The Storm is Over a New Day Begins – Easter Sermon 2017

Notes on the Sunday address by Rev Ric Holland, 16 April 2017

Luke 24 v. 30. “When he was at the table with them he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened”

And so we celebrated with Jesus only last Sunday with Palms and Hosannas before the storm broke and we cried with him on Friday as he suffered and died and the storm was at its terrifying height.

Today we travel with him as the sun has burst through the clouds and we share in that New Testament journey which is the beginning of a new Day for the world and for us.

Jesus had faced total abandonment when he was arrested and it is likely he died without friends or family, amongst many strangers, not on a pleasant ‘green hill far away without a city wall’. No he would have been slung on a cross of a couple of bits of rough sawn wood, thrown together and stuck in some barren ground where he slowly and painfully died.

The Disciples had become a bunch of frightened, disillusioned men and women. Jesus was someone they had loved and lost. They had shared with him a depth of living they had never dreamt of before. All their hopes for a better way of life were centred on him, and now lost with him, dead and buried. It was all over. They had been quickened by a vision of what life could be, but now they must face life as it now going to be. It was OVER. Back to reality. Imagine the line in Roy Orbison’s song “It’s over, and feel the pain in that.

AND then IT happened. IT came to them or rather as they could only describe HE came to them. The life they had known and shared was not buried with him but alive in them. Jesus was not a dead memory, but a living presence.

I don’t think that there was an earthquake. Angels invading time, space and history. I don’t think a dead body came back to life after a long and tortuous death. I don’t think Jesus went fishing on the sea of Galilee and hauled in a miraculous catch of fish. Nor do I think he defied gravity and rose up into the sky of what at the time they thought was a 2 tiered universe and flat earth planet.

But I do think there was a life changing and very very powerful experience which converted these frightened timid men and women into huge world changing and challenging disciples. It was this sudden and startling conviction of Jesus presence in their lives and in the world. Jesus was well and truly with them. It was a YES moment and it’s this YES we celebrate at Easter. The storm is over. A new day begins. 

Often it’s bringing new life into old. The same old stuff all of a sudden feels very different.  And what is one of the common regular things that we all do day in and day out. We sit and eat a meal. Jesus sat and ate regularly with many people. In fact he was often accused of sitting and eating with sinners, people who were unclean who the establishment wanted to exclude.

It’s no coincidence therefore that in this Easter journey we share with each other and with Jesus, he sits and eats and drinks with us. This is what we will celebrate in just a few moments together. It’s no coincidence that Jesus whilst on this journey on this Emmaus road is not recognised. There are many times we fail to see God’s spirit at work. We walk on. It’s a pleasant walk. The storm is over. We arrive together and eventually sit down at the table together.

And then the YES moment. It was in the BREAKING of bread that their eyes were opened. He was “known to them in the breaking of bread”. And for the first time they had a whole new understanding of the old faith.

This then quickly became a central part of the worship in the EC. It was a sign of the coming of the Kingdom of God. Mark emphasises this in his recounting of the Last supper “I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it in Kingdom of God”.

For us this special moment continues. We walk the way of Jesus. We travel through some rough storms. And YES we share in the breaking of the bread and we are made whole. I want you to think about the symbolism of this. Jesus broke the bread and he’s been doing it ever since.

The first think that we are reminded of as BREAKS the bread is that he

1)   BREAKS TRIBAL BOUNDARIES.

There was a time when I was a passionate soccer fan. I did a post graduate year in Manchester when I had the opportunity to sign up membership with my boyhood favourites Manchester United. This was a team that I loved dearly. I cried with the nation and the city when what was truly the best soccer team in the world was wiped out in what every Brit knows as the Munich air disaster. A young player who was one of the few to survive was a then unknown junior, Bobby Charlton who went on to become the most famous footballer in the world.

Despite that tragedy they re-formed and yet again became a star studded assembly of wonderful super stars. And I was at last living in that city and a member of that club. I remember once they were playing in a semi-final of the European Cup, but shock horror the night coincided with a regular in- college compulsory service with all the tutors and students. It was the only compulsory event of the year. I trembled at the thought of missing this game. So I went along to the Principal, a very big and imposing Academic and leading church man. I said to him Dr Scott can I have permission to miss this service, never previously granted to anyone. I told him of my dilemma that there was a very special event that it was impossible for me to miss. I couldn’t say what it was. He sat back frowning in his big leather professorial chair, let it rest for what felt like an hour. He said he would only allow this once- ever concession under one condition, that I got a ticket for the game for him!!

