May 7, 2017 / BROKEN - OPEN HANDS / Sara Wolbrecht / Luke 24:13-35
You picked a great day to be here, friends. In our journey through exploring how we are like the bread that Jesus took at the Last Supper – how we are Chosen, Blessed, Broken, and Given – this week? Oh yes, we get to talk about our brokenness. You ready?
We’ll begin by hearing from the Bible. From Luke’s gospel, one of the four biographies of Jesus, we pick up on Easter. On resurrection day. Right after the scene shifts from the empty tomb, Luke tells this story, of two who walk in their grief on the road to the town of Emmaus. We know one of them is named Cleopas, but the other is unnamed. Though most often portrayed as two men, it is very likely that the other is Cleopas’ wife. We see what happens on that road, and the supper they share when they arrive. Envision it, get caught up in the story, as we hear it, together.
Luke 24:13-35 (NIV) 13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.
17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
19 “What things?” he asked.
“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”
25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.
30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.
What I love about this story, is that on the day of his resurrection, when Jesus could have run into the center of Jerusalem and said, “Ta-da!” Just kidding! And amazed the crowds. He instead, earlier at the tomb he tells Mary to go and tell everyone else – to let them do the talking and speaking of the amazing thing God had done. And Jesus himself, heads out on the road, shrouded in the mystery of resurrection, unrecognizable, he walks alongside two friends in their grief. This is where Jesus goes, to hear their shock and sadness and disappointment – and walk with them. As they walk, Jesus talks them through what must have been the best bible study of all time. Can you imagine? It says that Jesus walked through the entirety of the scriptures. Would love to have been taking note son that one. Then as they get to town, Jesus is invited to stay for supper with these new friends – who still do not recognize him.
Then there is this moment. At the table. Where Jesus takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it open, and gives it to them. Their eyes are opened – it says. To see in a fresh way what was already there. To see how Jesus was there with them in their broken-heartedness.
And as they run off to tell the other disciples, they explain that yes, they recognized Jesus, when? Not when he taught them, not when he blessed the bread, but when he broke the bread. …Jesus was seen in the breaking.
On the day of his resurrection this story that Luke tells is not about Jesus flexing his resurrection muscles of awesomeness, but it’s a story all centered around the breaking of the bread. Do you see that? The breaking of the bread, the crux, it is what this is about. To make brokenness the centerpiece of Jesus’ resurrection day.
Today, what we hear in this is how – as we’ve said these past weeks – we are that bread. Like that bread that Jesus took at the Last Supper and the bread he takes in this meal on his resurrection day – like the bread, we are (add one at a time as I speak them): chosen, blessed, and yes, today we name that we, too, are broken.
I am a broken person. You are a broken person and all the people we know and know about are broken. We lead broken lives.
Henri Nouwen writes of how we know this, and that our brokenness is part of what surfaces when we’re together with others. He says: “When people come together they easily focus on their brokenness. (Do you think this is true? Do you experience this with those you are close to?) The most celebrated musical compositions, the most-noted paintings and sculpture, and the most-read books are often direct expressions of the human awareness of brokenness. This awareness is never far beneath the surface of our existence because we all know that none of us will escape death – the most radical manifestation of brokenness.” (Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved, p. 86).
I appreciate Henri Nouwen’s just putting it out there to say: Yep, we’re all pretty messy under the surface – and he names it – it’s always there. We feel it in ourselves when we’re together. Nouwen explains how in this society we live in that the brokenness we carry is generally an experience of inner brokenness – a brokenness of heart. Although there is also absolutely suffering from physical and mental disabilities, and great amounts of economic poverty, homelessness, injustice, and lack of basic human needs – the suffering of which most of us are aware on a day-to-day basis is the suffering of the broken heart. Hearts broken in all the ways they can be through the complexities of relationships. Just being people together. Again and again we experience and see the immense pain of broken relationships between husbands and wives, parents and children, lovers, friends, and colleagues.
To check in with ourselves for a moment, let’s ask: Where have you faced broken relationships? Where do you now? What other pain or grief or longing or loss is your story of brokenness?
Because: we all have our story of brokenness – and I invite you to tap into that, to be aware of those places, those relationships, those dynamics you have. Hold them as we go through this. Then, what we can now turn to, is the how to live in the Jesus story with our own stories of brokenness – or as I always like to ask in the face of uncomfortable, vulnerable realities that make me want to run the other way, we ask: what the heck do we do with this??
