Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling picture

Third Sunday of Easter, Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling

Luke 25:13-35

Alleluia!  Christ is risen.  Christ is risen, indeed.  Alleluia.

Dear Friends,

I’ve enjoyed all the pictures of baking that have appeared on social media.  Maybe we’re just craving carbs to manage our stress; or maybe we’re just taking advantage of the extra time and the greater opportunities to sit down and have a meal together.  I really want to join this community of bread bakers, but every time I go to the store, I head down the baking aisle and there’s no yeast.  Sometimes there’s one lone box of baking soda; on Thursday there was a box of dry meringue mix.  I didn’t even know what that was.

Think about this for a minute.  People are buying toilet paper, sanitizer, and yeast.  I guess it’s a necessity. Not a surprise, yeast has been part of human culture for 4000 years.  Yeast is a living organism. It’s made up of tiny little cells that produce carbon dioxide as they eat up the flour and sugar. As a kid, I thought it was a miracle to peak under the towel to see the dough twice as big as before.  As a pastor during a time of pandemic, I think it’s a miracle our deep human need to bring a leavening agent into our houses is energized by a crisis.  We need something that makes our days taste better; or something that still seems a little miraculous–something that is probably raising more than our dough.

The story of Jesus’ appearance to the disciples on the road to Emmaus is one of the church’s favorite stories–a story that works like yeast.  It puffs us up, more than doubles our imagination, makes bread a little more astounding, and, as the story says, “opens our eyes.”  We read the story, and suddenly we’re hearing a truth in ancient words that seems so alive that it sets our hearts on fire  Or we come forward for Holy Communion and recognize with a shock that the very presence of heaven is in this tiny piece of bread, and a sip of wine not big enough to get us through a Zoom happy hour; but literally enough food to get us through a pandemic.

At first, I thought that we made a mistake scheduling our next Holy Communion service for next week.  We chose next week, Fourth Sunday of Easter, because it’s the Sunday we call Good Shepherd Sunday.  Yet, I neglected to realize how the Emmaus road ends inevitably at the altar table.  In the Sunday liturgy, we often say, “Reveal yourself to us in the breaking of the bread, as you once revealed yourself to the disciples,” a direct reference to this story.

Yet, here we are, at the online Gloria Dei worship service, ready to fill our baskets with what we’re going to need to live through another week, and the shelf if empty.  No yeast.  No flour.  No honey.  No bread.  No wine.  We yearn to take resurrection home with us, to be raised up in this uncertain time.  And the Eucharistic cupboard is bare.

And now here’s the funny thing.  The absence of communion—the absence of our regular practice—made me have to think more about these old and dusty words.  I had to enter into conversation with them in a different way, setting aside the typical interpretations.  And the longer I prayed about it, the longer I talked out loud in the isolation of my journey at home (a problem, I think!), the more my heart began to rise with another mystery; another truth.

Certainly, it’s true, Luke wants us to understand that Jesus is present in our sharing of bread and wine.  But what if he also wants us to know a bigger truth.  The presence of Jesus, the living presence of the one who is now our source and life, is mysteriously present in all our bread, at all our tables, in everything that our body and souls need to survive.  What if the gospel message of the resurrection is bigger than the presence of Jesus in Word and Sacrament, but points to the living presence of Jesus is in all creation.  The resurrection doesn’t limit the presence of Jesus to certain places but opens our eyes to see the presence of God in everything.

Bread maybe doesn’t just mean bread.  But after Easter, bread means everything.  “Make yourself known to us in the breaking of the bread.”  When life is broken open, experienced in all its joy and sorrow, and then shared with one another, Easter happens again.

In some ways, bread has always been that kind of symbol. Martin Luther answers the question, “What is Daily Bread?” in the Lord’s Prayer by saying, “Everything included in the necessities and nourishment for our bodies, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, farm, fields, livestock, money, property, an upright spouse, upright children, upright members of the household, upright and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, decency, honor, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.”

Give us today our daily bread.

It’s not lost on me this year that those two disciples on the way to Emmaus were traumatized.  They were in shock. They had witnessed the execution of their hopes and dreams.  They had no frame of reference to understand what their life had become.  And this mysterious stranger, who joins them for the journey, leads them to see old words in new ways.  He opens up the meaning of Scripture and of life.  He moves them down the road.  And then at the dinner table, which was likely a humble affair, they suddenly glimpse the truth that is behind all concrete things in creation:  God.  God’s love. God’s life.  God’s joy.

And what do they do?  They don’t turn the table into a shrine, invest in fancy dishes, or even plan the ritual that will take place for thousands of years after them.  They go home.  They go back to Jerusalem, the place of their suffering and their fear.  They rush back to say, “It’s not over.  In fact, we’ve seen something that makes us rethink everything.  Instead of ending, we think it’s starting.”

Jesus is alive.  And what that means is, “We are, too.”  With our trauma, our loss, our changed landscape, our sad journeys, Christ joins us when life is breaking and promises new life.  Life that expands and grows and proves to be a miracle.  Jesus is the leaven that has been added to our attempts at baking, our struggles to set the table, to make a way, to build a life, to love our chosen ones and even those who we really like to despise.

We may be in that moment of waiting for the leaven to do its work.  Tucked away in warm corners, in our houses, resting, maybe even feeling punched back down at the latest news.  Yet we are rising.  The miraculous work of God has already started doing its work within us. We are, indeed, already a community of bread bakers and break breakers.  We’re already praying:

Reveal yourself to us, O Christ, in the breaking of our lives and our bread, just as you did to your disciples.

Alleluia!  Christ is risen.  Christ is risen, indeed.  Alleluia!