The Third Sunday of Easter
Coming to the Table
“Then He opened their minds to understand”
Instant mashed potatoes! Now, I am positive that many of you out there this morning will strongly disagree with me, but I swear that one of the absolute most delicious meals that I have ever had in my entire life consisted of one simple bag of instant mashed potatoes. Let me put in context for you. In the summer of 2001, four of my best high school friends and I set out to backpack the Tahoe Rim Trail, an incredibly beautiful one hundred and sixty-five mile trek around the peaks of Lake Tahoe. Throughout this challenging yet completely amazing journey, from high altitude peak to sandy lake shore, from dry Nevada desert to lush California green, many memories were collected and will forever be close to my heart. One memory in particular, however, will always stand out, and that is of the absolute divine experience that is instant mashed potatoes.
So there we were, my buddies and me, about a week into the two week trip, and thus far sustaining ourselves on a diet of peanut butter tortillas, ramen noodles, granola bars, and lemonade drink mix, when during a particularly dreary evening packed inside our tents, I decided to pull out a little surprise dinner treat that I had picked up on our last pass through civilization: instant mashed potatoes. Three cheese flavored mashed potatoes actually, and though I know it sounds totally strange to you all now, I look back on that event and honestly call it spiritual. You see I call it spiritual because somehow that event changed us. Somehow that experience altered what it was that we were doing. It was that event that transformed us, transformed us from a group of friends sharing a meal in the mountains, to a band of brothers, brothers in Christ, breaking bread in God's paradise and presence.
I kid you not, those instant mashed potatoes became our sacrament. They became that which brought us together for our nightly ritual of passing and taking turns in eating from the holy skillet, only one spoonful at a time of course, and they became that which kept us going during our long days, supportive, encouraging, unified. Now, looking back on it, I of course realize that that transformation actually had nothing to do with the food we were eating, even though I must admit that the amazing experience of the mashed potatoes was like a firework explosion of flavor in our taste deprived mouths. Rather, what that transformation and truly holy experience was really about was our being gathered together and our sharing time with one another. It was the bringing of our open selves into the presence of one another around the backpacker stove, around the campfire, around the table if you will, to truly experience the glory of God residing in each of us and which is ever dwelling in His beautiful Creation that surrounded us. Coming to the table, God within us and all around us. That is what I saw in our Gospel lesson this morning.
See this morning's Gospel is interesting and even a bit challenging. It is overflowing with completely worthy sermon topics and teaching points, and yet at the same time, the main theme seems initially at least to be missing. As Jesus appears now for the second time in a day to different disciples, they are scared and He comforts them. The corporeality of Jesus is stressed as He requests food and eats, and a focus on the importance of the role of Holy Scripture in the lives of believers is highlighted. The centrality and sanctity of Jerusalem as the heart of the movement is alluded to, and the disciples are commissioned to go forth from there making new disciples of all nations. Clearly there is a lot of good stuff in this morning's Gospel, but when you put it all together, what is the point? What was Jesus really getting at? What was the author of Luke trying to stress to his audience? What are we to take home with us from this?
Instant mashed potatoes. The table. That is what stands out for me in today's Gospel. It is the symbol of the breaking of the bread coming full circle in Christ's resurrection meal with His disciples, His most intimate friends. I believe that it is no coincidence that this is how Jesus also chooses to reveal the truth and open the disciples to His reality. I mean they weren't getting it, and often times we don't either, but I think it not insignificant that it was around that table, in community, fully present, in unity, that Jesus decided to open His followers to the Truth.
I see now that that is what my Tahoe experience really was. It didn't matter what food we shared together or that Jesus shared with His friends, broiled fish, a steak dinner, or simple potatoes. It didn't matter where we or they were gathered, around the table, around the backpacker stove, or around a camp fire. What really matters in today's Gospel, and the message that we need to be opened to this morning, is the undeniable importance of the relationship. Our relationship with Christ. The bringing of our true selves to the proverbial table of God.
That is what we are to take with us this morning. The reminder that the Resurrected Christ comes to each of us. The Resurrected Christ comes to each of us in exactly the same, fully present way that He came to His disciples on that day. He comes to us for community, for sharing, for relationship, and all that He asks of us in return, is our full presence with Him. That, though we so often don't understand like the disciples, and though we might be afraid like they were too, we might, as our collect today prays, open the eyes of our faith to behold Him in all His redeeming work. Brothers and Sisters today Jesus invites us to the table, and all He asks is that we actually show up.
The great news this morning is, that we really already know just how important this showing up is, and maybe just need to put it into practice. We see this in our families. In a world that is so busy we rarely even have the time to break bread together, our families can begin to fall apart. Or if we do break bread together regularly, we often are so ever distracted that no one person at the table is fully present with the other. We see this in our friends. Friends are those individuals who have opened themselves, who have been present with us, and we with them. When the openly bringing of ourselves into the sacred presence of the other stops, so too does that relationship. When friends are no longer willing to gather around the table, that relationship dies.
Most importantly, we see this in our spirituality, in our relationship with Christ. For when we come to this table, over and over and over again, to receive the meal that He has prepared for us, invited us to, brought and indeed poured His whole, true, and real presence in, the truth is that we have a choice. We can choose to prepare our hearts and minds, to present our true and open selves before the presence of Christ and be in relationship, or we can come forward unconsciously, distracted, and unwilling to be opened by the love and truth of God. You see the disciples may not have understood, and we often give them a hard time about that, but at least they showed up. At least they were present and open to God, eager and willing to be in relationship. It is this same lesson, Brothers and Sisters in Christ, that we are to take with us today, not at all just for how we engage in our practice of Holy Eucharist, but for how we are able, and should engage the Resurrected Christ in our every day lives, in our prayer life, in our relationships with others, within ourselves and in all that surrounds us.
That is our call: To be openly present with and engage the Risen Christ in God's Creation which surrounds us. To be openly present with and engage the Risen Christ in our families, friends, and all who we encounter. To be openly present with and fully engage the Risen Christ in ourselves. To bring our real selves to the table in order to truly welcome and receive the Risen Christ in all we do. To bring the symbol of the breaking of the bread full circle. For only when we open ourselves to one another and to the God who seeks us out, only when we openly bring our real selves to the table which God has already prepared, will we, just as the disciples, finally come to know and be opened to our true place in relationship with the Risen Christ, Jesus our Lord.
“Then He opened their minds to understand”