april 19th, 2020 – the road

Seven Stanzas at Easter
Make no mistake: if He rose at all
     it was as His body;
   if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
     reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
   the Church will fall.
It was not as the flowers,
     each soft Spring recurrent;
   it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
     eyes of the eleven apostles;
   it was as His flesh: ours.
The same hinged thumbs and toes,
     the same valved heart
   that–pierced–died, withered, paused, and then
     regathered out of enduring Might
   new strength to enclose.
Let us not mock God with metaphor,
     analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
   making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
     faded credulity of earlier ages:
   let us walk through the door.


The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
     not a stone in a story,
   but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
     grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
   the wide light of day.


And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
     make it a real angel,
   weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
     opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
   spun on a definite loom.


Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
     for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
   lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
     embarrassed by the miracle,
   and crushed by remonstrance.

John Updike

My hope is built on nothing less
     than Jesus’ blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
     but wholly lean on Jesus’ name
When darkness veils His lovely face
     I rest on His unchanging grace
In ev’ry high and stormy gale
     my anchor holds within the veil


On Christ the solid rock I stand
     all other ground is sinking sand
All other ground is sinking sand


His oath, His covenant, His blood
     support me in the whelming flood
When all around my soul gives way
     He then is all my hope and stay
On Christ the solid rock I stand
     all other ground is sinking sand
All other ground is sinking sand
Edward Mote
William B. Bradbury

Let us pray together:
Living God,
     we worship you today with joy in our hearts
   and thanksgiving on our lips,
When the powers of evil had done their worst,
     crucifying your son, and burying him in death,
   you raised him to life again:
An act of power giving hope to the world.
Lord Jesus,
     we rejoice that death could not keep you in its grip;
   that you were raised to life, alive forevermore.
You greeted your friends
     and now you stand amongst us in your risen power.
Spirit of God,
     you are always giving life to the people of God,
   giving birth to children of God.
Remodel us in the image of Jesus,
     fill us with his love
   and enable us with his risen power,
     that we might be faithful to his way,
   used by you in the redeeming of your world.
Baptist Union of Great Britain

Teach us to let go
     to fall into you, God
So You can go where no one else has gone
     the deepest places of our hearts
And teach us to surrender
     teach us to forgive
Teach us to receive all the love
     all the love You have for us
For love covers a multitude of sins
     Your love covers a multitude of sins
Teach us to let go
     to fall into you, God
So You can go where no one else has gone
     the deepest places of our hearts
For love covers a multitude of sins
     Your love covers a multitude of sins
Isa Couvertier

Hey Everyone!  It’s good to be with you, even if only through waves and wires.


As many of you are aware, our year has a movement and rhythm that is shaped by following the Church Calendar.  In simple terms, the church year is made up eight blocks of time, called seasons, beginning with Advent and then moving through Christmastide, Epiphany, Ordinary Time, Lent, Holy Week, Easter Celebration, and finishing again with Ordinary Time.  Other denominations use slightly different terminology but this is the flow of the year.


So, today is the second Sunday of Easter Celebration.


I say this because I’m finding that in this time of isolation, without my regular routines and activities, the days have started to run into one another and have lost their variance.  Simply, the Church Calendar points to and reminds us that there is a dynamic, ever-unfolding movement of the Spirit.  Which in turn reminds us that we are not alone – we are part of a body of people called The Church – and today we are joining with millions of other people around the world to consider and celebrate the implications of the resurrection of Jesus.  


I should also mention that the liturgy today finishes with the opportunity to have communion.  So if this is something you wish to participate in, you may want to pause this and get some bread and wine, or bread and juice, organized.


Our liturgy today began with an Easter poem by John Updike.  His opening lines echoing the words of the Apostle Paul – if Jesus did not physically rise from the dead, our faith is useless.   


