Jesus appears in the breaking of bread…

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Luke 23:13 Now on that same day two of (Jesus’ disciples) were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened (Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion). 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him… 28 As they came near the village to which they were going, (Jesus) walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 

Each time I read this story, or other stories describing Jesus’ appearance after his resurrection, I wonder why so many people initially fail to recognize who he is. This was true of women who visited his tomb on the morning of his resurrection, these disciples walking with him on the road to Emmaus, or other disciples seeing him while they were fishing. There are a couple of possibilities that come to mind as to why this happened.

First, it could be that Jesus simply looked very different after his resurrection. The people before whom he was appearing had seen him many times before. There’s nothing to suggest that their vision was impaired and the bible texts give no explanation. Makes me  wonder if we too will look different after we are raised from the dead.

A contributing factor may be the fact that people didn’t expect to see Jesus after his death. I mean, Jesus was brutalized, beaten, broken before he actually died. At the very least one would have expected to see evidence of this brutality in Jesus appearance after his resurrection. Right? I don’t know.

Ultimately we are left to guess at these things. What we DO know is that Jesus was revealed to the disciples in the breaking of the bread. There is something powerful present in the Lord’s Supper. I can’t explain it, but it’s true. Some of the most poignant moments of my pastoral ministry have occurred in the consecration and distribution of communion. It’s a holy and sacred act we do in community. And, in a very real way, Jesus comes to us through bread and wine each time we come to the Lord’s table.

Come, Lord Jesus. Come. Amen.

Intimate and brutal…

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Luke 23:50 Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph, who, though a member of the council, 51 had not agreed to their plan and action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea, and he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. 52 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53 Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid. 54 It was the day of Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning. 55 The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. 56 Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments. 

As I was discussing this text with a friend we wondered about v.56. These women anointed Jesus’ body, which would have been brutally mangled. Jesus was beaten, whipped, stabbed with a spear, pierced with nails in his hands and feet. His body would have been bruised, swollen in places, bloody, dirty. Imagine then rubbing your hands along the contours of Jesus. Washing off the blood. I wonder if they were praying as they did this. Or crying. Or something else.

When I searched for pictures/paintings of Jesus’ burial most of them are like the one above. Jesus is mostly intact, little blood or damage to the body is depicted. I expect the reality was very different.

Lord Jesus, this morning we remember the women who served you in this brutally intimate way. Give us grace to serve you in the messy things of life. Amen.

Never too late…

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Luke 23:39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” 

Jesus is on the cross. Many bystanders, especially religious leaders, tended to mock him, deride him, rebuke him. Two convicted criminals were hanging on either side of Jesus. One mocked him along with the others, but one defended Jesus. Then in v.42 he makes a statement of faith “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Again I’m struck by how different kinds of people understood who Jesus was. People of power and privilege saw in Jesus a rabble-rouser who flouted conventions and spent time with the wrong kinds of people. They did not consider him a respectable leader, despite the amazing deeds of power he performed.

But people on the margins, the poor, the sick, the sinners,  saw one who loved them and welcomed them even as most others rejected them. They didn’t just see the signs and wonders. They saw in Jesus hope that God the Father might actually receive them into his family and claim them as his own.

I recently went to visit a family friend who is near the end of life. A family member of his asked me to pray for him. Before I prayed I asked if the man was a Christian because I wasn’t really sure. His son told me he wasn’t sure either. The man certainly was not a church-goer, but that’s not necessarily the defining characteristic of a Christian. As I leaned over the man, and made the sign of the cross on his forehead, I thought about this story. I remembered that it’s never too late for someone to acknowledge Jesus as Lord. And so in that spirit I prayed for the Lord to recognize this dying man was one of his own, a sheep of his own flock, a child of the family of God. The rest I will leave to the Lord.

Heavenly Father, today I pray for those who today may be far from you. It’s never too late for people to recognize who you are, even in their final moments on this earth. Draw them, and us, closer to you dear God. Amen.

An ordinary day… becomes something else…

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Luke 23:26 As they led (Jesus) away (to be crucified), they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus. 

This little detail got my attention this morning. We don’t know anything else about Simon of Cyrene except that he carried the cross for Jesus, who was to be crucified. I would guess Simon was surprised by this. Luke says that he was simply “coming from the country” when he was pressed into service. I doubt Simon had any idea, when he woke up that day, that he would be part of a drama that would literally change the world. Or that his name would be forever remembered as one who did a kindness for our Lord Jesus during his final moments on earth.

But that’s how life goes sometimes. What appears to be an ordinary day ends up being something else entirely. Both blessings and tragedies will come upon us when we least expect it. Small acts can become so much more with time. I wonder today what the Lord has in store for me, for you, for us. I just want to be ready.

Lord let it be so. Amen.

Ruth and Naomi… and selfless love…

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Ruth 1:2 The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion (an Isrealite family). They went into the country of Moab and remained there (due to famine). 3 But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4 These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. When they had lived there about ten years, 5 both Mahlon and Chilion also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband…7 So she set out …back to the land of Judah. 8 But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back each of you to your mother’s house. May the LORD deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me …14 Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. 15 So she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16 But Ruth said, “Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17 Where you die, I will die— there will I be buried.

