If You’re Looking for Jesus
A Sermon Preached April 22, 2012 at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church Marietta, OH by Kelly Latimore of the Common Friars .
Before I came to Ohio in 2009, in the summer of 2008 I was preparing to leave on a delegation, with several others, to Israel/Palestine. It was my junior Year of college and I had been taking an Arabic course and reading about the conflict that has been going on in that region for thousands of years. The conflict was simply an issue for me, just as poverty, cancer, people with disabilities can all become issues. They are issues until we learn a man’s name on a street corner in St. Louis ,or my aunt who has had bouts of cancer her whole life, or my good friend near our farm who is a fifty year old ten year old who is the happiest man I have ever met. Poverty, Cancer and the developmentally disabled are not issues for me anymore, they are names and faces, and stories. I wanted to meet Palestinians and Israeli’s, Jews and Muslims; I wanted to meet Shepherds and Soldiers, Farmers, and shop owners and hear their stories. It would be the first and only time I have left the country. I was concerned about the history of the place and its people, of knowing enough Arabic and Hebrew to get by. My Mother was more concerned that I was a) not going to get hurt and b) not going to run out of sunscreen. This is what mothers do.
The week before I was to leave a woman in our Church approached me and asked if I would bring a rock back from the “Holy Land” for her. I said I would be happy to.
I Left, and after 2 weeks of eating with people, having conversations always over three or four rounds of coffee and tea, seeing the grand stones on the Jerusalem wall, after seeing a man choke another man before my eyes all over crossing a gravel road, rocks being picked up and thrown, Israeli’s standing in front of Palestinians to protect them and Palestinians doing the same, after seeing Jews and Christians and Muslims praying together, after all that stone throwing and walking on them, mountains made up of them I couldn’t take a rock, even a pebble from that place.
It took me some time to realize why I couldn’t do it. It took a shorter amount of time to realize why it was people have collected stones from that place for centuries, and why someone would need the “Jerusalem- Air-in–a- Can” that was in the library at the Church I grew up in. Why did people want these items? Why are we so obsessed with that place? I think the answer is rather obvious. It is because of a desire to be somehow, in some way, closer to Jesus. Closer to where he walked, to the air he breathed, mountains he slept, wept, prayed, and ultimately was crucified on, and buried in. I want to tell you that the Gospel we heard today is telling us that as beautiful as this “Holy land” is, and as important its historical significance is for us and many religions, if flying the several thousand mile journey, or seeking out these artifacts are our only tangible signs of making us feel the closest we could possibly be to Jesus then we are missing the point. And more broadly, that the reason the holy land is holy is not because of the historical significance of that place, and what has happened there, but because the holy land is a part of all the world. (Berry)
Whenever anyone meets the risen Christ in Luke or John there is a problem about recognizing him. We recently heard of Mary Magdalene confusing Jesus for a Gardener. As Jesus and the two disciples walk another gravel road in Luke’s Emmaus story (Luke 24:13-35) the two do not recognize him until an evening meal which suddenly becomes a Eucharist. It is here today Luke follows the story with another in which Jesus appears before the disciples and they take him for a ghost. Luke isn’t just including a silly superstition of the Apostles, but as Herbert McCabe explains, is actually making a serious point about death and resurrection and the physical world.
We like to think of heaven and hell as eternal, permanent destinies. Not so for the Hebrews, their tradition said that people were allotted a span of years, a lifetime. If God was favorable their span lasted at least 60 years and ten in peace, time to see their children’s children, and then Lord willing, they would return to their fathers. To die young was extremely unfortunate, to not live for your allotted time on this earth but in Shoel or Hell. If you died prematurely, your ghost was thought to wander around in a half-life state in the underworld. There was no more feasting or singing and dancing; none of the magnificent beauties of earth to be enjoyed. So the fact that Jesus died young, as we know it, short of his allotted time he was to miss out on all these joys and his ghost would be a sign of death; a sign of death conquering Christ. However, this is not what happened as we know. “By Christ’s death on the cross, because it was an act of love, Jesus conquered death.” (McCabe) The Underworld is not the rightful place for his body. This is why the tomb is empty. Instead here today we have a living Christ who asks his disciples to handle and touch him and to even eat with him, “Do you have anything to eat?” This is what freaks the disciples out. At first they, “saw Jesus as a manifestation of death, but they have to learn that he is a manifestation of life!”
