Sunday, April 06, 2008


It wasn't until the breaking of the bread that they finally "got it." The despondent disciples were trudging their way home to Emmaus, trying to make sense of the heartbreaking events of the last weeks. They were still reeling with what they had seen with their own eyes: the triumphal entry into Jerusalem of the One they hoped would redeem Israel go quickly and tragically downhill -- ending with the trial, the conviction, the cross and the grave. None of it made any sense to them ... and what on earth were they supposed to do now?

And then they ran into this stranger -- and what were the odds they'd end up walking along with the only guy in Jerusalem who didn't know the story? It had been the lead on Headline News all week, for heaven's sake. Where had he been? And so they walked and they talked -- and he explained to them things they'd never understood before about the scriptures they shared as a common heritage ... and they still didn't "get it."

But that didn't stop them from offering the stranger hospitality. "Stay with us, for night is coming." they said. And so he did -- and he blessed the bread and broke it ... and their eyes were opened -- and suddenly they realized that one who had walked with them and talked with them on that long, dusty walk from Jerusalem was not just someone but THE One.

They "got it" -- they had a "glory attack" -- for they had seen the Lord: the Lord who had risen indeed, Alleluia, Alleluia!

As we journey together through this Easter season we hear again and again in the stories preserved for us in our scriptural record that the Risen Lord does not announce himself with Alleluias and Easter lilies – in fact, quite the opposite.

Mary Magdalene, the first to encounter Jesus in the garden at first thought he was the gardener – until he spoke her name. Running to tell the other disciples: they thought she was hallucinating – until he appeared to them in the upper room. Thomas, out of the room when Jesus showed up, thought they had ALL gone over the edge – until Jesus showed up again and said, “Here, Thomas – if what you need to believe is see my hands and my side, check it out.” And in this morning’s gospel, two heavy-hearted disciples walk and talk with Jesus for SEVEN MILES and still don’t “get it” – until he broke the bread, blessed it and gave it to them … and we are told “their eyes were opened.”

Over and over we hear the stories of our spiritual ancestors who had resurrection right in front of them and they couldn’t see it. The resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was not a one-size-fits-all experience – if it had been, we would have fewer resurrection narratives in scripture – and fewer clueless disciples in the narratives!

And yet I believe that in these stories of first century Christians there are truths that speak in a very particular way to us as twenty-first century Anglicans.

Our collective story tells us that it is most often in community – in communion with God and with each other – that we are given the grace to recognize the resurrection that so very often doesn’t look at all like we expected it to. And yet, there is deep irony that on this 3rd Sunday of Easter 2008 — as we are blessed to hear again about the transformative experience of those Road-to-Emmaus disciples who finally "got it" NOT in the Bible Study or in the theology class but in the breaking of the bread —there are members of our wider Anglican Communion family continue to insist we must limit those who are welcome at the table!

A sad case in point is this recent quote from a letter from Bishop David Anderson, president of the American Anglican Council. He wrote the following in his EASTER LETTER to the membership of his organization regarding the upcoming Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops to be held this summer in Canterbury: If those of us who are orthodox Anglican bishops had ... gone with our brother bishops from our respective overseas Provinces, how would we have entered into Eucharistic fellowship and communion with the bishops from the American Episcopal Church who are currently teaching false doctrine? To be in Eucharistic fellowship with them would require a profound change of mind and heart on their part, a return to historic orthodox Christian teaching and practice.

Really. That's what it takes to be in Eucharistic fellowship with a brother or sister Christian.

And where does he get that from, I wonder? Certainly not from the example of the Jesus who walked with those clueless disciples for seven miles on that road to Emmaus. Or am I missing something … did I miss a part where Jesus says, "In order for me to come the table with ya'll you'll have to convince me that your theology conforms with my doctrinal standards of orthodoxy."

I think not. But I know this part is in there: Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.