With her husband and sons dead, there was nothing left for Naomi (a Jew) in Moab. Better to return to her homeland of Israel and grieve among her own people. She suggested her daughters-in-law Orpah and Ruth should stay in their native Moab, find new husbands, and make new lives for themselves. Hard to argue the logic. Orpah doesn’t like the idea, but eventually relents and stays in Moab. Ruth is different. In v.16-17 she offers a statement of fidelity to Naomi and vows, “Where you go, I will go…”.

It’s a moving scene really. But why? Why did Ruth insist on going with Naomi when it made no sense to do so? Part of the answer may lie in the cultural reality of being a widow in ancient times. Naomi had no husband or sons to look after her and was too old to start over. Thus, she had no obvious means of support. She might be taken in by relatives, or she might not. Things could get very rough.

Ruth, however, was a young woman. Though a native of Moab, she was willing to follow the God of Israel (v.16) and thus could marry an Israelite as a religious convert. And, as such, she could compel an Israelite husband to take Naomi into their household. I’m sure there’s more to this as we will read later in this book. But you have to admire Ruth’s sense of duty and willingness to endure hardship for the sake of someone else. That is what “agape” love looks like, I think.

Lord, teach me to love like Ruth. Amen.

 

What happens when we do what is right in our own eyes?

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Judges 21:25 In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.

This is the last verse in the book of Judges. I know I just wrote about this a couple of days ago, but it fascinates me. In the latter portion of the book of Judges, the tribes of Israel go to war against one of their own – the tribe of Benjamin. The army of Israel wipes out nearly the entire tribe of Benjamin, man/woman/child/animal, then allows the surviving men of Benjamin (a few hundred) to abduct some young girls of a particular town in Israel and take them as wives. Read chapter 21 of Judges. It’s seriously twisted.

But this is what happens when people govern themselves according to what seems right to people. It’s Lord of the Flies kind of stuff. True, even when nations attempt to adhere to a Judeo-Christian worldview, people screw it up. But at least there is something to guide us when we go off the rails. The teachings of faith may eventually be brought to bear as corrective to a secular humanist worldview gone wrong.

As you can imagine by now, I have concern for our nation. We have never been a true Christian nation, but history suggests our culture has been fundamentally shaped by a Judeo-Christian worldview. That said, the USA is working very hard to distance itself from paradigms of faith and embracing secular humanism. Here’s one definition of secular humanism:

Secular humanism is a philosophy or life stance that embraces human reason, ethics, and philosophical naturalism, while specifically rejecting religion, as the basis of morality and decision making.

Exactly. God, help us. Amen.

Our God is not neat and tidy…

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Psalm 105: 37 Then he brought Israel out with silver and gold, and there was no one among their tribes who stumbled. 38 Egypt was glad when they departed, for dread of them had fallen upon it. 39 He spread a cloud for a covering, and fire to give light by night. 40 They asked, and he brought quails, and gave them food from heaven in abundance. 41 He opened the rock, and water gushed out; it flowed through the desert like a river. 42 For he remembered his holy promise, and Abraham, his servant. 43 So he brought his people out with joy, his chosen ones with singing. 44 He gave them the lands of the nations, and they took possession of the wealth of the peoples, 45 that they might keep his statutes and observe his laws. Praise the LORD!

What sticks out for me in this passage is the neat and tidy nature of this narrative. The ugly, messy parts have been stripped out. V.40 mentions quail the people received. Well, what it doesn’t mention is the reason for this mass of quail. God sent the quail because the people were grumbling about having to eat manna all the time, but no meat. Fine. So God made the people eat so much quail it made them sick. The quail wasn’t a gift but a form of punishment for complaining against God.

V.41 mentions God bringing forth water from a rock, which he did through Moses. However, the second time Moses tried this, he struck the rock twice, not once. God perceived this second strike as a form of faithlessness on Moses’ part. It was a principal reason why Moses was not allowed to actually enter the Promised Land after leading the people for 40 years on the way. There is more, but I’ll move on.

One of the things I like most about bible stories is the messiness the stories reveal. God and the Israelites fight about as much as they get along. People rebel against God more than they follow him. God spends much of the Old Testament commanding the Israelites to kill every man, woman, and child – even livestock – among the tribes already occupying the Promised Land. “Leave nothing alive” is a common refrain. God even gets mad when the Israelites don’t kill EVERYTHING. Yet today we say “God is love”. God is indeed love and mercy and compassion, but God is much more. God is also fierce and jealous and ready to take his own people out when they fall short of faith.

And in some ways, this dimension of God appeals to me. A nice, neat God at the foundation of a nice, neat faith doesn’t appeal. Life isn’t nice and neat and tidy and predictable, so neither is our God. Some of you reading this post won’t like me saying so. Okay. But even a cursory reading of the bible, from beginning to end, reveals a complicated God that resists being domesticated to our ideals of who believe God should be.