This is why in almost every encounter Christ has after the resurrection with others in this Easter season is around food; food being the most common thing, besides breathing, that all humans have in common. Jesus indicated this before the cross, the synoptic gospels saying, “Jesus took bread and said this is my body, for you.” But another way to read it is Jesus saying if you are looking for my body this is it.” “Body” here doesn’t mean something distinct from soul or blood, it simply means Jesus. Jesus says, “Don’t go looking in the tomb or in heaven, look around you, look amongst yourselves, look at the food you eat together, look at the life you share together. This is the kind of thing my bodily presence is. When you are in communion. (McCabe) Don’t you think that after Jesus kept appearing to his followers around food that they began to realize that every time they ate together was a moment when Christ might show up? It has become something as simple as grain and grapes where our joy stems (contrary to today’s psalmist). The conventional understanding of creation, of the earth and all its creatures and life, and our relationship to it is to see human beings as stewards. I’m telling you this isn’t the case. A Eucharistic understanding of the relationship is to perceive the world-like humanity- was to be a place where God communed with his people. (Wells)The relationship of humanity to creation isn’t to ensure its flourishing, or prevent its extinction or worse, consume our allotted share of it and dominate it. Rather, it is to “bring creation into the relationship of praise and thanksgiving toward God epitomized by the Eucharist” (Wells)
Friends, Christ did not leave us to remember him in spirit alone, but in the physical, in creation, in the eating of bread and the drinking of wine. People eat to sustain the body. While the Eucharist is the special food of the Church, we look forward to every meal as a moment of encounter with the risen Christ. The Eucharist causes us to ask daily questions of how, what, and whom we eat with at our breakfast, lunch and dinner tables. Where is our food coming from? Who is producing and harvesting it? What are they paid? Are they paid? The meals we prepare and eat during the day are a witness to how the Eucharist has transformed us. For isn’t food always best eaten in the company of others? Strangers can become friends when you eat with them. When those we love, the hungry, strangers, perceived enemies gather around the common table, the Kingdom of God becomes plainly visible. As the Church becomes companions with the triune God and each other through the Eucharist, we hope we may become better companions with our brothers, sisters, friends, and strangers, the earth in our daily meals.
When we eat a meal we learn people’s names. In the same way if you’re looking for a way to be in communion with the earth, it is not with trees, birds, and people. It is with dogwood, red bud, indigo bunting and nighthawk. To recycle, and buy electric cars, or reusable grocery bags all help and have merit obviously, but being in communion with others and the earth is not so much about what we consume but about being consumed. In the Eucharist we are becoming what we eat! We are becoming the body of Christ through grain and grapes. Christ, the word that was with God at creation, the word made flesh in us and the entire created order. If Christians are looking for a way to respond to how we should treat the earth the start and lens we have to do something is at Eucharist.
Wendell Berry tells a story about Harlan Hubbard, a painter and naturalist who lived across the river in Kentucky. Harlan and his wife Anna spent 48 years living right on the Ohio River. When another local Ohio River town church asked him to paint a mural of the Jordan River above their baptismal he instead painted a picture of their own Ohio River. “If we who live in its watershed saw the river as he saw it, would it now be so shamefully polluted? Would we be strip mining its headwaters?” (Berry)
I never saw that woman who asked for the rock again, but I say to you what I might have said to her: I didn’t bring you a rock back, I’m sorry. But If it’s because you’re looking to be close to Jesus, look at this meal we are about to participate in, look at the others around you, who you’re eating with, look around your breakfast, lunch, office, and dinner tables, talk to someone face to face other than through a phone or email, look out your windows, go for a walk, go to the river and simply watch it, consider the lilies of the fields, and if you’re looking for a holy rock go look for one in your own backyard. Amen.