Make no mistake: if He rose at all
     it was as His body;
   if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
     reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
   the Church will fall.
Jesus dying for humanity only finds its purpose in the resurrection.  Resurrection is what brings reversal, allows things to be set right, is the conduit through which all things are being made new.  The mystery and wonder of the resurrection is one of the pillars on which Christianity rests.


And yet, at times it’s hard to see the implications of resurrection at work.  Some days it’s a challenge to unlock or access the reality of resurrection.  It can be a difficult reality to push into, to live into.


For me, Updike’s phrase ‘if he rose’ captures the tension between belief and doubt of resurrection and highlights the pull between faith and apprehension when it comes to its implications. It hits closer to home than we sometimes care to admit.  But I think to ignore, or gloss over, or downplay this tension is to miss a big piece of the Easter story.  I mean every Gospel account of the resurrection is filled with questions, doubts, and apprehension.  It is an unfolding of hiddenness and recognition, perception and misperception.  Even after Jesus showed himself, on a variety of occasions, there were those who struggled to believe.  I think Jesus knew that it would be a struggle for his followers then and now to fully perceive what resurrection means.  It doesn’t seem to worry him. Instead he just quietly offers presence.


I’d like us for moment to think about a familiar story found in Luke 24:13-35. It’s a pretty simple story.  Two men a walking away from Jerusalem on the road leading to a village called Emmaus.  As they are walking they are talking about the events that had transpired over the weekend in Jerusalem around Jesus’s death and missing body.  They are pretty bummed.  They had pretty big hopes built on and around Jesus.  They were convinced that Jesus was the Messiah and that through him everything was going to be set right.  They perceived this about Jesus.  But things had gone a different direction.  Jesus had been killed and not only that his body had gone missing.  Nobody seemed to know what was going on.  Nobody seemed to know where Jesus was.  Just faint rumours that seemed to have been manufactured to make people feel better.  Disappointed and confused these two men had given up and were leaving town to return home.  They were working at trying to figure out what their new normal was going to look like.  Part way through this trip Jesus walks up beside the men, except they don’t recognize him.  The text says that they were kept from recognizing Jesus.  It doesn’t specifically say what it was that kept them from recognizing Jesus – was it their experience, you know seeing Jesus killed?  Was it that disappointment dulled their imagination of possibility that prevented them from recognizing him?  Some suggest it was God who kept their eyes from seeing.


In any case Jesus doesn’t seemed to be concerned or offended that they don’t recognize him.  Instead he joins them and asks what they’re talking about, playing it as if he knew nothing of the things they spoke of.  They immediately invite Jesus into their conversation, telling him all of the things that had transpired over the last few days. In some ways it’s pretty amusing – them trying to tell Jesus who Jesus is, while failing to recognize that they were standing face to face with Jesus. 


I have to admit, this part of the story offers some amount of encouragement to me when I think of the places I struggle in perceiving the presence of the risen Lord.  That Jesus seems prepared to just keep walking along, sharing the road with me, waiting for something to open my eyes.


When the men finished recounting their story he calls them foolish.  Not in a rejecting way – I see it more as ironic critique.  Kind of like, ‘Hey guys, the very thing you have hoped for, given your devotion to, searched to find, and have now given up on is standing right in front of you.’  Jesus spends the rest of the trip teaching and quoting Scripture.  It moves from them trying to tell Jesus who Jesus is to Jesus telling them who he is.


I want to pause the story to think for a minute about how experience, or situation, or personal construct shapes perception.  Not only that, any change in variable has potential to affect perception.  When I’m running, what I perceive at night is different than what I perceive in daylight.  What I notice when I’m driving from Saskatoon to Calgary changes depending on the season of the year, the time of day, my reason for the trip, and so on.  A room looks different after painting it with a new colour, the feel of a song alters with a key change, a documentary seems more interesting when Morgan Freeman narrates it.


I’m finding my current experience of living in and through this COVID pandemic has impacted my reading of the Gospel Easter accounts.  Not that the stories are different – it just in this backdrop, I notice, I perceive different things.  One of the current questions that many people are thinking about and discussing is what is our new normal going to look like?  What kind of life will we return to?  How will things change?


