Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Easter Every Time We Meet

I did not grow up going to the Easter Vigil. It's only been 15 or so years since I've experienced the drama of gathering in the dark to wait and watch for the resurrection of Jesus. Because of that, I came to the tradition of the Easter Vigil not as a wonder-capable child but as a hyper-rational adult who wants to understand how things happen. In the case of the Easter Vigil, I find myself wanting to know when it happened. When did Jesus pass from life to death? It's easy to think that it happens in the middle of the service, when we switch all the lights on and ring our bells and proclaim the first "Alleluia" of Easter, but that's not right. As the suggested words that the celebrant uses to introduce the Baptismal Covenant makes clear, our Lenten observance has already ended even though the lights are still off. So when does it happen? How do we mark it? I suppose, not unlike Tenebrae, we could have a character dressed as Jesus spring up from behind the altar and yell, "Happy Easter! I'm raised!" But that's silly. And it misses the point.

It's mystery. We gather not to witness the miracle of the resurrection but to bear witness to it--to celebrate it, to embrace it, to dwell in it. The gospel account itself drives this point home. In Luke's account, which we read this year, the women go to the tomb, see the angels, return to the disciples, but the episode ends while the revelation is still incomplete. The men considered the women's words to be nonsense. Only later on, when we get to today's reading from the Road to Emmaus, do we see the miracle of Easter take hold.

Two disciples are walking down the road from Jerusalem, discussing what had taken place. Although Cleopas and the other disciple do not recognize him, the risen Jesus comes to them, walks with them, and engages them in conversation. The recall the events of Jesus death and report that some women had gone to the tomb, seen angels, and report that he is alive, but they do so without conviction. In response, Jesus opens the scriptures to them, explaining why the Christ had to suffer, die, and be raised again. And still they do not know.

Later on the journey, as they come to their place of lodging, the disciples urge the stranger to stay with them. While at table with them, Jesus takes bread, says the blessing, and breaks it. In an instant their eyes are opened, and the recognize who was with them, and Jesus vanished. They raced back to Jerusalem to tell the others what they had seen, kicking themselves for not recognizing him or understanding what he had been trying to tell them. When they arrive, they discover that Simon, too, had had an encounter with the risen Lord. Luke, however, doesn't recall that moment for us. We don't get to hear first-hand how Jesus showed up and revealed himself to Simon Peter. Instead, Luke presents the power and revelation of the resurrection at a table with broken bread.

When we gather together and break bread in Jesus' name, we do more than remember what happened to Jesus in Jerusalem. We do more than recall the miracle and mystery of passion, death, resurrection, and ascension. We reconstitute them in our minds and hearts and lives. We re-member him. We make Jesus present with us as he was present with the disciples. The Holy Spirit brings Jesus to us and brings us to Jesus. When we gather at the table, Easter happens.

This is bold work. This is dangerous work. To encounter the fullness of Easter changes everything. It brings us with Christ from death to life. It moves us from grief to joy. It transforms us from lost to found. Nothing can ever be the same. Maybe that is clearest to us right now in the tragedy in Sri Lanka, in which hundreds of martyrs were killed as they gathered around the Lord's table. Although I haven't confirmed it, I read a story that a priest, after being warned that his life was in danger, refused to evacuate and stayed at the altar until the prayer of consecration had been said. The radical truth of our resurrection is real at the table. The table is where we find the risen Lord. May we never be the same.

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