When Fr. John asked me to speak today for Noonday Prayers, three thoughts came to mind: I am honored; I am grossly under-qualified; and I hope everyone has a long lunch break. Brevity is not my strength, and it has been a long time since my Confirmation classes. But, since Fr. John saw fit to leave me unattended with a lectern, I will do my best.
Today is significant for multiple reasons. First, it is Easter Week Wednesday, a day we celebrate Jesus making himself known to the disciples after the Resurrection. Second, today is important to us as the 22nd anniversary of the Murrah Building bombing in Oklahoma City.
Other than these two events happening around the same day on the calendar, why mention them together? Why reflect on Jesus’ appearance to the disciples from Emmaus, and the Murrah bombing, in the same discussion? In both instances we see people grief-stricken, downcast, trying to see the light of Christ on the other side of some horrible, worldly darkness.
Those who were closest to Jesus saw darkness at the crucifixion. They saw darkness when the stone was rolled across the entrance to the tomb. And, those who had the grim task of pulling the broken bodies of victims from the rubble of the Murrah Building certainly saw darkness. Thanks to television we all got a taste of it with them, and if we turn on the TV today we can find more of the same.
How do we see past this darkness? How do we hold onto hope when the acts of this world seem to blot out all light? We celebrated the answer, of course, on Sunday. The stone was rolled away from the tomb. Christ is risen. Sin and death are forever conquered. These all are great reasons to celebrate – and yet, as humans, we still have a hard time seeing when the times become dark.
We see this tendency in the disciples from Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). They had been with Jesus, in his ministry and at his feet at the crucifixion. They had seen His miracles firsthand. And, they’ve received the news spread first by Mary Magdalene: Jesus Christ is risen. But, they remain dejected. Their faces are downcast. They speak of Jesus in the past tense. They are upset that he did not “redeem Israel.” This unfolds as an almost comical scene, as Jesus walks them through a seven-mile lesson on Scripture, and yet they do not see him. They don’t see Christ in the man walking with them. They cannot see the light in front of their eyes for the perceived darkness of this world.
Jesus, in one of his moments of blunt clarity, tells the disciples they are being foolish, and slow to believe. And still, they do not see. I know, like them, I have walked many miles with Jesus, too foolish and slow to see Him with me. I think, perhaps, we all are too slow and foolish to see Him at times. We celebrate Jesus being resurrected, and are grateful for Salvation. We believe He is out there, or up there, somewhere, graciously working for us. But, in our flawed sight, He seems somehow separated from us. We do not see Him walking with us, we do not feel Him in us, patiently waiting for us to open our eyes and allow Him to work through us.
Thankfully, Christ did not leave us without the key to unlock our blindness. At supper, once He and the disciples reach Emmaus, Jesus breaks the bread, and in that act the disciples’ eyes are opened and Jesus – in his bodily form – disappears. The disciples now see spiritually what they were blind to physically. We celebrate this spiritual awakening each week in Communion: a celebration of fellowship, of mutual sharing. It is not a one-way act of receiving. Yes, we receive Christ in Communion. But, we also actively participate, by opening ourselves spiritually and physically to Him, to empower His presence within us to carry out God’s work. Our eyes, in short, are opened to the light when we become one – in Communion – with Christ.
C. S. Lewis addressed this idea of becoming one with the Christ within us in his work Mere Christianity:
“Now the whole offer which Christianity makes is this: that we can, if we let God have His way, come to share in the life of Christ… Christ is the Son of God. If we share in this kind of life we also shall be sons of God… We shall love the Father as He does and the Holy Ghost will arise in us. He came to this world and became a man in order to spread to other men the kind of life He has – by what I call ‘good infection.’ Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else.”
We all are called to become infected with Christ – to become living, breathing embodiments of His life and work, here on earth, today.
Peter and John understood this in our reading from Acts (Acts 3:1-10). When they came upon the man who had been lame from birth, they did not admonish him to seek Christ out there, in some abstract sense. Peter told the man, in the name of Jesus Christ, to stand and be healed. He told him with the fervent anticipation that Christ was within and with each of them, and that He would act. The man took Peter’s hand with the anticipation he would be healed. And, of course, through Christ – acting through Peter – he was healed. He was healed because both he and Peter expected Christ to be there; and Christ already was, always had been and would ever be there.
Whatever darkness we may face in this world, Christ is always there, reaching out his hand to us, waiting for us to open our eyes and allow him to work in us, to work through our hands. Christ was there in the hands of Peter, healing the lame man outside the Temple gate. Christ also was there in the hands of the first responders who pulled the wounded and the dead from the Murrah Building on that terrible morning 22 years ago. Christ was there, in hands that comforted the grieving. Christ was there in hands that healed the wounded. Christ was there, with open arms, waiting to embrace those who died with a love that overcomes all hatred, a light that banishes all darkness, and a grace not even death can diminish.
And that is a power that remains as real, and as powerful today, right here, as it was some 2,000 years ago – no matter how dark things may appear in this world. As we leave here today, then, let us go out like the disciples from Emmaus at the end of that fateful supper, with our eyes opened and our hearts filled with the fire of Christ. And let us put our hands to God’s work with the mind and heart of Peter: with the fervent anticipation of Christ living within and working through each of us. Amen.