Anyway, consider then this team that I had loved for the whole of my life, only a few months after that event I’ve just described, I tore up my member’s ticket and have never been back since. This was because of tribalism.

I couldn’t believe that supporters going to the ground for a game were like two opposing armies involved in a vicious war. Rows and rows of hundreds of police would line the street arm in arm from the railway station to the ground acting as human barriers between the fans. Visiting fans would be steered between these rows of police to a specific allocated part of the ground surrounded by high metal and barbed wire fencing separating the opposing bands of supporters. This did not however stop vitriolic abuse, aggression and missiles being hurled across the fencing. Then despite all the police security there was always fights and injuries.

All over a game of football! Or was it? It was much much more than a game of soccer. It was the age old tribalism.

Human beings by definition are tribal people. At the dawn of humanity, tribalism was the pathway to survival. We embraced it and the theistic God became the god of the tribe.

Tribalism is seen in the way we portray our enemies. A NZ supporters T shirt proclaims: I support 2 teams. NZ and whoever is playing Australia!

In times of war and conflict this tribal feeling is exacerbated as we de humanise our enemies, so it’s easier to kill them. So Pauline Hanson demonises Muslims or even worse terrorists. She doesn’t refer to their children, or mums and dads. She just, in a nasty tone says “Muslims” and she’s even said “It’s hard to find a good one”.

Tribal mentalities are deeply embedded in every human being and they bring with them huge prejudices. Even in Melbourne. If I just threw out the name of a suburb to you you will immediately embrace a tribal reaction. If I say “Broadmeadows” just for a second your reaction is tribal and your immediate response is different if I say “Toorak”.

And so it is pretty well all the religions of the world.  All the religions of the world are very deep expressions of tribal mentality.

But this is a New Day and eyes were opened. When Jesus broke that bread he was breaking down tribal boundaries. This is the first message of Easter. If Jesus is to bring new life then he breaks down tribal boundaries If.

The tribal god was alive and well in the 1st Century Jewish world. The Jews divided people into the members of their own nation who were the US and everybody else who were the THEM or the Gentiles. The Jews were god’s chosen ones. The Gentiles god’s unchosen.

But the power of Jesus opening the eyes, breaking the bread, broke those barriers and that power was still around in Paul when he was writing 20 years later to the Galatians. He said in this Christians experience people had their tribal boundaries smashed down, “In Christians there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither Jew nor Gentile.” To the Romans a few years later when talking about this salvation experience he writes “There is no distinction between Jew and Greek”. To the Colossians “If you have been raised with Christ, there cannot be Greek and Jew, Circumcised and uncircumcised, Barbarian, Scythian, slave and free, but Christ is all and in all and to that list we should add gay or straight, black or white, Muslim or Hindu and the list goes on.

You see, something about this Jesus is unique and life changing, which enables us to set aside the million year old survival characteristics of tribal identity.

Jesus reached out to one of the most hated of all tribes, the tax collector, an employee of the hated Roman conquerors, Levi. This man was unclean. Jesus stepped across the threshold; broke the barrier and he became a disciple.

We know that Jesus often departed from Jewish territory. We know he crossed the Sea of Galilee and in Mark c. 3 he rubbed shoulders with people “from Judea, and Jerusalem, from Idumea, beyond Jordon, Tyre and Sidon. This was his breaking tribal boundaries well and truly. It was a hated Gentile soldier who stands beneath the cross and is the first interpreter of the meaning of Jesus death.

And we have a command to continue to break bread and those tribal boundaries. Matthew in his record of Jesus final words propels his Jewish disciples to go into foreign territory, to go beyond all boundaries “Go and make disciples of ALL nations.” Go to those who are different, who are defined as unclean.

This is a message to St Michaels as we break bread on the new day, to metaphorically break down these walls and open our hearts and church to all OUT THERE.

So when Jesus broke bread, it was symbolically breaking tribal boundaries.

2)   It was also BREAKING THE BOUNDARIES OF PREJUDICE AND STEREOTYPE

     A self-centred survival mentality also marks humanity. It probably comes from the evolutionary struggle for survival. We can easily unwittingly slip into a way of thinking that is totally contrary to the way of Jesus.

We love to look to others to blame.

It was the fault of the Jews in pre-war Germany that that country was economically depressed. It was the fault of the blacks that Civil war came to the southern part of the USA, today in the UK it was the fault of the Poles who “Are taking our jobs” which was a big contributor to Brexit, In Australia it’s the refugees who are taking our jobs and who somehow at the same time are all lazy and taking ‘our’ welfare.

