Monday, May 5, 2014

The Emmaus Fellowship Hall

(Shared at First United Methodist Church, Union Springs, AL, May 4,2014)

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.
As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Luke 24:13-16, 28-35

If I think back really hard, I can try to remember the first time I had a meal in our fellowship hall.  I would’ve soon been engaged to Vaughan and here on a weekend visit.  This was certainly during the period of time that Terri Meinhardt would smile so sweetly at me and say, “Hi Ethan!” every time she saw me. Sam or Robin probably gave the sermon, and during the benediction they also did the blessing.  As I made my way through the potluck line that first time, I would’ve thought what I think every time I go through that line still: “what love.”  None of that meal just came together.  Some of it was made the day or night before, and some people got up a couple hours early on Sunday to cook their casseroles.  And each dish, warmed up and taken together, blessed, broken and given amongst this group, makes a holy meal every time. 
This Emmaus Road story from Luke reminds me so much of our fellowship hall – especially, as the story says, how Jesus "had been made known to them in the breaking of bread.”  You see this theme throughout Jesus’ life – take, bless, break, give, the theme of the Eucharist.  We see it first at the feeding of the 5,000.  With just five loaves and two fish, Jesus tells his disciples – "don’t send them away, you give them something to eat."  So he does the Eucharist there for the first time.  He takes the food, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it.  And there’s more than enough to go around. 
And my mind wonders to the early Fall here, to our Stop Hunger Now event in our fellowship hall – taking sacks of rice and beans, blessing them, breaking them, and giving them – here we are, this little community, doing the Eucharist, packing 20,000 meals.  Jesus is made known in a meal to those who will receive the meals, and he’s also made known to those who package them.  Blessings are always a two-way street, especially when we come together in fellowship with each other to do them. 
I then think about Friday afternoons in the Fall with the football players from Bullock County and Conecuh Springs coming together in this fellowship hall, having the love of Jesus and the love of this church made known to them in the Eucharist – the taking, blessing, breaking and giving of a pregame meal, and in the shared fellowship with each other and with the people of our church who come to take part.  Phillip Bland, at some point every Friday, will get the boys’ attention and say, “Why are we here?  Why do we do this?”  And they all know the response, which they speak out – “Because you love us.”  And after talking to them more about God’s love and our love for each other, he goes on to ask how many of them had told their mommas they loved them that week, and by the end of the season, every hand in the room is up.
And then I also think about the kids and the galley disciples on Wednesday nights.  It’s seldom easy, and the holiness of it is not always apparent, but each week in our fellowship hall, we do the Eucharist: we take a meal, bless it, break it, and give it, and the love of God and the love of our church is made known to each and every child who comes. 
And then my mind wonders forward in the gospel story to the last supper, how on the night of Jesus’ greatest trial and suffering, he did the Eucharist – he took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it, and told his disciples, in this time of deep pain to do this in remembrance of him. I think back to this fellowship hall and the lunches it has hosted after funerals – the Williamsons, the Austins, the Lazaruses, the McDaniels, the Paulks, the saints of this church and community.  In this time of loss and sadness, the love of Christ and the love of this church is made known in the Eucharist – when we take, bless, break and give that meal.  It’s an outward sign, in remembrance of him, in honor of the departed, and out of love for those in our church family who are grieving. 
Of course, it’s not just this kitchen, but every kitchen represented here (and the kitchens of many who have gone on before) where this love, this Eucharist is prepared.  And in all of human history, lord knows we’ve tried, we really haven’t been able to do better at showing God’s love in a time of pain than going to visit and taking a meal.
And then we come back full circle to the Emmaus road, the risen Christ doing the Eucharist with his followers and them finally realizing it’s Jesus with them.  I think again of the fellowship hall and those fifth Sunday dinners, and those bridal teas, and baby showers, those snack times at vacation bible school and after the children’s Christmas program, those receptions after special music is performed, and all those special meals of hospitality we share with one another and with others to show the love of the risen Jesus by taking, blessing, breaking and giving of a meal. 
I think of how fully alive to the glory of God we are when we do this, how we are using all five senses in the process – touching the food as we prepare it, tasting and smelling it as we eat, seeing each other’s smiles and hearing each other’s joy and hurts when we gather around this table together.  I think of how in this sharing of a meal we are fed, filled, nourished, softened, loved. 
So I think about how it’s been, how it is now, and how I suspect it will continue to be with our little fellowship hall - how we each go out from that place proclaiming just like the two on the road to Emmaus how Jesus has been made known to us here at First United Methodist Church in the breaking of bread.

Praise God for that.

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