April 26, 2020



Psalm 116
Luke 24:13-35

In the Breaking”

I continue to be amazed, day-by-day and week-by-week, as we continue through this strange and difficult time of a world-wide pandemic, that Jesus keeps showing up beside us on our journey. I can personally say that each and every week of this lockdown, I have received the lectionary readings as a gift that have helped me through and given me encouragement and strength to keep going. I have not found it a struggle to preach during this time, because every week we have been blessed with another word of love, compassion, and hope for the future. And this week was no exception.

The story of the two disciples walking sadly away from Jerusalem on the road to Emmaus, is a favourite for many Christians. In the midst of our own grief, loss, and confusion, we are reminded that Jesus comes to us, and walks with us, and reveals himself to us in love. Although one of the disciples is named Cleopas, we don’t know the name of the other. And so we may imagine ourselves in his place, walking with Jesus, learning from him, beginning to recognize his presence, and being sent to share the good news with others.

Their situation was not unlike ours in Canada this week. They had just been through the most traumatic weekend of their lives. The leader of their movement and their good friend, Jesus, had been unjustly arrested, unfairly tried, sentenced to death, cruelly tortured, and then killed. It was the kind of experience that we know today causes PTSD, and there were no grief counsellors or mental health professionals to provide assistance to them.

Of course, from here in Saskatchewan, we only watched and worried and felt for the people of Colchester County in Nova Scotia this week. We listened to their accounts of the violent rampage that stole 23 lives and struck fear into the hearts of the whole community. We prayed for them, and cried with them, and hoped for them, and pledged to walk with them in the days ahead.

As the Moderator, I wrote a pastoral message on Sunday night which was shared across the church on Monday, expressing condolences and prayers for all those affected. But on Tuesday morning, my heart broke again when I learned that there were Presbyterians among those who were killed. Not that the lives of Presbyterians are any more valuable than others. Indeed, as the author of Psalm 116 says, “The deaths of [all] God’s holy people are precious to God.”

But suddenly I felt a real connection with the community that had lost so much. Another Presbyterian congregation, just like ours, but in Truro Nova Scotia, had just lost two members because someone had burned down their home with them inside.

In that moment, as I cried for that community and for their minister who would be caring for them through this deep loss, God provided me the Scripture I needed to process what was happening. I was just in the middle of reading a reflection on Luke 24 in which a couple of Jesus’ disciples are walking on the road to Emmaus, having left Jerusalem in disappointment, confusion, and grief following Jesus’ death.

The reflection pointed out several surprises in the story. The first is that Jesus appears not in the major city of Jerusalem, but on a minor road to an obscure village. The second is that he appears not to Peter, James, Mary, or Joanna, but rather to two previously unknown disciples.

Although we were all surprised and horrified by the tragic events of last weekend in the tiny villages of Portapique, Wentworth, Glenholme, Debert, Shubenacadie, and Enfield, we should not be surprised when Jesus shows up to walk beside those whose lives have been shattered by this evil and violence. Just as Jesus appeared to walk beside the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, we should expect Jesus to come alongside our friends in rural Nova Scotia, and to care for them in their sorrow and sadness.

The third surprise of the story is that the disciples don’t recognize Jesus at first. Though these two followers of Jesus originally had staked their lives on the idea that he was the Messiah; and though they’re heartbroken to have those hopes dashed; and though they’ve spent many months, perhaps years, walking with Jesus and listening to him along roads just like this one – still, they don’t recognize him. He’s right there, talking with them, walking beside them – and they don’t know it’s him.

One possible reason is that their eyes are veiled with tears. Perhaps their sadness and anxiety have turned them inward, away from the world. They’ve lowered the shades, we might say, from within the house. Jesus is right there, standing outside – but they’re not looking.

Later in the story, they do see him. Jesus is “made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” Luke does not say, made known to them in Emmaus. Nor does he say, made known to them in the bread. It’s in the “breaking” that he is made known – that is, in the taking-blessing-breaking- and giving at the table. He is made known, in other words, in tangible acts of love in community.

Very often, when Christians read this story, we conclude that Jesus’ presence is revealed to us in a particular and special way in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. When we gather at the Communion Table and remember Jesus, when we break the bread and share it, our eyes are opened, and we recognize him.

Certainly, that is true, and it is a wonderful gift to be able to celebrate the Sacrament, to recognize the real presence of Christ among us, and to be strengthened for the journey ahead and our mission as his people in the world.

But the story points to much more than a sacramental rite that happens when communities of Christians are able to gather together. In this time, when love for one another requires us to stay apart, we are nonetheless able to recognize Christ’s presence whenever we engage in tangible acts of love for one another, for our neighbours, and for those we may have never met, but who particularly need to experience Jesus’ loving presence with them at this time.

It was the word “breaking” that really struck me in the text. Because it’s not just about “giving” bread to others or “sharing” bread with others. It is in the “breaking” of the bread that the disciples recognized him.

Remember, the bread is not just bread. The bread represents and carries all the significance of Jesus’ own body, his whole life and self that was broken for the sake of the world and all the people that God so loves. The cup of wine is not just wine. The wine represents Jesus’ blood and carries all the significance of his own life being poured out because of his love for us.

And we will see Jesus among us, not only when we share the Lord’s Supper together, but when we (as the Church, the Body of Christ in the world) allow ourselves also to be broken and given in love for the world, in compassion for those who suffer, in sacrificial giving for those who are in need.

Even in the difficult context of physical distancing, this week we have witnessed many tangible acts of love in community. We’ve seen memorials and tributes at the roadside in Portapique. Letters and notes and messages of love have been shared in all kinds of ways with the family and friends of those killed.

A community-organized vigil was broadcast on Friday to honour those who died, and was shared by Canadians across the country. The local county has pledged support for funeral costs, online giving opportunities have been set up so that others can help, and I have no doubt that those in the surrounding area are flooding those families with food and other forms of assistance.

One of the most meaningful parts of Friday’s vigil, “Nova Scotia Remembers” was the reading of a poem by Sheree Fitch.

Sometimes there is no sense to things my child
Sometimes there is no answer to the questions why
Sometimes things beyond all understanding
Sometimes, people die.

When it hurts like this, my child
When you are scared, suffering, confused
Even if we are not together
Together, let us cry

Yes, there is still so much love
Because we love, we cry.

Sometimes the sadness takes away your breath
Sometimes the pain seems endless, deep
Sometimes you cannot find the sun
Sometimes you wish you were asleep.

When it hurts like this, my child
When you are scared and confused
Even if we are not together,
Together, let us cry

Yes, there is still so much love
Because we love, we cry.

Wish that I had answers, child
Wish all this wasn’t so
There are impossible things, child
I cannot bear for you to know .

When it hurts like this, my child
When you are scared and confused
Even if we are not together,
Together, let us cry

Yes, there is still so much love
Because we love, we cry.

None of this will magically resolve the pain or wipe away the horror of what happened. Of course, there will be tears and deep sadness, and likely anger and confusion in the hearts of those communities for some time. But my prayer is that as we walk together and care for one another in tangible acts of love, that their eyes too will clear enough for them to recognize that Christ is present with them even now.

Even as we have come face-to-face in this week with evil, hatred, darkness, and death, may we know and experience without a doubt that goodness is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate; light is stronger than darkness; and life is stronger than death.

Christ is risen! Jesus walks beside us, and he is being made known to us in the breaking of the bread. Amen.