My own brother (You can imagine we never got on) actually voiced the racist statement that aboriginal people bled our economy and anyway were somehow less than human because they had a gene less. You can imagine my reply that he was the one in our family with something missing!!

The attitude towards women has historically placed women inferior to men. IN Jesus time a Jewish man could divorce his wife simply by saying “ I divorce you” in front of a witness. On the other hand a woman could not escape a marriage no matter how cruel and violent her husband might be. In first century Judaism women were little more than chattel. In the Jewish Morning Prayer Book, with which Jesus and Paul would have been well acquainted, it is written and repeated daily by Jewish man to give thanks to God that “You have not made me a Gentile, a slave or a woman”. Paul takes that prayer and reverses it. This is a new day. The old prejudices are broken ….ALL ALL and ONE in Christ.  

Sexism is one more humanity robbing prejudice. Prejudice towards people who are gay is exactly the same. How shocking was the Tasmanian MP Eric’s Abetz statement last week that people who were gay should get cured of their gayness. What a ridiculous, stupid and insulting thing to say. It’s just another example of the prejudice and stereotype boundary which Jesus when he broke bread broke down.

He made a point of going into Samaria. Jews loathed the Samaritans. They would deliberately when travelling go a long way round to “avoid breathing the foul air of the Samaritans”. Jesus’ response was the Parable of the Good Samaritan. This was mind blowing to a faithful Jew, as are many other stories and experiences of Jesus. He tells of the healing 10 lepers. It was only the Samaritan, an unclean, half breed, heretic foreigner who came back to say thank you. And Jesus’ words “Rise and go your way. Your faith has made you whole, effectively meaning “Go and be who your are” a phenomenal statement in the culture of the day and so too today. Remember the story of the woman at the well. Jesus combats two grossly shocking attitudes to someone regarded as “inferior “a Samaritan and a woman. He gives that woman respect, dignity and equality.

Time and time again this occurs throughout the whole of Jesus’ ministry.

3)   HE BREAKS BREAD AND BREAKS DOWN THE BARRIERS OF PREJUDICE AND STEREO TYPES.

HE BREAKS THE BARRIER OF RELIGIOUS BOUNDARIES.

The development of religion is all about immobilising fears. People have convinced themselves that they are protected in their weakness by the power of an omnipotent god. Out of this come all the religions of the world and with it comes superiority because OURS is the only one or the TRUE ONE. All the sects and major religions have elements of this. We hear that even within religions be it Sunie or Shiite, Protestant or catholic, Shiva, Vishnu or Brahma in Hinduism, or Theravada, Mahayana or Vajravada in Buddhism. That’s before we start on the certainties that are held by Mormons, Jehovas witnesses and the rest.

Even in our own Uniting Church we have the fundamentalists, the Liberals and US!

All religions have their own rules and statements of faith.

Jesus lived a life which dispensed with rules of religion.

Jesus was LIFE orientated. His teaching was celebratory.

He went to parties and banquets. He lived with zest.

He was Jewish of course and was surrounded by Jewish rules and conformity. They wanted to see rules and conformity. They wanted to see a payoff for their strict religious observance. If we obey these rules then so should everybody else. Now that an attitude which is familiar to us!!

Jesus however responds completely differently. Remember the woman caught in adultery, for whom the punishment was stoning (Not for the men just the women). And Jesus words “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”. Those are some of the greatest words ever spoken to the moralist judges of the world.

Remember the legalists who condemned the disciples for plucking corn on the Sabboth and Jesus response that religious rules cease to be moral unless they serve the purpose of enhancing human life.

And we read the story in Mark of a woman whose menstrual flow was constant.This meant in Jewish law that she was constantly unclean and it was forbidden to touch people. Remember she was ashamed because she had accidently touched Jesus. Jesus reaches out and touches her …Jesus yet again breaking religious boundaries.

There are so many examples.

Here after that quiet walk on the Emmaus road he’s breaking bread and their eyes were opened. This is the greatest message of Easter. That we are able to see a new day breaking before us breaking down the boundaries of Tribe, Prejudice and Religion.

This is not about conforming to the old rules and formalities, this is not about being religious, and it’s what Bonhoffer called Religionless Christianity. It’s what Bishop John Spong describes “Being a Xian is not to be a RELIGIOUS human being. It is to be a WHOLE human being” and that is why for me Jesus is the ultimate expression of God who can for ever change, inspire and revolutionise us. We pray that with those resurrection witnesses of old our eyes are opened and we see the new day ahead and that day by day we share in that resurrection miracle.

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