The Episcopal Church of the Heavenly Rest
Sunday, April 10, 2016
The Third Sunday of Easter + Year C
First Lesson: Acts 9:1-6
Second Lesson: Revelation 5:11-14
Gospel: John 21:1-19
✠ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Several years ago, I discovered an interesting video on YouTube that was posted by an Episcopal priest. The video was entitled “Eucharistia,” the Greek word meaning, “thanksgiving” and the origin of the word that we use to identify our central act of worship in the Episcopal Church, the Eucharist.
What this priest created was a short vignette, a video meditation, about the significance of the Eucharist and its role in our walk with Christ. It featured a group of people gathered together in a large, open room. Among them was a shy young woman, a stranger to the group, who was reluctant to participate at first but eventually came to realize that what was happening around her was so important that she had to be part of it. One thing that made the video so captivating was that it was shot in the style of a silent film. So, the only thing that you could hear was a bit of instrumental music playing in the background. Essentially, it was a story told through actions and gestures rather than the spoken word.
The group sat in a circle on the wooden floor as they watched the priest prepare a place in the center for the Eucharist to be celebrated.
On a square piece of white cloth, the priest placed a ceramic chalice filled with red wine, a matching ceramic plate with a loaf of bread, and a wrinkly, folded up newspaper.
My first thought was, “I get why the bread and wine are there, but what’s going on with the newspaper? What’s that going to be used for?”
The prayer began. The priest held up the plate with the loaf of bread. Then, she lifted up the chalice of wine, and even though I couldn’t hear the words that were being spoken, I was familiar enough with the prayer that I could understand what was going on.
After the prayer, the bread was broken and passed from person to person, each one having the opportunity to share the Sacrament with the next person in the circle.
The chalice was passed in the same way. One by one, each person took a sip of wine.
Then, after everyone had received the bread and wine, something different happened, something that I had never seen before. The priest took the folded up newspaper, tore a piece of it off, and passed the rest of it to the next person. Likewise, the rest of the group did the same. The newspaper was passed from person to person, each one having the opportunity to tear off a piece and read it.
At first, it took me a moment to understand what was happening and why it was relevant to the Eucharist, but after a while, I began to realize that what the newspaper symbolized was the group’s connection to the outside world. All of a sudden, the boundaries of the circle faded away. For the group on the video, the newspaper served as a vivid reminder that what we do when we’re gathered around the altar is about much more than one single act of worship.
The Eucharist is not about serving ourselves. It’s about serving our Lord, the one who continues to send us out, beyond the walls of the church. Receiving the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood is not about feeding ourselves. It’s about feeding others, and contained within the pages of the newspapers of our lives are countless signs, pointing us in the direction of a world that is hungry for the Gospel of Jesus.
I can’t help thinking that the priest who created this video might’ve done so for the same reason that the author of John’s Gospel included the story from today’s lesson. Both serve as a reminder to all of us who are baptized into the Body of Christ, that the meal that Jesus once shared with his disciples on a beach by the Sea of Tiberius was not the last meal but the beginning of a meal that continues even today.
In the second part of today’s story, after Jesus joins his disciples and shares a meal with them, he takes Simon Peter aside and says, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” Peter replies, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”
“Feed my lambs,” Jesus says.
Then, he asks Peter a second time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter replies, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”
“Tend my sheep,” Jesus says.
Finally, Jesus asks a third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” By now, Peter, who is likely racked with guilt for abandoning Jesus in his time of need, understands what is happening. In an act of love and mercy, Jesus is restoring Peter to new life, but more than that, Jesus is commissioning him to be a source of new life for others. Peter replies to Jesus’s final question, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
“Feed my sheep,” Jesus says. “Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.”
Early Christian writings indicate that several years after Jesus’s death and resurrection, Simon Peter was arrested in Rome and crucified upside down at his own request because he felt unworthy to share the same death as Jesus. His death is only one example of what many of the first followers of Jesus were willing to do in order to proclaim the reconciling love of God, to give up their lives, inspiring countless generations of Christians who have followed in their footsteps- people like Martin Luther King, Jr., whose feast day the Church commemorated this past Monday, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian and pastor who was imprisoned and later executed for his opposition to Hitler and the Nazi regime. His feast day was yesterday.
The point, dear friends, is that the resurrected life that God desires for us is rarely easy. In fact, like Jesus says to Simon Peter, it may lead us to places that we do not wish to go. The resurrected life to which we are called continually draws us in and sends us out. It draws us in to nourish us and sends us out to nourish others.
In his book, Life of the Beloved, Henri Nouwen writes, “From the moment we claim the truth of being the Beloved, we are faced with the call to become who we are. Becoming the Beloved is the great spiritual journey we have to make. Augustine’s words: ‘My soul is restless until it rests in you, O God,’ capture well this journey.”
Being God’s beloved captures the essence of what it means to be a child of God. No matter who you are or what you believe, nothing can separate you from your belovedness.
But, the particular life to which we are called, as followers of Jesus, requires us also to become the beloved of God. It requires us to become Eucharist for other people, living bread, taken, blessed, broken, and shared for the life of the world. Just as Jesus made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread, Jesus continues to make himself known to us, and we continue to make Jesus known in the world when we participate in his saving work.
My brothers and sisters in the risen Christ, be the beloved children of God that you were created to be, but also work without ceasing to become that which you were created to be, that your souls may not find rest until they rest in God. Amen.
Click here to hear an audio recording of the sermon.