ďFeasting with Com-panionsĒ
††††††††† For the last three weeks, we have set out to define what a church at its best looks like; the characteristics of a church that is truly embodying Christ in its faith and life.† The first week we looked at Lukeís description of a church at its best in Acts, and we talked about how the church at its best is to be a special community that is committed to the apostolic teaching, that fellowships together, worships, serves and prays together, and that breaks bread together as it is united in its common mission and ministry in the world.†
The second week turned to the story of Jesus healing a leper in the Gospel of Mark, and we talked about how the church is to embody the compassion of Christ in its care and ministry to others.† A church that only looks to itself, that only cares for its own, that only focuses its ministry and mission inwardly, is a church that will not be where Christ is, is a church that will ultimately not survive.†
Clearly, one of the central themes of all of the Gospels is Jesus compassion with those who are the least, the lost, and the left out.† Clearly, it is Jesus who shows us that the church must have a heart of compassion, if the church is to follow Jesus and carry on his ministry.†
True compassion calls us to get up out of our comfortable pews, go out through the doors of the church, and to touch the lives of another, to bring reconciliation and healing where there is only fear and despair.† Jesus did not minister to people from a distance, beyond arms length, safe from all that plagues and destroys the lives of those in need, and neither should we.†
Jesus willingly walked into the private suffering and personal prisons of those who suffer, and literally took upon himself the suffering of the other Ė the cross as the greatest example Ė and so should we.†
The third week we focused on comfort and the importance of prayer.† Although I was gone from the pulpit last week, let me take a brief moment to reflect with you about my own understanding of comfort and prayer, and how they are important characteristics of the church at its best.
††††††††† We have been called to be a community, because at the very core of the Biblical witness is the ever present reality that God has created us for relationship; relationship with Him, and with others.† We are meant to be in relationship, not in isolation, we are meant to build relationships, not division.† A church that does not embody in its ministry and mission the new found relationship we have with God through Jesus Christ, is a nothing more than a club of individuals, and not the body of Christ.†
Baptism, my friends, is the sign and seal of this covenantal relationship with God and with one another.† It is Baptism, which gives us our new identity as Godís people, which incorporates us into Christ, and which unites us in the bond of unity with each other in Christ.† But first and foremost, Baptism, as well as Communion, is the visible sign of the invisible grace of God, the sign of the real presence and power of Christ in the church, the sign of the real presence and power of God in our lives.
††††††††† This is why we are called to comfort one another through prayer, because we stand not as one, but with the strength of many Ė with a great cloud of witnesses who have come before us.† We comfort one another through prayer, because we have come to know the power and strength of the living Christ, because there is someone who has also been through the darkest moments of human life, who gives freely the divine strength to endure, persevere, and withstand our own dark moments.† This is why a church at its best is a church that prays without ceasing, because through prayer we stand in solidarity with the other and pass on to them the power and strength of the living body of Christ.†
††††††††† Community, compassion, comfort.† These are the first three marks of a church at its best, the visible out-working of salvation and fruits of faith and discipleship.† And so we now come to the final week of our four-week series as we look at the final way the church at its best embodies Christ, which is the word Ė companion, which literally means ďthose who share bread with each other.Ē
††††††††† Our text for this morning is one of those great texts of the Gospel that stands as one of the pinnacles of our shared experiences with the living Christ.† It is the late afternoon on the first day of week, the first day of the Resurrection.† Just that morning before dawn, the women had discovered the empty tomb where Jesus had been laid, and by now word as spread like wild fire that Jesus had been raised from the dead, just like he had said.
††††††††† As the sun began to fall toward the horizon, two disciples were walking to a village called Emmaus.† They were talking with each other about all the things that had happened, when suddenly Jesus came near and went with them, but they didnít know who he was.† Jesus asked them what they were talking about, and one of them started telling him all about what had happened with the crucifixion and resurrection.†
††††††††† As the three of them approached Emmaus, the day was getting late, and the two disciples asked Jesus to come and stay with them.† When they were at the table, Jesus took bread, blessed it, and broke it, and gave it to them.† Suddenly their were opened, and they recognized him, and in a blink of an eye he vanished from their sight.
The two disciples rushed off to Jerusalem and found the eleven and their companions gathered together, and they told all of them what had happened on the way to Emmaus and how Jesus had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
††††††††† Did you hear the words?† Did you hear the words that we say every time we join together for the Lordís Supper?† Did you hear the words, ďJesus took bread, blessed it and broke it, and gave it to his disciples?Ē†
It is no coincidence that a church at its best is a church of companions, a church who shares bread together with each other, because it is in the breaking of bread that we the church come to encounter the living Christ, and it is through the breaking of bread that we become the body of Christ.
††††††††† But this is more than just about the Lordís Supper, this text is about all of those times that we gather together to break bread with each other, about all of those times that we spend in fellowship with one another at a table, whether itís in our homes, at a restaurant, by a crackling fire at a campsite, or at a fellowship meal at the church, or even in our school cafeteria.† This text is about what you and me and our common experiences, our common memories, our common story of why we are the church in the first place, and of the one who is our Lord and Savior.†
††††††††† Christ is found in our companionship, in our breaking of bread with each other at every table we sit at to eat and drink, because it is the resurrected Jesus who still visits us at mealtime, offering us the nourishment of the Spirit for our journey together, renewing us by our common memory of Christís life, death, and resurrection, and promise of return, binding us together with him and with each other, and uniting us in our common mission and ministry as his disciples.
††††††††† Are all of these other times when we eat together just like the Lordís Supper?† Are they also a sacrament?† No, the Lordís Supper we partake in during worship is the true sacrament and can never be substituted, but the other times that we gather together to break bread are certainly important to our faith and life as Christís church, because they offer us an opportunity to be with each other in the presence of Christ in our daily lives, they offer us an opportunity to renew our commitments to each other, to embody in our lives the special community we have been called to be in as Godís people, and most importantly to share in the hopes and dreams, and even the fears and pains, of those we call brothers and sisters.†
††††††††† Today in worship we will join together as companions and celebrate this feast at this table, as we remember and proclaim the saving death of our risen Lord in the breaking of bread and in the sharing of the cup.† Tonight we will join together again for another meal as we come together in fellowship at our last Sunday Night in November event.† And letís not forget that on Thursday, we will gather together with our families and friends and celebrate Thanksgiving.† We will gather around a table, bless the food, break bread, and pass the food around to each other.† We will get our fill of turkey and ham, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes and gravy, an assortment of vegetables, hot rolls, and of course dessert.† We will fill our bellies with food and drink, and then we will go take a nap.†
But at every one of these meals there will be another one with us, an unseen guest who comes as a companion to us, as one who comes with bread, the true bread from heaven.† And it will be at every one of these meals when we will get a glimpse, just a mere glimpse, a fleeting vision of the great meal that awaits us all, when we will join together in feasting with all our companions in Christ, the great meal of the marriage feast with the Lamb of God in all his glory.
Community, compassion, comfort, and companion.† These are the marks of the church at its best.† These are the ways in which we embody Christ in our faith and life as Christís church.† These are the ways in which we become the body of Christ in the world.† Amen.