Becoming a Living Sacrament
Indianapolis First Friends Quaker Meeting
Pastor Bob Henry
March 17, 2019
Luke 24:13-35 (NRSV)
13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 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. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us[f] while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
Back before I was a Quaker, and when I was first working on becoming ordained as an Anglican Priest, I was encouraged to read a short little book by a Roman Catholic Priest, Michael Scanlan, who at the time was both the president of a college and a nationally known leader in the Charismatic Renewal Movement happening throughout the United States. Since I had grown up in liturgical and sacramental churches, I thought the subtitle of the book wasn’t that interesting, “Encountering Jesus in the Sacraments.” But that subtitle and ultimately the book ended up becoming rather key to my spiritual growth and development. And to this day, yes, even as a Quaker, this 119 page book, that centers around the story Eric just read, still speaks deeply to my soul.
Now, you are probably wondering, “Why is this the case when Quakers/Friends seem to have issues with Sacraments – at least those with physical elements?” Well, in all reality, I believe there are some common misconceptions about Quakers and Sacraments. One of our own Quaker theologians, Paul Anderson, points this out in a pamphlet called, “Meet the Friends” that was one of my earliest introductions to Quakerdom. It reads,
“Friends believe in the sacramental work of the Present Christ so strongly that they refuse to reduce it to an outward symbol or ceremony. Sacramental reality is incarnational, not formalistic, and this is a Christian testimony the world still needs to hear.”
Anderson goes on to give a very popular definition of the word “sacrament” which you may have heard in Sunday School or when studying this concept on your own. I heard, all the time growing up, that a sacrament is…
“an outward and visible sign of an invisible and spiritual reality.”
Anderson added, “A Sacrament is not that spiritual reality, but it points to it.”
In Scanlan’s book he gives a fuller definition that I think speaks even more to us as Quakers. He says,
“A Sacrament is a visible sign of God’s desire and pledge to deepen his relationship with us. It promises the gift of grace we seek: healing, nourishing, cleansing, freeing, consecrating, blessing, empowering us to accept his reign in our lives and deepen our covenant with him and his people.”
For many people moving away from physical elements like bread and wine, water and oil, may seem radical or even heretical (that would have been the case for me growing up). But as Anderson and Scanlan are helping us see, sacraments are much deeper than the symbols that we use to represent them.
I can say for me personally, the experience of the sacraments came in phases. I often explain my journey to Quakerism by saying, “As a Lutheran, I grew up with two sacraments – The Lord’s Supper and Baptism, when I became an Anglican I had seven – adding Confession, Holy Matrimony, Confirmation, Ordination, and the Annointing of the Sick, and now as a Quaker, well, everything has the potential of becoming a sacrament. It really comes down to what Anderson says,
“The root of the matter involves identifying the most effective means of communicating the grace and power of the Present Christ.”
And I believe that starts with our very lives being a sacrament – the visible sign God is deepening his relationship with us and that we are bringing healing, nourishment, cleansing, freeing, blessing, and empowerment to those around us in our world. That is why as followers of Christ we talk about being “Living Sacraments” – meaning we live our life as though it is a sacrament.
To me this makes “meeting Christ in the sacraments” very personal. As Quakers, we often speak of “that of God in everyone.” George Fox said it this way,
“And this is the word of the Lord God to you all…be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, island, nations, wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people and to them. Then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that God in everyone.”
I believe George Fox was calling the early Quakers as well as us today, to be “living sacraments” in our world – so not only could they meet the God in us, but we as well meet the God in them. Ponder this query…
What if we approached our neighbors, friends, and even family as if they were sacraments?
That their lives would bring healing, nourishment, cleansing, freeing, blessing, and empowerment.
And what if we thought of ourselves as Living Sacraments to our neighbors?
Author and teacher Henri Nouwen began to recognize this tension in his own life. Listen as I read what he wrote in his Latin American journal and book, “Gracias!”
“More and more, the desire grows in me simply to walk around, greet people, enter their homes, sit on their doorsteps, play ball, throw water, and be known as someone who wants to live with them. It is a privilege to have the time to practice this simple ministry of presence. Still, it is not as simple as it seems. My own desire to be useful, to do something significant, or to be part of some impressive project is so strong that soon my time is taken up by meetings, conferences, study groups, and workshops that prevent me from walking the streets. It is difficult not to have plans, not to organize people around an urgent cause, and not to feel that you are working directly for social progress. But I wonder more and more if the first thing shouldn’t be to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own, and to let them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that you do not simply like them, but truly love them.”
To me, that is living sacramentally. And that is exactly what we see Jesus doing in our text for today. Jesus was “Living Sacramentally” on that road to Emmaus. Just look at Jesus’ actions:
1. Jesus came up and walked beside them – joined them right where they were. Jesus was physically joining them on the Road to Emmaus.
2. Jesus asked a question, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” He joined them on the road and then joined their conversation.
3. Jesus even let the fellow travelers share their grief – he heard them out.
4. Jesus even askes some tougher questions which lead to him teaching and helping them understand. So much so, Jesus – a complete stranger to them on that road to Emmaus – is requested to stay with them. This is a huge indicator that Jesus had gained their trust.
5. Finally, Jesus begins to eat with the travelers. It harkens me back to what I just read from Henri Nouwen,
“But I wonder more and more if the first thing shouldn’t be to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own, and to let them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that you do not simply like them, but truly love them.”
This was Jesus’ way of being a “living sacrament” to them. He was giving grace and bringing healing through the way he presented himself to them. He allowed them to come to the knowledge of who he was for their benefit – to bestow an extra grace on them. He wanted them to have “their eyes opened” not just physically, but spiritually, and emotionally as well. He used ordinary ways – just as he call us to do, today.
I can’t speak for you, but I have on many occasions been walking, talking, eating, fellowshipping with someone when all of a sudden I sensed my eyes were opened to something greater. Some call those “God moments” or “God encounters” but the reality is that when we engage each other – each and every time we have the potential of having our eyes opened and meeting God.
· Maybe that conversation with your neighbor will lead to some healing in your life – that is a living sacrament.
· Maybe that hug from your parent or child will be the blessing after a long day or week – that is a living sacrament.
· Maybe that book your friend suggested you read will give you the empowerment to stand up to abuse or neglect – that is a living sacrament.
· Maybe that friendly greeting you gave the checkout person at Kroger will give them hope – that is a living sacrament.
· Maybe that phone call just to say “hi” to a distant relative or friend will make someone’s day – that is a living sacrament.
And the list could go on…
But the reality is that conversations, hugs, books, dinner parties, friendly greetings, phone calls, all can be visible signs of what God is doing through you – as well as to you through others.
So that leaves us with some queries to ponder this morning, ask yourself:
· Are my eyes open to what God is doing in and around me?
· Do I recognize the “Living Sacraments” around me all the time?
· How am I being a “Living Sacrament” to those in my midst?