The Third Sunday of Easter
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
Fr. Charles Everson
April 23, 2023
I’m not sure about you, but my social life isn’t what it was before March 2020. Before most people knew what a coronavirus is, back when pandemics were mostly talked about in horror movies, Jay and I were in the practice of entertaining at our home several times per month, breaking bread with friends and family alike. Fast forward three years, and we seem to share a meal with friends less frequently than before. I was talking with one of our parishioners the other day, and she too commented on this phenomenon and how isolating and lonely it is. It seems to be a common experience for single and married people alike.
Of course all of this began with an abrupt and sudden upheaval of the world that resulted in not only the isolation and loneliness that has lingered so long, but despair. But even the darkest despair we may have felt during that first year of the pandemic can’t have been as deep as the despair felt by the two disciples in the gospel lesson we heard today.
On the afternoon of the first Easter Day, these two disciples are walking on the road to Emmaus from Jerusalem, the place where they witnessed the torture and execution of Jesus, the one they hoped would redeem Israel from all of her troubles. They heard that some women had claimed that an angel told them he was alive, but these two aren’t buying it. They are sad, confused, and full of despair.
As they are talking and discussing the fateful events they witnessed, Jesus shows up, but for some reason, their eyes are kept from recognizing him. He asks what they’re talking about, and they respond by telling him about their shattered expectations. Jesus then begins to teach the two travelers and explain to them how the crazy events they had experienced were the fulfillment of the scriptures of old.
They still aren’t convinced, but when Jesus tries to leave and head another direction, the two disciples urge him strongly to stay with them. Even though they still don’t recognize him, his preaching and teaching from the scriptures apparently have had enough impact on them that they want to spend more time with him. When they sit down at the table, he takes bread, blesses and breaks it, and gives it to them, and suddenly their eyes are opened! They realize that the man standing before them is the one in whom they placed all their hope. The women who experienced the vision with the angel weren’t insane after all. He is risen indeed! Jesus finally makes himself known to them in the breaking of the bread.
Now don’t mishear me. As a priest, my duties include preaching and teaching the scriptures as I’m doing right now, and that certainly has its place. But preaching and teaching only reach so far into the depths of one’s being.
From about age 11 to age 24, I was Southern Baptist, and was taught that the normal way to commune intimately with God is by having what is called “a quiet time,” time by yourself in a room with a Bible, praying and studying the scriptures. Also important was being in corporate worship and listening to sermons much lengthier than the one you’re enduring right. For me, anyway, there was something missing that I couldn’t quite put my finger on…
…until one day that when walked into an historic church Paris, France. I was living in Paris and working as a Baptist missionary, and I sang in a university choir that allowed anyone to try out and join. My first concert with them was in the 13th century church called St. Etienne du Mont, St. Stephen of the Mount. We sang a choral Mass setting – I forget the composer – in this amazingly gorgeous and historic church that was served by Maurice and Marie-Madeline Durufle as staff musicians for many years, and it dawned on me that we were singing a Mass setting in a church in which the Mass had been celebrated daily for at least 475 years (with a slight pause at the French Revolution). I had seen their service times on the way in, and decided to attend their simple daily Mass the next morning at 8:30 a.m., and it was at that service that I literally recognized the Lord in the breaking of the bread. When Fr. Stéphane elevated the consecrated communion bread for all to behold, my eyes were opened, and I recognized Jesus and knew what it was I had been missing.
Part of what hit me that day is that salvation isn’t merely a spiritual redemption of our hearts, it’s almost a physical redemption of our bodies. God’s grace is more than a feeling, and thank God, because sometimes I wondered whether the funny feeling right here is the voice of God or indigestion. God’s grace is more than a feeling, and God sent Jesus to redeem our whole selves – heart, soul, mind, and body. He doesn’t only share his love grace with us by intangible means like quiet prayer and reflection, but perhaps even more importantly by tangible fruit of the earth and work of human hands, the simple creatures of bread and wine. God didn’t send his son to redeem us as a disembodied spirit, but as a human being with flesh and blood and bones. He doesn’t send his Holy Spirit to us and leave us wondering whether the voice we’re hearing is the voice of God or a ghost; he has given us the sacraments of the church – especially Baptism and Communion – as “a sure and certain means” by which we receive God’s inward and spiritual grace.
As soon as their eyes were opened, the first thing the disciples did – the same hour, they got up and found their friends to joyfully tell them that the Lord has risen indeed and that he has been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
This sharing of the faith, sometimes called evangelism, conjures up images of street preachers with megaphones and door-to-door missionaries in foreign countries. But evangelism at its best is the natural sharing of the faith with those you already know and have a relationship with. While it should be intentional, evangelism should not be judg-y or pushy or disrespectful. When we encounter God in our lives – through prayer, through the hug of a friend, through the scriptures preached and taught, and through the bread and wine of Holy Communion – it’s natural to want to share the joy of that encounter with others in word and deed.
And this leads us to the blessing of the new shrine of St. Luke “the Evangelist.” When this parish church began in 1854, we were called St. Luke's. The Vestry voted to change out name to St. Mary's nearly twenty years later to avail itself of the provision in Mary Ann Troost's will that a plot of land at 13th and Holmes be given to an Episcopal parish called St. Mary's. If you've ever been here on St. Luke's Day in October, you've heard me do my best to keep the stories of our forbears alive - the key people, some of the events, and the spirit of reckless abandon in which the clergy and people spread the gospel in the fledgling "Town of Kansas" (now Kansas City) following the example of St. Luke the Evangelist.
St. Luke, the apostle who is traditionally known to have written the gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, was a companion of St. Paul on some of his missionary journeys, and he was also a physician who used his medical skills to heal people’s bodies as well as their souls. As you’ll see in the details of the icon itself, Luke is also honored as patron of artists. According to tradition, he was the first person to paint an icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary which he is holding. We return to our roots today by dedicating this new shrine which invites us to connect with the apostolic witness of St. Luke and his writings, inspires us by his example of evangelism and healing and artistic beauty, and invites us to ask for his prayers and protection.
Dear friends, as we break bread together in a moment, let us ask the Lord to open the eyes of our faith. You may have heard the scriptures preached and taught throughout your life and you mentally assent to belief in Jesus, and yet something seems missing. You may recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread as you have for the past several decades of your life. You may think the whole resurrection of Jesus is a load of hogwash. No matter how isolated or lonely or full of despair you may feel, no matter how your hopes may have been crushed, like the two travelers on the road to Emmaus, you are invited to recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread. We break bread not in isolation, but in community with one another. And here at St. Mary’s Church, we affirm that God meets you where you are, no matter where you are in your journey, no matter your station in life.
At St. Mary’s, we have services every day, and I end up celebrating the Eucharist 2-3 times a week. Twenty years later, it is quite common for me to elevate the consecrated bread and be taken back to that time when I was a Baptist missionary in Paris at the age of 23…when I first recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread. As we break bread together today, may you and I behold Jesus in all his redeeming work. Amen.
The sermons preached at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!