harsh words translate overtime and we can sense the accusatory and incredulous tone with which they greet the wayward wayfarer.

And so the disciples rehearse the story for this stranger, who unbeknownst to them is really the Christ.

“Well, there was this man Jesus from Nazareth…surely you heard of him, a prophet mighty in word and deed? You know, healing the sick, feeding the poor, raising the dead kinda guy? Anyway, he was arrested, condemned to death and crucified. We all had thought he was the One, you know the One, the Messiah, our hope of liberation, freedom and salvation? But he wasn’t. He died and left us all alone. But then, just this day a group of women claimed to have gone to the tomb and found it empty and what’s more they had the audacity to claim that they had seen the dead man walking. They claimed Jesus was alive. Can you believe that? Well, some of the men went and sure enough the tomb was empty, but this whole business of Jesus being alive and walking around? Yeah, that was just not true. The men who went saw nothing. Really, who believes this sort of outrageous tale anyway? Alive? I don’t think so.”

These two disciples are more than a little disappointed. In the shadow of their grief, I imagine bitterness has set in, along with anger, resentment and regret. Why did they believe this guy in the first place?

But Christ is patient with them. Exasperated, perhaps, but patient nonetheless. Rehearsing the story from the beginning of Moses to present day, Christ interprets the entirety of the scriptures to them so that they might understand…Genesis to Zechariah Christ explains it all.

And still they don’t get it.

Their grief and disappointment is too thick. It blurs their vision. So, they sit down for a meal together on the road. All of them hungry for sustenance on this journey they break bread together. Here in the midst of the disciples’ disappointment and despair something miraculous happens. The stranger takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it and gives it to them and in doing so is made known to the disciples. Their eyes flicker with recognition as hope takes life in their hearts once again. In the midst of the very ordinary, something extraordinary happens.

This story points to the Christic presence in the very ordinariness of day to day life. The picture of the Christ we get from this story is one of an earthy, fleshy Christ who shares the road of our lives with us, who walks with us, who talks with us, who sits down with us to bring us hope in the midst of despair, love in the midst of rejection and life in the face of death.

But then, just as recognition and hope begin to dawn in the disciples eyes, the Christ vanishes. Just like that the fullness of God is known and then gone in a flash. Fleeting, momentary, the Christ comes to us to offer a glimmer of hope in the midst of a broken world.

We are given these moments of earthy, fleshy divine experience not to tease or tempt us, but rather to encourage and fill us on the long journey that is life. In these moments, we get to savor resurrection life and experience the hope of a future that not only will be, but already is. Our eyes are opened to the Divine living and moving and dwelling in and through us.

Yet, so often we neglect, ignore or even refuse these moments, turning away God’s offer of joy for one reason or another…we don’t deserve it, it can’t last, why bother. Worse, we sometimes reject God’s joy out of some twisted notion of sacrificial piety. God wants us to suffer, to sacrifice, to starve. That means we are good Christians, right? Somber, silent, mournful, serious…just like that group of well-intentioned yet misguided seminary students not so long ago.

We Christians sometimes take ourselves way too seriously. Here is a clip of one of my favorite stand-up routines that unmasks brilliantly our Protestant piety gone awry (Beware there is some profanity in this clip):

Izzard’s riff, like so much comedy, queers the world up enough for us to see things in a new way, to see beyond our own pretensions to the reality we seldom like to acknowledge. Why is it the hegemonic power that is mainline Protestantism is so pathetic when it comes to expressing and experiencing joy? How is it that those most oppressed and most marginalized are the ones who translate that resurrection joy to us?

God intends for us to savor these moments. Here today, gone tomorrow, we are meant to enjoy the presence of Christ while we can, to let the holy goodness of these moments linger on our tongues that we might taste the goodness of God.

In that musty old, nasty basement room, Sara brought life back into that deadly ritual of our own fashioning and helped us glimpse more clearly the meaning of communion. This is no death ritual…this is the rehearsal of life, resurrection life that is abundant, joyful, and delicious!

We are called to recognize and remember these moments of joy when our hearts burned with the presence of the Christ known most fully through love, joy and peace. Let us savor the goodness that is God and enjoy the fleeting moments of divine revelation scattered throughout our lives to give us hope and send us forth.

So take a big hunk of Jesus that we might taste the goodness of God!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I don't think God came to offer us a glimmer of hope and then left. God's offer is eternal, God's Word is eternal too. It is all written. It is only how much we want to take from Him, how much we receive, how much we place our hope on Him that is flickering, instantaneous, subject to change... =)