It’s in the telling of the story.
Last week, we heard good news and we celebrated a resurrection.
And, for us, it has been a week. For us, it has been two thousand years. We know the good news. We have heard it so many times that it might not even qualify as news anymore. We have heard it so many times that we can say the words nonchalantly, as though they are easy mantras:
Christ the Lord is risen today. He is risen, indeed. Alleluia.
But in our reading today, it is not two thousand years after Easter… or even a week after Easter… it is Easter. It’s real Easter; It’s Easter Easter. And we meet these two disciples who have heard the news. And they’re walking along the road… trying to understand things… when they meet a man.
And the man asks them—casually—what they’re talking about.
Seriously? You haven’t heard? Have you been living in a cave? There was this rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth. And he wasn’t just a rabbi, he was a prophet. And we had hoped that he wasn’t just a prophet, but the messiah, the one who would restore Israel. But… one of our friends betrayed him, and our leaders handed him over to the empire, and he was put to death. Everybody knows about this.
And then, this morning—and this hasn’t gotten around; only a few know about this—some of the women who we know went to the place where he was laid and… he was gone. And the women say… they say, it’s unbelievable, but they say… that angels appeared to them and told them that… he is alive.
And the man… is surprised. Not at the news; at the disciples. And he starts explaining things: Moses said this, and the prophets said that, and don’t you remember the psalms? That rabbi was the messiah, and the messiah had to suffer all of these things and then—and only then—enter into glory.
And the disciples like what he says. But they don’t quite buy it. It’s too… strange.
It’s in the breaking of the bread.
The two disciples are on their way to Emmaus, a village not too far from Jerusalem. And when they get there, they turn to the man and ask, “We’re going to get dinner. Do you… want to join us?”
And when they sit down at the table, the man picks up the bread, and blesses it, and breaks it, and shares it with his friends. And they see. They see that the news they had heard—the news that hadn’t gotten around; the news that only a few people knew about—is true. They see that the things that the man told them made sense.
They see that this man—the man who had been talking to them, the man who had blessed and broken and shared the bread, the man who had just vanished—was Jesus. And what can they do but shout, “He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!”
I’ve been thinking about numbers lately. I don’t like to think about numbers. I am not a numbers person. But I’ve been thinking about numbers lately.
I may have told this to you before, but the three biggest religious groups in our area—in a ten-mile circle drawn around this building—are mainline protestants like us (twenty-eight percent and falling); Catholics (twenty-seven percent and falling), and people who just aren’t religious (twenty-seven percent and rising).
And late last month, Gallup released a poll saying that for the first time since they started asking the question in 1937, fewer than half of Americans belong to a church or synagogue or mosque. And that includes that growing population of people who just aren’t religious; but it also includes a lot of people who are: maybe two-thirds of religious people belong to a community of faith.
And, like I said, I’m not a numbers person. I’m not going to stand up here and do math at you. But the truth is that the story that we tell so nonchalantly… is completely alien to a lot of people… to a growing portion of the population:
A portion that is not religious at all. And a portion that identifies as Christian and likes the bits of the story that they know, but that doesn’t participate in a church community. And, let’s be honest here, even a portion that sits in the pews—maybe even in these pews in this place—on a regular basis.
And I get it. I really do. Because just that part of the story—just the part that goes, “Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!”—is bananas.
And those two disciples—those two disciples who had met Jesus, who had seen Jesus perform signs and wonders, who had heard Jesus tell them what was going to happen… repeatedly, again and again—don’t buy it. It’s too strange. And if it’s too strange to them… well… how strange is it to us?
And the whole story? Good news to the poor and recovery of sight to the blind? Freedom for the oppressed and release for prisoners? Good Samaritans and faithful centurions? Putting all of our trust in God? Not worrying about what we’ll eat or what we’ll wear? Sharing everything that we have with those who have nothing?
The living of the life that Christ calls us to? That might be more bananas than the resurrection.
So I get the desire to cover it with rules that are easy to follow because they are about those sinners out there and not about this sinner right here. I get the desire to reduce it to just being nice and to say, “I can do that on my own.” I get the desire to wrap myself in white middle-class respectability and Iowa nice and just… float through the world-as-it-is… because I can float through the world-as-it-is.
And I get the desire to just check the box that says Christian… or not. And I get it because I do it.
But then… well… then I hear the story or I break the bread… and I see…
I see Christ in the outstretched hand of the panhandler at the intersection; or in the guy who stands outside of the apartments on 11th Avenue and just waves at cars.
In the kids who are practicing active shooter drills at school; or in the parent who is worried about affording mental health care for their own child.
In the Black man being pulled over and who is frantically texting so that their family won’t wonder if they don’t come home; or in the police officer who wishes that there was someone else—someone who was properly trained—who could respond to what is clearly a mental health crisis.
In a thousand other faces pleading for a world that is better than the world-as-it-is. In a million other faces pleading for a world where there is good news for the poor and care for the blind…
…where there is freedom for the oppressed and release for the captives…
…where people see good in Samaritans and faithfulness in centurions…
…where we can put our faith in something better than the grinding machinery of our economy…
…where we don’t have to worry ceaselessly about what we’ll eat and what we’ll wear…
…where those who have enough… and those who have nothing… are free to share.
And I think that bananas might be okay. Bananas might be better than okay. Bananas might be the only shot we have at sanity.
It’s in the telling of the story and the breaking of the bread.
They story by itself is just… content. And the doing of the thing by itself is just… empty ritual. Doing the thing only makes sense if we know the story. And the story only makes sense when we do the thing.
And stories are things that communities tell. And breaking bread is a thing that communities do. And it is, maybe, only when we are surrounded by people who will tell the stories and do the things that we become brave enough step out of the insane sanity of the world-as-it-is and into the absolutely bananas potential of the world-as-it-could-be.
And it is, maybe, only when the people who surround us see a community, and when they hear about a community, and when they are invited to be part of a community, that tells the stories and breaks the bread and lives the life, that they will be brave enough to say, “Look at those people. See how they love one another. It’s bananas. But… maybe…”