Saturday, April 29, 2017

Sine Dominico Non Possumus: Reflections on Luke 24.13-35

Sine Dominico Non Possumus
Reflections on Luke 24.13-35

RCL Easter 3A
30 April 2017

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church

Luke 24.13-35

                  24.13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened.  15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.  17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?”  They stood still, looking sad.  18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?”  19 He asked them, “What things?”  They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him.  21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.  Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place.  22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive.  24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.”  25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!  26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?”  27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

                  28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on.  29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.”  So he went in to stay with them.  30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.  31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.  32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”  33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together.  34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!”  35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

            At the end of February in the year 303 Diocletian, the Roman Emperor, published an edict which ordered the destruction of Christian liturgical and scriptural texts, the demolition of Christian places of worship and the prohibition of Christians gathering for worship.  The Roman Empire had just passed through a period of chaos and civil war and Diocletian had been convinced by others that Christians were a threat to the unity and peace of the Empire.  The persecution unleashed by this edict lasted until 313 when the Edict of Milan decreed that the practice of the Christian faith was to be tolerated.

            Among the Christians who died as a result of Diocletian’s decree was a group of forty-nine Christians who lived in the town of Abitinae in what was then known as the Roman province of Africa and now known as Tunisia.  Members of the group were arrested for having gathered on Sunday.  When asked why they had disobeyed the Emperor’s edict, one of them is supposed to have said, ‘Sine dominico non possumus’ --- ‘Without the Sunday eucharist we cannot live’.  All were sentenced to death, women, men and children.

            In the seventeen hundred years since the deaths of the martyrs of Abitinae Christians have continued to gather to celebrate the Lord’s Day by breaking the bread of life and pouring the cup of salvation.  We have gathered  during times of peace and prosperity and during times of war and oppression.  We have gathered in environments of acceptance and respect and in environments of rejection and condemnation.  We have gathered because we know what our ancestors in the faith knew:  without the Sunday assembly of the Christian people, we cannot live.

            Have you ever considered how important it is to gather?  A sure sign of the importance of gathering is how quickly authoritarian regimes prohibit gatherings or use government media to down-play the size of any protests or demonstrations.  Regimes know what we sometimes forget:  when people assemble in numbers, they gain in power and influence.  Gatherings, you see, have the power to transform and to transfigure.

            Throughout the centuries Christians have understood the importance of bringing people together.  At the end of Matthew’s gospel Jesus tells his disciples that they are to go out into all the nations to make disciples (Matthew 28.19).  In both Matthew’s and Luke’s gospel Jesus tells a parable about a feast to which the invited guests do not come, so the host sends out servants far and wide to invite strangers, foreigners, rich and poor to come to the table.

            Our very life as a Christian community depends upon our willingness to gather people together.  Each Sunday we should look around us and ask two questions:  ‘Who is not here?’ and ‘Why are they not here?’  We want to ‘draw the circle wide’ so that more and more of our neighbours and friends can experience the transformation and transfiguration that gathering as Christ’s disciples can achieve.

            Without the gathering, we cannot live.

Transform and Transfigure
            When we hear the Scriptures proclaimed and interpreted, when we offer our intercessions, petitions and thanksgivings and when we receive the bread broken for the life of the world and the wine poured in the hope of the world to come, we are transformed and transfigured.

            The proclamation of the Scriptures and their interpretation remind us that we are following a heritage of faith and action that reaches back millennia.  We remember our past in order to be faithful disciples in the present and agents of God’s future.  Our intercessions, petitions and thanksgivings unite us with Christians throughout the world in a web of energy that changes lives.  In our communion with Christ through bread broken and wine poured, we receive the gift of Christ’s life so that we, in turn, become the gift we have received.

            Sometimes those of us who gather in this place are transformed.  By this I mean we are changed just as Thomas was changed from cynic into evangelist.  We even sing about this transformation from time to time in words such as ‘I once was blind but now I see’.  Transformation shakes the foundation of our self-understanding and may lead us into paths we never imagined following.

            And sometimes those of us who gather in this place are transfigured.  By this I mean we experience what might be called an ‘Aha!’ moment.  Augustine of Hippo is said to have held up the bread and wine of the eucharist and said, ‘The gifts of God for the people of God.  See who you are.  Become what you see.’  In such an ‘Aha!’ moment the penny drops, the final piece of the jigsaw clicks into place, Waldo suddenly jumps out of the picture.  Things that have always been before us are now seen in a new way.  We now understand where we are going and that the path we’ve been following no longer seems to meander but follows the contours God has laid out before us.

            Without the transformation and transfiguration, we cannot live.

            But there is a counter-intuitive purpose to this gathering.  This gathering exists to transform and transfigure human beings in order to send them out into the world as agents of God’s purposes.  Although the Scriptures are filled with tales of miraculous deeds that defy human understanding, those same Scriptures are filled to over-flowing with tales of how God invites men, women and children to participate in achieving the re-creation, redemption and renewal of the world.

            Women filled with fear and mourning become apostles of the new life made known to us in the raising of Jesus from the dead.  A cynic is embraced by his friends only to see and touch his beloved teacher.  Two disappointed and weary disciples race uphill in the dark of night to tell their friends that Jesus has been raised from the dead.

            In the Downtown Eastside a priest walks the streets and calls people by name, people who have been forgotten and abandoned.  In Marpole a small parish feeds dozens of people each week and invites them to share in the supper of the Lord.  In Kerrisdale a deacon helps the stranger, the refugee, the elderly, the marginalized gain access to the government and social services that will perhaps give each person just a bit more dignity.  In congregations throughout the Lower Mainland we who know the shadows that darken our lives experience the light shone upon our darkness by loving communities of ‘help, hope and home’.

            Without the sending, we cannot live.

            If you travel from Tel Aviv today, you will pass through a tiny hamlet thought to be Emmaus.  From Emmaus you travel a winding highway that ascends the heights that lead you to Jerusalem.  Even with a four-lane highway caution is necessary.  Whenever I hear the story of the two disciples on their way to Emmaus, I remember my own journey and consider how perilous theirs was.

            Desolate and disillusioned, the risen Jesus gathered them, transformed and transfigured them with word and table, and sent them running back to Jerusalem to share the good news.

            Every Sunday the risen Jesus gathers people together, so that the Spirit can transform and transfigure us into disciples and agents.  Every Sunday you and I are sent running from this place to share the good news with our families and friends, in our workplaces, homes and neighbourhoods, by word and deed.

            And why?  Because without the gathering, without the transformation and transfiguration, without the sending, we cannot live.  Nor, I dare say, can the world.


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