Well, you may not like it, but it begins with what we’ve already begun to name: we befriend our brokenness. What do we do when confronted with our brokenness? We stay in it, we move toward it, we don’t run away. The reason we read this story on the road to Emmaus, a story of bread broken revealing the presence of Jesus – is to resolutely celebrate how in the Jesus story, our brokenness is nothing to run from, hide from, ignore, to be ashamed of – but instead to see how Jesus is there in the very breaking-open of our pain. So we do the counter-intuitive work of walking toward it.
And let’s be honest: suffering – whether physical, mental or emotional is almost always experienced as an unwelcome intrusion in our lives, something that should not be there. It is nearly impossible to see something positive in suffering; instead we avoid it at all costs. That is our default setting.
So to say – yeah, let’s befriend and walk toward our brokenness – it seems, at first, masochistic. But the first step toward healing is actually a step toward the very thing that hurts. We do this, because as Henri Nouwen names: we do this to better know ourselves. Your brokenness is a unique expression of who you are. Your brokenness will be different from mine and the person next to you. And brokenness is, in fact just as intimate a part of our being as our chosenness and our blessedness – it’s an intimate part of who we are. So we have to dare to overcome our fear and become familiar with it as part of becoming holistically self-aware.
So what does this look like to walk toward our brokenness? Well, let’s bring this back to Emmaus. To remember that this conversation began with naming how Jesus – unrecognizable – sat at the table with two grieving friends, he chose bread, he blessed that bread, he broke it open, and he gave it. That it happened at the table in the Eucharist.
I want to suggest that there’s something to the table. Breaking bread at the table becomes a place where we can own our brokenness, stay in it, befriend it. And this is particularly true with the bread broken at Holy Communion. Friends, there is perhaps no better place than when we return to Jesus’ table every week.
Let’s dive into that. When most people come up to communion, they open their hands. Palms up, often with one hand resting in the other.
I invite you to do this now – to open your hands, rest them on your lap, and to look at them, let your attention linger there as you listen. I want to share a few paragraphs from Rachel Held Evans in her book “Searching for Sunday” – her own reflection on what happens in her at her church as she walks forward for Communion. Part of her chapter called, “Open Hands.”
Please listen as you enjoy your open hands… Searching for Sunday, p. 142-143
It’s a scary thing to open your hands. At the table, Holy Communion, this is what we do. We open our hands to acknowledge our need. We open our hands to name our brokenness. We open our hands to the vulnerable practice of receiving. We open hands with nothing to offer except our thanks.
Keep those hands open…Like those two who huddled around the table in Emmaus with Jesus, as the blessed and broken bread is given to us, we, too, can hear the invitation for our eyes to be opened to see in a new way.
And it is an invitation to see our open hands, our need, our brokenness, as a posture for us to live every day. The apostle Paul talks about this. Paul says – I got these weaknesses but I consider it like joy because it allows the power of Christ to be in me. Paul names that the power of Jesus, to overcome death, the power of resurrection and new life comes alive, awakens in him, in his own open hands, in his own weakness and brokenness. If he thought he had it all figured out, there would be no room for the endless possibilities that can happen – his open hands, his need, become the very place where he can be filled with something bigger than himself.
And so it is for us. We befriend our brokenness as we allow ourselves to open our hands. …I wonder…How do did you wake up this morning? Or this week? Because you could start the day out with closed hands, thinking: I have it all figured out today. I’ve got it all together, I have security that I have created and I have this control that I want over all the aspects of today. Which let’s be honest, can be super comforting but also limiting.
Versus, the endless possibilities of having that open space of weakness, our confession of brokenness and need, be a space where we are filled with something greater than ourselves. And then all the places where we are lacking, weak, broken – become the space that is filled.
Because: keeping our hands open allows resurrection to touch our brokenness. Then our brokenness will no longer feel like a place of shame, but will gradually become an opening toward the full acceptance of ourselves as the Beloved. It happens in that broken, open place. Do you know people who have suffered through incredible pain, yet who also lived with such joy? True joy can be experienced in the midst of great suffering. Joy and sorrow are no longer mutually exclusive, but have become two sides of the same desire to grow to the fullness of the Beloved.
So how did you wake up today? Did you enter into today thinking: I have it all pretty figured out? (Consciously or subconsciously). Because what if you said: oh man I don’t have today figured out. Then all of the sudden there are all of these possibilities that can enter into that openness. That can meet us in our need. Befriending our brokenness, holding it open, changes what is possible.
And it is a mind shift, a new way of seeing. Oh yeah, I’m just gonna start out today by naming how I don’t have it all together, I’m suffering in these ways, I have messed up again – and just hold out our open hands in need. It’s starting the day with a mind shift.