I have just returned -- and I mean "just" as in the-suitcase-is-still-in-the-hallway-and-I'm-not-sure-what-time-zone-I'm-in from meetings in New Hampshire with the steering committee of Claiming the Blessing -- the collaborative organization of national church leaders committed to the dream of fully including all of God's children into all of the church's sacraments.

We've been at it for awhile now — this work of inclusion proclamation — and while it is hard work it is good and important work and along the way we’ve learned to take care of each other … to set audacious goals and to celebrate incremental victories … and to be open to resurrection experiences that most often do not look anything like what we expected them to as we continue to pray God to open the eyes of our faith.

Here's what I know about eyes of faith: Eyes of faith see beyond what is to what could be; beyond what is not yet to what should be.

What did he see with his eyes of faith — the Baptist preacher whose dream of ending racism and segregation through non-violent civil disobedience inspired a nation and lived beyond his own violent death at the age of just 39? Marking the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. by celebrating his work and witness has given us, as a nation, the opportunity to mark how far we have come and how VERY far we have to go before the dream he dreamed for ALL Americans is not just a dream but a reality — to challenge us to refuse to settle for what is but to continue to work toward what could be: a nation where liberty and justice for all truly means all. May God open the eyes of our faith to see beyond what is … but make our nation all that it should be.

What did they see with their eyes of faith — those eleven who gathered in the house at the corner of Lake and Walnut around the bread and wine made holy 125 years ago and called themselves “All Saints Church?” Could they have even come close to imagining this church, this congregation; the work and the witness of this congregation with its decades of influential leadership in the city of Pasadena, the Diocese of Los Angeles, the Episcopal Church and -- increasingly -- the Anglican Communion? Did they insist on doctrinal agreement on every jot and tiddle before they gathered that first time -- or the second -- or the third? Or were they given the grace to focus their eyes beyond what was to what could be … beyond what was not yet to what should be?

What did she see with her eyes of faith — the young Queen Elizabeth who came to the throne of England as the pendulum was swinging between the violent persecution of first catholics and then protestants in the name of religious conformity -- bringing death, destruction and division to her people? (You ARE watching “The Tudors” … right???)

Did she — with her eyes of faith — see religious toleration that was impossible to imagine, much less envision, in the tumultuous crucible of the 16th century reformation in England? What did she see with her eyes of faith when she famously declared that she had "no desire to make windows into men's souls” and exclaimed "There is only one Christ, Jesus, one faith: all else is a dispute over trifles" -- crafting an "Elizabethan Settlement" that allowed the Church of England to claim a heritage both catholic and protestant -- holding in tension from its very inception those seemingly polar opposites as part of its identity as a particular people of God.

My Church History text tells me, "The significance of the Elizabethan religious settlement is that it was able to hold the vast majority of the people together, despite being a compromise few would have chosen."

The compromises we face in the 21st Century call us to dig more deeply into our 16th Century roots ... to claim with enthusiasm the heritage that gives us the ability to live with disagreement ... to honor the tension of diversity and focus on the things that bind us together rather than allow ourselves to be distracted by the things that threaten to divide us.

That, my brothers and sisters, is the ancient DNA coursing through the veins of this Episcopal Church as we strive to a Body that fully including all into its life and its work, its worship and its witness. That is both the genesis and genius behind "whoever you are and wherever you find yourself on your journey of faith there is a place for you here." That is who we are as a particular -- and some might say "peculiar" — people of God.

For at the end of the day, the problem in the Anglican Communion is not the wideness of the differences that divide us but with the narrowness of a vision that excludes the unexpected -- demands conformity of experience as a criterion for communion. Had the apostles succumbed to that temptation, Mary Magdalene’s resurrection witness would have been not only initially dismissed but ultimately lost to the ages. Had the disciples on the Road to Emmaus done that they would have let the stranger keep on walking and missed seeing Jesus in the breaking of the bread.

