Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Dead Men Don't Eat Fish


This Sunday, in the Collect for the Third Sunday of Easter, we will pray, "O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work." In Year A (last year), we read the Easter story of the walk to Emmaus in Luke 24, where Jesus was revealed to two disciples when he broke bread with them. That seems to tie in well with the collect. In Year C (next year), we read from John 21, when the risen Jesus appears to the disciples by the sea, tells them to cast their net to one side of the boat, which produces a huge haul of fish, and then gives them a breakfast of bread and fish. That isn't quite as clear a connection as in Emmaus, but at least there is bread in the story. This year, in Year B, we read from a later passage in Luke 24, when Jesus appeared suddenly to the disciples, offers them his peace, invites them to touch himself, and then sits down to a breakfast of fish. There isn't even any bread mentioned! But, in one sense, I'm thankful.

Every Sunday, whether I am conscious of it or not, I am grateful that the Lord's Supper involves only bread and wine and not fish. Can you imagine the oblation bearers coming forward with a loaf of bread, a flagon of wine, and a plate of herring? The body of Christ, the bread of heaven. The blood of Christ, the cup of salvation. The odor of Christ, the fish-stink of transformation. Yuck. I like fish, but rarely do I eat it before the 8:00 service is finished. In this passage from Luke, Jesus is made known to his disciples not in the breaking of bread but in the eating of fish, but I'm thankful that we remember him in a loaf rather than a fillet.

In this Sunday's gospel lesson, hear how Luke describes Jesus' offering of himself as proof of the resurrection: "While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, 'Have you anything here to eat?' They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence." The point Luke is making is that dead men don't eat fish, or, more accurately, ghosts don't eat fish. Only living, breathing people eat breakfast. Jesus appears to the disciples and speaks peace to them, yet they are terrified to see him. He offers them the opportunity to examine through sight and touch his resurrected body, but they respond with joy yet still disbelieving and wondering. What a marvelous combination of identity. They possess the joy of encountering their risen Lord, yet they are caught up in the unbelievability of it all. So Jesus gives them something else: a chance to watch him eat. And Luke makes the point that he ate "in their presence," showing us the purpose of that meal.

Even though we won't hear about bread in the gospel lesson, we will gather and break bread together in Jesus' name on Sunday morning. The collect, of course, doesn't have to point explicitly to the lessons but can also possess reflections of our worship. We know Jesus in the breaking of the bread. When I receive Communion, I usually try to make myself conscious of Jesus' death and the forgiveness it offers me. This past Sunday, I had the chance to worship from the pew instead of the chancel, and before the service I prayed that God would make me deeply sensible of Christ's sacrifice for me. What a remarkably Lenten mindset! It's written into my Protestant soul. This Sunday, when we gather at the Lord's Table, we are invited to remember the Lord's resurrection--to seek a revelation of the risen Lord in the breaking of the bread. Perhaps instead of saying, "...eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee and feed on him in thy heart by faith with thanksgiving," we should say, "...eat this in remembrance that Christ was raised for thee..." Dead men don't eat bread or fish, and Jesus followers break bread not only to remember Christ's death but also his resurrection. May the risen Lord be present with us as we gather at his table.

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