Text: Luke 24:35-48
In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Have you noticed that many of the post-Easter stories about the resurrected Jesus are centred on meals? The disciples recognized Christ in the breaking of the bread at Emmaus, and today Jesus comes among the disciples and shows his risen humanity by eating a piece of broiled fish.
Meals are a very central part of the ministry of Jesus. Some meals get him into trouble: when he chooses to eat with “sinners” and those outside the faith. Other meals are acts of abundance: when Jesus feeds the five thousand by taking what is available and blesses, breaks, and distributes it until and all are fed. His last evening of fellowship with his disciples is focused on a meal, during which he institutes the Lord’s Supper and the sacrament of the Eucharist.
Eating together is a sign of celebration; of relationships being lived out. Most congregations like having meals together because they like being with each other, eating good food. So do families.
There are sacred and holy things that underlie the common meal. We know they are signs of Christ’s risen presence among us. Jesus’ use of the Passover meal to institute the Mass ties the ritual meal (a meal recalling God’s deliverance) with a new relationship with Christ and one another. It becomes the spiritual meal that brings us all to a common table, in relationship with God and with each other. That is why the Mass has become central to our common life as Christians.
Healing is part of the experience of eating with the risen Lord. In the same way that Zaccheus was transformed from money-grabbing tax collector and cheat into a redeemed individual by eating with Christ, so our healing masses speak of being fed, of being healed. “There is nothing that a nice tin of Tomato Soup can’t cure” my Grandma Ross used to say, and all through my childhood, the comfort of food, shared with those who love us, warmed and healed. We take the healing seriously here, and believe that by the actions of laying hands, anointing with oil and becoming one with Christ at this altar has the power to transform: to warm, to heal.
Righteousness is also part of the meal experience: “righteousness” meaning right relationships based on the just treatment of all people. One fundamental difference between our world and that of the early church is that the early church existed in a world with a clearly defined ruling class and a subjugated class. So there were people with whom you ate, and people with whom you did not eat: Slaves, the disreputable, the poor, Samaritans, and gentiles were kept separate from those of wealth and privilege. Jesus re-wrote the rules by associating with and eating with people of all categories; they were all God’s people to him.
It is so easy in a Church to become insular, and to look inwards, rather than as the Gospel calls us to look out and to reach out to those around us. Church should not and cannot if it is true to the Gospel be composed of “people like us”. I read with some shock this week of an American Church setting up inside one of those “gated communities” where you can only get into that Church if a resident of the community escorts you in and signs to vouch for you – where is the Gospel in that, I ask you? The Church is not some cosy social club which excludes and separates and looks with suspicion on the strange, the dysfunctional, the unloved and the unlovable, but rather a banquet of welcome where everyone in their loveliness, their strangeness, their unconventionality and their repulsiveness are welcome to eat with the Christ who bids them come. We strive to extend that welcome, for it is by our hospitality that we will be known, and we will conform to the shape of Christ.
Finally, the meal becomes a source of our hope. The mass proclaims the death and resurrection of our Saviour, and with each Mass comes a new hope and a new beginning. At the centre of the Resurrection is the meal of celebration: bread and wine transformed into body and blood. Christians understand other meals in relationship to the Eucharist, and when they include all who are hungry or thirsty, they are a foretaste of that heavenly banquet where we will one day feast with him in paradise.
The disciples knew the Lord Jesus in the breaking of the bread. Come and be a part of that, my dear friends…