Allowing the church to eliminate the possibility of seeing Jesus in “the other” is nothing less than abandoning the tradition we inherit as Easter people – abandoning the very hope of the resurrection we celebrate in our Easter alleluias. And so, on this 3rd Sunday of Easter let us celebrate the work and witness of all those who have journeyed ahead of us — for Elizabeth and for Martin; for the two disciples on the Emmaus Road and for the eleven disciples in the Pasadena living room.

Let us give thanks for their eyes of faith that saw beyond what was to what could be — and let us pray God to give us grace to open our own eyes. For the gospel we serve deserves nothing less than our eyes of faith wide open — committed to seeing beyond what is to what can be; to looking beyond what is not and working for what should be. Alleluia. Alleluia. Amen.


edav38 said...

In the words of the youngest generation of "believer's"......."WORD" Susan.

You have spoken both eloquently and soundly here.

"I" may disagree with you on many topics, (Really!! :-), but in this we are spot-on-agreed.

As we move forward in this Easter season, Love and Acceptance of one-another is one of the ultimate goals that Christ set before us. It does not mean we have to agree on everything, it does not mean we have to like or accept each-others views. All we are asked by Christ to do is to Love and Accept one-anothers Rights as Believer's.

People can say what they like about how Queen Elizabeth I comported herself......But what they Cannot say is that she was wiling to accept a Divided Nation and Church.

Thus, why is it that the Bishops, Arch Bishops, ect. are all wiling to accept a Divided Church? Methinks they need to return to the ideals that QEI set forth, and realize that their own set of prejudices Are the cruxed of the problems within the Communion, Not that of those who are willing to accept All comers.

David said...

Susan, this is my favorite of all biblical stories and I am moved to tears reading your thoughts. Excluding the unexpected - what a powerful image! What a place the Church can be when we open ourselves to all of the wonder of God. Thanks for your ongoing, prophetic witness and courage!


LilBearSings said...

Just because David Schofield says his views are Orthodox doesn't make it true. Excluding people from Chirstianity on the basis of the gender of their beloved is not Orthodox. Jesus healed the Roman Centurian's beloved "neaniskos" and told those who witnessed that the faith of this Roman was greater than that of his fellow Jews. He did not give the man a lecture on how he should abandon the youth and stop making love to him. Jesus repeatedly used the example of love between same-sex, egalitarian friends as the example for all relationships. He did not condemn same sex erotism as a limitation to that love - he engaged in it himself and no amount of refusal to read the Gospel of John is going to make it go away. When we add in an understanding of his comments about Eunuchs, and his aggreement with Isiah's report that God never meant us to be driven out of the temple it's pretty hard to believe that Jesus would have condemned lovemaking between people of the same sex. Although early Christianity got side tracked into an anti-sex cult by many, heterosexuality wasn't lauded as something wonderful, or mandatory to exclusion of all else. It's just not there. Biblical historian John Boswell reported a 1,400 year tradition of Blessing of same sex unions in pre-modern Europe in "Same Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe". He further details the history of homophobia in the church exhaustively in, "Chirstianity, Social Tollerance and Homosexuality". The blessing of same sex unions IS an old tradition in the Church. Making heterosexual marriage a sacarment is only 500-600 years old. The oldest tradition of the Christian church is to demand that all human relationships be based on love. For most of it's history heterosexual marriage has been about property, family alliances, politics, preserving class and caste systems and money. These are all things that Jesus, and the early churches disdained. Marriage was thoroughly worldly. Making it Christian is a process not yet finished because it is STILL not consistently based upon love. There is NO other reason for same sex couples to exist than love for one another.

There is no excuse for ignorance of these things in Bishops. We should be able to expect that when someone is ordained Bishop they will not have a Napoleonic complex and lead a whole diocese out of the Episcopal Church because it does not embrace a fundamentalist theology. There are plenty of David Schofields in Evangelical, Fundamentalist, Pentacostal etc. churches. We expect them to be there, "bible kollage" certificates in hand. Why did they get to be in leadership positions in the Episcopal church? Of course they are wrecking havoc, it's their nature. What is the excuse of those who put them there?