A Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter. Readings for this Sunday: Acts 3.12-19; Psalm 4; 1 John 3.1-7; Luke 24.36b-48. Preached via Zoom to All Saints, King City, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, 18 April, 2021.
Video Version: https://youtube.com/embed/1-fCBje4eLA
41While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate in their presence. Lk 24.41-42
Why does the risen Jesus ask the disciples for a piece of fish? Maybe because he wants to put them at ease and help them get over the shock of seeing him. Maybe it’s because he wants to prove his physicality to them (after all, he’s just appeared among them, as if out of thin air!). Or, maybe because he’s just hungry.
As in all the post-resurrection accounts in the gospels, all three things seem to be at play. In each appearance Jesus strives to calm and reassure the disciples (his “peace be with you” (Lk 24.36 in today’s reading), while also nudging them into a new awareness of God’s kingdom that will equip them to become the resurrected body of Christ on earth, namely the church. And, in these accounts, eating and shared meals are important. So today I want to talk about how these stories, and particularly food, give valuable lessons in what it means to be church.
Besides the broiled fish in today’s gospel, there are two other such episodes that I can think of, the shared meal at Emmaus that happens just before this one (Lk 24.30) with its obvious Eucharistic overtones, and the breakfast that Jesus prepares for the disicples while they are fishing at the end of John’s gospel (Jn 21.12). In all these cases, something more than just eating is going on. We also see hospitality and sharing, we see an awareness of what it means to be God’s people, chosen and forgiven by God, and we see a movement out into the world to share God’s blessing with the world. In other words, we see the church in action.
Let’s start with hospitality. In today’s gospel, Jesus models what it means to be the hungry guest, calling on the gathered disciples for food. This is something more than friends getting together for a bite. Once Jesus taught his disciples that the kingdom of God was given to those who care for others: “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink , I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Mt 25.35).
Perhaps this isn’t a test, but it’s an intimation of the work of the church, that the disciples of Jesus are a community that exists to care for others. We saw a bit of that vision of that church taking shape last Sunday in our reading from Acts, when the early church pooled their goods and “distributed to each as any had need” (Acts 4.32-35). The lesson seems clear: for the church to be church, it must be a community that practices hospitality.
Let’s move to what it means to be God’s chosen and forgiven people. When Jesus appears, he says “Peace be with you”. Why does he say that? Well, yes, because he should be dead, and it’s unnerving that he just appears seemingly out of thin air, but also because these are his friends that abandoned him in the garden and denied him. Jesus chose these people and they betrayed him – as if that’s the first time such a thing has happened.
God’s people Israel did the same thing, rather frequently, really, but when he “opened the scriptures” (meaning the Hebrew scriptures), Jesus is pointing to this same story of God calling and forgiving God’s people, only this time putting the story in a new frame and new covenant. We see the same dynamic in our first lesson today, when Paul tells the people of Jerusalem that even though they gathered recently to call for Jesus’ death, God offers them forgiveness and reconciliation (Acts 3.19). Our faith is always about new beginnings. God is loathe to close the door against us.
Just as Jesus extends his peace to the disciples before eating with them, so is forgiveness built into our very worship. As church, we can only gather for the eucharistic meal after we repent and receive forgiveness. As called and forgiven followers of Jesus, we view each other across the Lord’s table as equals, invited only because of God’s grace. Here is the corollary to our call to feed the stranger – we do so because we are fed by Christ’s body and blood shared in love and grace. We have no right to expect this meal, which we receive in gratitude, and so we are reminded not to be condescending or ungracious to those we feed, for all of us are fed by God.
Finally, we are invited to share what we have received with others as part of our calling to be God’s blessing to the world. Our gospel ends with Jesus calling on the disciples to share “that repentance and forgiveness of sins” are to be shared with “all nations” (Lk 26.48). How does a small church do it’s part in this? Locally, and starting with food.
At All Saints we have abundant opportunities to do this, either by contributing to the King Food Bank (currently looking for tinned fruit or, as always, money), our monthly meals for the CrossLinks community (always ways to help there by offering to pay for ingredients) or to the larger communities we care about, including clean water in Pikangikum or the many local agencies we support through FaithWorks. When we talk about our mission as a church in these contexts, we are talking about an ethic of love and care that Jesus models in his simple words to the disciples, “Have you anything here to eat?”
Let me close with a word about Covid, which sadly is not going anyway anytime soon. While Covid prevents us from gathering together to share eucharist or church meals, it does not impede us from doing the missional things I just mentioned. We can still give and still donate and still find ways to help. We can still check on one another and make sure that those of us who are vulnerable have enough to eat and are looked after. But at the same time, we are lonely.
Many of you, I know, live alone. Our Bishop Andrew realized this when after he urged us to take comfort in our shared family meals, only to apologize when many in the Diocese reminded him that they eat alone. The single, divorced, widows and widowers, can’t share meals in this time of pandemic and quarantine. Nor we can we go to church and share in the Eucharist, as our Collect today painfully and unintentionally reminds us. So what personal comfort and solace is there for those sitting along at the dinner table?
“Oh that we might see better times!” says today’s Psalm. That lament rings true for us now, as does the reassurance of the psalmist, that God hears the calls of the faithful – and of the lonely. Get the vaccine, pray for our leaders to muddle their way out of this, but at the end of each day (for Psalm 4 is a nighttime prayer), let’s trust in the Lord who makes us dwell in safety.
And each day, as we sit down to break bread, imagine our risen Lord, who walks through walls to give peace to his followers, imagine that same Jesus sitting across from you. Draw comfort and strength from his presence, for no grave and no plague can keep Jesus from his people. Remember that we are church, and that we will gather again, to see our God clearly in the breaking of bread, in the teaching of the scriptures, in the sharing of bread and wine, and in the mission which he calls us to.