Those questions and that mulling affect the way I read the story in Luke.  Or better, it changes what I perceive in the story.  I feel more in tune with the men this year.  Wandering a bit aimless trying to figure out what my reality is to become.  Wondering how to best understand, live into, and ‘walk through the door’ resurrection.


And just when I’m feeling like I’m never going to quite get there, I’m reminded of the ending to this Gospel story.


The three of them arrive in the village and the men invite Jesus to stay with them.  They sit down to have a meal together. At the table, Jesus takes the bread and breaks it and gives it to them.  And in that action their eyes are opened.  What!?  That is so beautiful and mind boggling and mysterious.  I think it’s super interesting that in this story the men had their eyes opened not through the teaching of Scripture, but in the breaking of the bread.


I don’t think it’s a suggestion that Scripture doesn’t matter.  I think it means that what changes us, opens us up, gives us new eyes is the presence of Jesus.  And maybe even more mind blowing is the fact that Jesus is with us, caring for us, offering himself to us even when we don’t perceive it.


There is an element in which to perceive who Jesus is we have to receive Jesus. Jesus is found in the breaking of bread because that is what he offers us.  His body, his blood, his presence, his sustenance, his transforming power – the power of the resurrection coming to life one bit at a time. 


At the heart of all of this it seems to be about faith.  The two men in the story were discouraged, they felt like they were walking alone, but really Jesus was there right along side of them.  I’m learning in this season that God’s presence doesn’t ebb and flow with the evening news.  A good day does not equal God being present and a bad day indicate his absence.  Perception is rooted in faith, but is energized by the Spirit through the breaking of bread, through the reading of God’s story, the Bible, through prayer, and through conversations and relationships in the community.


The story concludes with the men heading back to Jerusalem with a renewed faith.  Ready again to work at living into resurrection.


In the end, we all need to find ways into faith, or ways back to faith, or ways to have our faith renewed. 


The story is a reminder that we can’t think our way to God or theologize our way to God.   Rather connecting with God is found in relationship – in relationship with Jesus, and in relationship with each other.  That our eyes can be opened to who Jesus is in the breaking of bread, in actions of hospitality and generosity, in doing life together. 


I should just say that I don’t think this story is formula.  One part wine, one part bread, ingest, voila, Jesus, and everything is better.  I just think that the action of eating the bread and drinking the wine puts our faith in motion, even if it’s in the smallest of ways.  And Jesus meets us in those places, offering unwavering presence.


I miss the community gatherings, seeing your faces, seeing the physical table with the bread and juice on it.  But I’m reminded that even though we don’t all listen to this at the same time, or partake in communion at the same time there is still and element we are doing it together.  So wherever you are, wherever you find yourself there is a place for you at the Table and that table pulls us together and unites us through Jesus.


Let’s eat and drink together….


Sweet Jesus Christ my sanity
     sweet Jesus Christ my clarity
Bread of heaven broken for me
     Cup of Salvation held out to drink
Jesus mystery
Christ has died and
     Christ is risen
Christ will come again
Celebrate His death and rising
     lift your eyes proclaim His coming
Celebrate His death and rising
     lift your eyes lift your eyes


Christ has died and
     Christ is risen
Christ will come again

Charlie Hall

Let’s pray our closing prayer:
O Lord our God,
   as we have sinned,
      whether in word, or deed, or thought,
   forgive us all,
      for Thou art good and lovest humankind.


Grant us a peaceful and undisturbed sleep,
   and deliver us from all influence
      and temptation of the evil one.


Raise us up again in proper time,
   that we may glorify Thee
      as we learn to live alive in hope, victory,
   and power of the resurrection.
Thou art the eternal Father,
   the Only begotten Son,
      and the all holy, and good,
   and life giving Spirit.
Now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.


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