Eat and Drink With Him

The Rev. Paul Nancarrow. This sermon is based on Acts 10:34-43.

“They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.

Years after the first Easter morning, years after the women had found the tomb empty and seen the angels, years after Peter himself had run to the tomb and looked inside, had seen the linen shroud lying there empty, as if the body it had wrapped didn’t need it anymore, years after he had been perplexed and amazed and not understood – years after all of that, Peter was preaching to the household of Cornelius the centurion, telling them the story of Jesus and why Jesus mattered. He came to the part of the story about Crucifixion and Resurrection. And after years of retelling the story and preaching the meaning and pondering the experience, Peter had the heart of the story down to one sentence:

“They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.”

Now that one sentence doesn’t have any of the drama of the Easter morning Gospel. There is no trip to the tomb in the early dawn. There is no appearance of angels, no terror, no sudden joy at the news that he is risen. There is no shock of remembering and recognition. That one sentence doesn’t have the “punch” that we expect of Easter morning.

But I like that sentence nonetheless. I like it for its simplicity. I like it for its mature confidence in the truth of what it says. And I like it because of the way it addresses head-on a problem that a lot of people have with the Resurrection story: the problem that only a few people see the Risen Jesus, and see him only under special circumstances.

After all, the death of Jesus had been very public: on a cross, beside the main road leading to Jerusalem, where crowds could gather and passers-by could mock, a street so busy and cosmopolitan that the charge against Jesus had to be written in Hebrew and Latin and Greek so all the travelers could read it. Lots of people had seen Jesus die, and the failure of his mission was common public knowledge.

Until a small group of people began to say that the story did not end there. A small group of people began to say that Jesus was alive, that Jesus had been raised to a whole new kind of life, and that the Jesus of Resurrection could share this larger life with those who came to believe in him.

And the thing I like so much about Peter’s sentence is the way it admits that this new kind of life is not common knowledge. It doesn’t appear to all the people. Resurrection is not available to the casual observer. Resurrection is not the kind of thing you can observe from the outside, in abstraction, as if you could hold it at arm’s length and say “Hm, I’m not sure if I believe in that or not” and make your own judgment about it.

Instead, Resurrection is something you witness by involvement. Resurrection is something you experience in relationship. Resurrection is something revealed in an inward transformation that comes through a shared connection. Or as Peter puts it so beautifully and simply, Resurrection appears to those who eat and drink with Jesus after he rose from the dead.

It’s surprising how many Resurrection stories in the Gospels revolve around eating with Jesus.

Two disciples travel on the way to Emmaus, and the Risen Jesus comes and walks with them, but they don’t know it’s Jesus – even while he teaches them about scripture and they feel their hearts come alight within them, they don’t know it’s Jesus – until he takes bread and breaks it, and they recognize him at once.

Jesus appears in a locked room to the whole company of disciples, and they’re terrified, they think they’re seeing a ghost – until Jesus says “Have you anything to eat?” and takes a piece of broiled fish and eats it in their presence. And in that shared meal they know that he has flesh and bones and life and reality, and he opens their minds to understand, and their lives too are changed.

Peter and the others go fishing but catch nothing all night long, until in the morning someone on the shore tells them where to put the net. And they all think it’s Jesus, but they can’t be sure, they don’t trust themselves to know, until he calls them and feeds them breakfast of bread and fish, and then they know it is the Lord.

What all these Resurrection stories have in common is that the disciples do not recognize the Risen Jesus until they eat with him, until they share the intimate, connecting relationship of sharing a meal. Resurrection is not available to the casual, disconnected observer. It is only revealed through the inner transformation that comes from a shared life-giving experience.

And this is still how we come to recognize the reality of Resurrection in our own day. We don’t believe in the Resurrection of Jesus because we were eye-witnesses of the Empty Tomb. We don’t believe in the Resurrection of Jesus because someone has come up with a plausible biological or medical explanation of how it could have happened – and, just as true, we don’t disbelieve it because medical science can’t explain it. We don’t believe in Resurrection because it is open to public view.

We believe in the Risen Jesus because we have experienced new life in ourselves with each other in the name of Jesus. We believe in Resurrection because our hearts have been warmed as we walk the path of compassion and service that Jesus shows. We believe in Resurrection because our minds have been opened to understanding as we have pondered and prayed and acted the words of Jesus together, with each other. We believe in Resurrection because as we come together, week after week, year after year, to break this bread and share this cup in Holy Eucharist, we have found a gift of new life that changes us and challenges us and stretches us and sustains us and loves us and makes us more than we ever could have been all on our own. We believe in Resurrection because we are witnesses of a new quality of life, and we have found that here, where we eat and drink with Jesus after he rose from the dead.

And so, as you come up here today to receive Communion on this Easter morning, as you come to eat bread and drink wine with Jesus after he rose from the dead, I invite you to think about how God is choosing you to be a witness of this new life. Think about where you experience life-giving relationship that makes you more alive than you could be on your own. Think about where you have known the power of new beginnings arising from the ashes of old failures. Think about where you can share hope and love and life where the world will see only fear and destruction and death. Bring those thoughts with you to Communion this day, and let the Spirit of the Risen Christ feed and nourish you with life.

“They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us testify that he is the one ordained by God to bring us life.”

Amen.

 

Comments

  1. anne hanger says:

    Wow! A really memorable sermon. Thank you and happy Easter.