A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on April 30, 2017 (Easter 3, Year A)
Twenty-five years ago, I went out to California to work on a congressional race. This was back when I did this for a living so it wasn’t completely on a whim. But my dad had just died and I was looking for a change of scenery so when a campaign manager friend of mine called and asked if I’d come out to run the field operation, I said “why not?” Of course he wanted me there immediately, so I hopped in my Ford Bronco II and drove to California. By myself. In three days.
Now this candidate was a pretty well-known and successful divorce lawyer in the East Bay area. It was also the first time he’d ever run for office so we had some educating to do. Like when you go to knock on doors in a rougher part of Alameda County and you’re trying to position yourself as a man of the people, you probably shouldn’t show up driving your sporty new Mercedes.
This wasn’t the only problem with this particular campaign or this particular candidate. When we would organize phone banks to call voters, his wife would invite a bunch of her friends…which was good. But she’d also bring cocktails…which was bad. So it started out fine but by the end of the night, they were basically drunk dialing potential voters. Let’s just say I was not entirely sorry when we lost a close primary and I hopped in the old Bronco and headed back East.
I mention this because when we’d be arguing with this guy about his choice of car — and he had a lot to choose from — he would always refer to his Mercedes as his “battle vehicle.” It was the car he’d take whenever he had to be in court. And that phrase — and more importantly that mentality — has always stuck with me.
So often we approach life as if we need to wear “battle armor” — which is actually what he called the expensive suits he’d wear to court. We want to project an image of strength or of power or of great confidence. We don’t want anyone to detect even a hint of insecurity or weakness. And so we go to great lengths to enter into situations on our own terms, with great bravado. Driving battle vehicles and wearing battle armor.
The problem is that this isn’t any way to go through life. We can only keep up such images for so long because they don’t reflect reality. We are not the images we project and eventually the walls do come a-tumblin’ down. Weakness and brokenness, rather than strength and wholeness, more often reflect the reality of our lives.
Which is one reason I so love the Resurrection story we hear this morning. The seminal moment is when this stranger whom the disciples meet on the Road to Emmaus breaks the bread and they immediately recognize him as the risen Christ. In an instant, all is revealed and the very heart of our faith is opened for all to see. And it’s all about relationship with Jesus. It’s not about keeping up appearances or projecting images; rather it’s about being broken open and being present with the God “to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid.”
In order to be our most authentic selves, we must allow ourselves to be broken open. And that means putting away our battle vehicles and our power suits and standing naked before God. Recognizing that not only are we unable to control every situation, we shouldn’t even bother to try. Because it doesn’t work. And the only thing we end up battling is our own integrity.
Now I realize a priest standing in a pulpit wearing the ecclesiastical version of body armor doesn’t, at first glance, project the image of vulnerability I’ve been talking about. Bad optics. But if you look beneath the vestments; if you look at the symbols underneath the fancy robes you see that this is precisely what is going on. Because this stole — the defining priestly garment — brings to mind the yoke. The priest is yoked to Christ in a way that demands humble discipleship. And the collar, recalls the dress of a slave. So it’s all there. The symbols of vulnerability and humility and weakness. Clergy — like everyone — would do well to be in better touch with the brokenness of our humanity. We all, like the disciples on the Road to Emmaus, can more fully know Jesus in the breaking of the bread.
So for all of us, I see this morning as an invitation to brokenness; a call to authenticity. Allow yourself to be broken open. Allow yourself to embrace your vulnerability. Allow yourself to welcome your weakness. Allow the armor piercing love of Jesus to open your heart and mind and soul to the possibility of new relationship with the divine.
The “genuine mutual love” that Peter writes about must be exactly that: genuine. And the only way for it to be genuine on our side is to be in touch with and know and not be ashamed of our true selves. Like the bread that is broken, we too are broken. Despite our desire to project Christmas card perfection, our children aren’t perfect; our relationships aren’t perfect; our jobs aren’t perfect; we aren’t perfect.
But in the recognition of our brokenness, we are made whole by Jesus. Jesus fills the broken parts of our hearts and souls with the genuine love of God. A God who loves us despite our imperfections and weaknesses and desperate need for healing.
In our liturgy, it’s no surprise that the culmination of our worship, the peak of the eucharistic crescendo, is the moment when the bread is broken at the altar. It is evocative of Jesus’ breaking of the bread at the Last Supper and it recalls this moment of recognition in the bread Jesus broke with the disciples after walking with them along the Road to Emmaus. When we break the bread, something we do “in remembrance of” Jesus, we are made whole. A moment of brokenness becomes the fullest moment of wholeness.
Just at the moment the disciples recognize the risen Lord in the breaking of the bread, he both disappears from their sight and is most fully present with them. This is the paradox of faith. That Christ’s power is made perfect in weakness; that out of grief there is hope; that out of death there is life; that out of brokenness, there is wholeness.
On the cross, Jesus has been broken open for you. On his resurrected throne of glory, we can, then, be broken open for him. Broken open and made whole by his never failing love. That’s the great gift of this Easter season. That through the agony of Good Friday and into the joy of the empty tomb we know for certain that “By his blood he reconciled us.” And that “By his wounds we are healed.”
© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2017