A Homily for the Third Sunday of Easter
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Risen Lord, who is known to us in the breaking of the bread. Amen.
Chuck Reese, editor of the magazine The Bitter Southerner, once said:
When a small town community in the South prepares to come together to honor someone who has passed away, something clicks in the brains of the community’s cake bakers. They get to thinkin’. They remember li’l acts a’ kindness done for them by the departed. They remember what she loved ta eat. The li’l things she said ta them o’r the supper table. And then they take all that information and bake the exactly right cake. And the cake stands on the table a’ the funeral home kitchen not merely as solace for the grieving, but as a tribute to the one who’s gone away.
In the South, food is not just something we eat. It’s a connection to the community. (And yeah, this is true everywhere, but I suggest it’s truest in the South.) That tomato sandwich we’re all looking forward to come late May is a connection to the neighbor who grew the tomatoes and taught you that Duke’s is the only true mayonnaise. That catfish connects you to the uncle who taught you how to fish, to clean and prep your catch, and passed down the secret family recipe for the perfect fish fry. As cook and culinary historian Michael Twitty reminds us, our food connects us to the enslaved people and their descendants who brought with them the culinary traditions of western Africa and, over the centuries, turned those dishes in to what we now call Southern food.
And for me, food connects me to my grandparents. The smell of properly cooked bacon takes me back to summer mornings at their house in Elberton, to the dining room table piled high with grits and biscuits and pear preserves – that golden elixir of thin slices of fruit transmuted by gramma’s culinary alchemy into the most delicious spread to ever grace a piece of toast. Chicken cooking on the stove takes me back to grampa’s chicken and dumplin’s, those pillowy pieces of dough floating in the creamy soup ladeled into their everyday china and sweet tea (ok, caffeinated syrup) served out of blue solo cups. And the very mention of cake connects me to my gramma who knew exactly how to strike the balance between dense, moist pound cake that almost fell – but didn’t. (It’s a balance I’ve never quite been able to master.) These dishes defined summer visits back home, a sign that no matter where in the world we lived, gramma and grampa stood ready to welcome us back and pour out their love on the table.
And when a member of our community dies, we gather in church fellowship halls with those exactly right cakes and piles of fried chicken, with that mile-long line of casseroles, and we and eat and tell stories – about the faithful departed, about the food, about both. We wrestle with the new reality that we won’t sit down to eat with them again.
It’s the first of many times this ritual will play out – at holidays and cookouts and any time we sit down to eat those old favorites.
And it’s in just such a scene that we find ourselves today – a group of disciples talking about Jesus and whether or not they’ll see him again. They sit down to dinner with their traveling companion, a man they don’t recognize, and their guest takes the bread.
It’s only been a few days since that meal in the upper room. Put yourself on the road to Emmaus. How does it feel to eat without Christ at the table, leading their community? What are they thinking as they sit down with this stranger? Are they talking about past meals? Remember that time he invited himself in to eat with the tax collector, or that time the Pharisees got so mad at him for not washing his hands properly, or hey, remember that time at the wedding when they ran out of wine? Or oh, what about the day when there were – well, I don’t know, it musta been a few thousand people – and Jesus still manged to feed them? It took hours to pick up all the leftover bits of fish and bread.How does it feel to doubt whether he would ever grace their table again?
The guest blesses the bread, breaks it, and gives it to them to eat.
And their eyes are open. In the breaking of the bread, these disciples see the Risen Christ.
It’s not in his appearance or even his interpretation of Scripture but in that sacramental repetition of the Last Supper that they recognize Jesus.
During this particular Easter season, we have been forced a terribly similar situation: wondering when we’ll able to eat together again. When we might go share a meal with friends and family. When we might come back together at the Altar to receive our Lord Christ in, with, and under the bread and wine.
But have faith! When we are able to gather again for that Most Sacred Meal, that Heavenly Feast, we come not only with ourselves. We come to behold the very Presence of our Risen Lord, Jesus Christ! In the bread and the wine, we behold his very Body and Precious Blood! And in the mystery of that Sacrament, we are gathered with all the saints – not just those physically present, not just those still alive, but with all the faithful departed who have come before and all the saints who are yet to be. In that brief, earthly moment, we are caught up into eternity and feast with the entire community: with grandparents and uncles and spouses and children and famous saints whose names are recorded in theology textbooks and enslaved saints whose names are long-forgotten.
In that Sacrament, as we consume the Body and Blood of our Savior, we are consumed into that same Body and connected with the entire communion of saints.
When we shall be reunited, we will most assuredly feast and, in the breaking of the Bread, we shall behold the presence of Christ.