May 7, 2017 Doug Norris
You may have seen this bumper sticker. One of my current favorites. ‘Honk if you love Jesus. Text while driving if you want to see him’ . Seeing Jesus. I’ll come back to this in a moment.
When you take the bread in a few minutes, contemplate its life. It is a simple thing, from the Summerhill market, came out of a bag like any other bread – but it has a complex inner life. It holds what was once wheat waving in a field, water that flowed, workers who have grown it, the baker who carried a sack of flour, someone who measured it out, a bit of this, a bit of that. They are not here but they are here.
Seeing what is here but isn’t here. This is a spiritual practice. Contemplation.
Barbara Brown Taylor, an Episcopal priest I referred to in the last series of Lent reflections, said that people did not line up to see her in her office so they could discuss the latest thing God said when appearing to them the night before. They came to her because they want to see, to hear holiness, and God is silent. We are hungry for an assurance that life is meaningful, hope is real, God is present.
Janet Zenwirt, a member here, has now completed her preparations and as of last week has moved from her internship in Georgetown to her first placement, in Mississauga. She will be ordained in three weeks. I think there should be a coupon system, where when we are ordained, when we step up and someone with robes on utters some old words over us, we should be given 5 coupons to hand out. The bearer of this coupon is entitled to see and hear Jesus. A word, a touch, an assurance. We would have to be incredibly wise about who these were offered to, but there would be no problem finding 5 people, 5 situations where what is needed is the clear and unmediated presence of the love of Jesus.
This was essentially the problem Matthew had, when he put this story we’ve just read into his version of the gospel of Jesus. Jesus is gone. We still need to see him. So he told a story he had heard about how Jesus was now hidden. Hidden in the stranger who met them on the road, and hidden in the bread they ate, and how they saw this, and were sure then that he was still present. Seeing what is here but isn’t here. This is not the ‘magic’ of Jesus ‘back’ to life, but something different, the mystic – the life that was in him is now dispersed like a drop of ink is dispersed in a cup of water, coloring all of it. There is a gospel that didn’t make it into the authorized Bible, but is now widely quoted – the Gospel of Thomas.
Jesus said : Often you have desired to hear these sayings that I am speaking to you, and you have no one else from whom to hear them. There will be days when you will seek me and you will not find me. The Kingdom of God is within you and all about you, ….. When I am gone, split a piece of wood and I am there, lift a stone and you will find me. (Thomas 77)
So how will we know him when we see him, hidden in the stranger and in the bread? When I was a child, at events at school or church I always knew when my father was there, out in the crowd – he had a distinctive cough, a throat-clearing that was a kind of signal – aha ! Dad is here! It could also function as a kind of disgruntlement – a marker that the sermon had gone on too long or the play was boring. Harumph… Maybe Jesus needs some kind of marker like this for us. When we see the stranger, in the crowd, a nod or a wink tells us – It’s me! I’m here with you! The kingdom of God is within you and all around!
They recognized him in the breaking of the bread. Maybe this is the signal. When you see a nourishment, a giving, an abundance, a gift, a sacrifice, Jesus is clearing his throat, saying I am with you. I am still here. The life that was in me has not stopped. Just look closely is all, and listen well.
I hear the ancient footsteps (this is Bob Dylan) like the motion of the sea
Sometimes I turn, there’s someone there, other times it’s only me
I am hanging in the balance of the reality of man
Like every sparrow falling, like every grain of sand
* Art by Sarah Campbell