And it is a shift into hope for the unexpected, saying: everything I thought that couldn’t be overcome, can be overcome. Those places of pain and longing and shame – are not scars to hide, but an invitation to open to the resurrection life of God.
I have seen glimpses of this this week in my own story. For Jason and me this week we had two bedtimes with our kids that pretty much made us want to return them. No – they’re wonderful. But we felt aware of our brokenness. After hours of their screaming, avoiding, not getting in bed (which is not characteristically like them) it resulted in us finally breaking our cool and yelling…Yuck. And then after they were finally asleep, feeling all the shame for yelling. For us, the befriending our brokennesss was in our sitting on the couch together. Not doing that much talking, but also not pulling out our phones, or turning on Netflix. But letting there be tears and quiet and curiosity about what had happened. That’s how we held our hands open, how we stayed in the pain and didn’t run. If you have kids – maybe you know what I’m talking about. And if you don‘t have kids – do you interact with other human beings? Yeah, we all experience the “why did I do that?” The shame storm that can rise up when we wished we’d responded to (anyone) our friend, coworker, family member differently. That is brokenness. Those are the very moments we befriend, the moments we choose to not close up into fists. …And that was not how I wanted to spend my Friday night, right?
Working to hold ourselves open to our brokenness, frankly, it may simply start with the not running away. Staying in the pain when we experience it, instead of pulling away through distraction or denial. That is some of the hardest work. To not run or deny or stuff it. If we can stay in it, then we can walk toward it when we share openly with a friend and ask them to pray for us and support us. It is can be as intentional and thorough as seeking counseling, joining a support group, hiring a life coach.
Today wherever you are hurting, everything you think you can’t overcome – your finances, depression, thoughts, your situation, your parenting frustrations, all of that stuff – being honest about our brokenness makes it possible to enter into it with weakness and open up that space to what God might want to do.
My friends, open those hands again, and check in with yourself again: Where have you faced broken relationships? Where do you face them now? What other pain or grief or longing or lacking or loss is your story of brokenness? Because: we all have our story of brokenness.
This week, I invite you into two practices to live into your brokenness. The first, is opening your hands, your heart, your spirit each morning, to name your brokenness with saying/praying this: 1. Morning confession: I don’t have today figured out. God, come on in.
I have used this prayer this past week in my own practice of not running from my brokenness and opening my hands. It has felt necessary given what is coming up for me. I shared last week that on May 15th I will start a 3-month sabbatical, 3 months of not doing any work here at Salt House – you can go to our website to see the blog post about it and the clip from last week’s sermon to hear more about the exciting things that will happen when I’m not here. And for me, being the Type A, I want to wake up in the morning with my lists and having worried about all the details so they can all be right – you can imagine that I could be on hyper-drive mode, trying to do all the things before I take a break. (And I have been – or, had been).
And so I woke up on Monday, staring down five meetings for the day, and I was feeling pretty good about how great it was all going to go, but also feeling under the surface, a low grade, constant rumble of anxiety. Would I forget things? Was I really prepared? And that’s the morning I started praying it: God, I don’t have today figured out. And exhale. For me, I was opened to the possibilities of the day. Opened to not have to have it together. Opened to be present in a way I would not have been.
What about you? Can you try this prayer this week? Opening your hands, maybe while you’re still in bed, acknowledging your need, and praying: I don’t have today figured out (?). Awesome.
And second, I invite you into our practice that we named two weeks ago: 2. The Three Meal Challenge (eating with others 3 meals this week). And if you took the challenge then, and have already been doing it – then you are set – keep going. If not, here’s your chance. And we name it again as a practice within owning our brokenness this week because good and sacred things happen when we eat together. Because breaking bread becomes the soil where we remember our brokenness. And facing our brokenness is something we can never do alone. We need someone to keep us standing in it, to assure us that there is peace beyond the anguish, life beyond death, and love beyond fear.
And we know that so much of this can happen at the table. In the video we watched at the beginning of the service, of two families – similar and different in many ways. And at both tables you can see the brokenness hovering beneath the surface, and sometimes becoming obvious. We can see, too, the sacred healing that begins in the conversation, expressed love, the playful teasing, and connection as they eat. So it is for us – we eat together because the breaking bread of Holy Communion, echoes into every time we share the table. So practice number two: plan, schedule three times to be at a table (meal, beer, coffee) with others outside of who you live with.
As the band comes back up and we move into a time of singing, I also want to invite you to ask the questions we always ask here at Salt House: in all of this, What is God saying to you? And what are you going to do about it?
To open our hands and ourselves to hearing from God, let’s breathe deeply and let’s pray: