Have you anything here to eat?
Have you noticed? The world has moved on. The only place you might find chocolate bunnies now, if you are lucky, is on the discount shelves, probably with a broken ear. No more Easter bonnets, or Easter parades, or Easter egg hunts. Easter came early this year and Canadians have been left to bemoan the fact that spring still has not seemed to have sprung and, despite what the choir will sing today, that the green blade still doth not seem to have risethed and that we still have a long, long way to go before the May 2-4 long weekend.
But in the church, crazy people that we are, we are still talking about Easter. The third Sunday. The liturgical colour is still white. We’re still singing Easter hymns. We’re still talking about the resurrection and hearing stories about Jesus appearing to his disciples after he was supposed to have been dead. It’s like it was only yesterday that some women came and told us that they had gone to the tomb where Jesus’ body had been laid and they had found it empty except for a couple of angels who told them to pass on the message that Jesus was not there. We don’t seem to be able to get over this.
Today we heard a story from Luke’s account of the events. It’s a little different from the way John has been telling it, but it is just as amazing. To put it in a little context, it follows on after the beautiful story of two disciples walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Remember they were very sad and confused. They thought that Jesus was the one who would have liberated them from the Romans and made things right again. Instead he had been brutally executed by the Romans with the connivance of the local religious leaders and all their hopes and dreams had been quashed. A stranger joins them and asks what they are talking about. Did he not know anything about the biggest story of the day? It would be like bumping into someone on the sidewalk today who didn’t know anything about the missile attack on Syria. Are you kidding? You don’t know anything about this? But it seems that the stranger did have a point of view and began to give his interpretation of the events that had led to Jesus’ death. They are intrigued and when they get home they ask him to stay for supper. When the stranger broke the bread, their eyes were opened and they recognized him. He disappeared and they went running all the way back to Jerusalem to tell their friends what had happened.
They were with the others, telling them their story about what had happened on the road when Jesus appeared to the whole group. Suddenly, there he was. But could they believe it? Could this really be their friend who had died such a horrible death? They thought they were seeing a ghost. That was a common thing in the ancient world. The appearance of ghosts. In fact, there were tests to see if the being you were encountering was a ghost or not. First, you needed to know if the being had bones and whether the feet were touching the ground. That was usually accomplished by seeing the hands and feet, where the bone structure could more easily be identified. Jesus shows them his hands and his feet, his hands and feet that had so recently been mutilated by nails pounded into a cross. Some still could not quite believe. The second test was whether the being could eat because ghosts did not have a system to digest food. Jesus asks if they have anything to eat. They produce some broiled fish and he eats it. He is not a ghost. He is their friend. In the midst of their fears and their doubts, he is there with them. Walking with them. Eating with them. He is present with them again.
I like this question that Jesus poses to his disciples. It might be part of the ghost test, but it is also a very human question, “Have you anything here to eat?”. Being human means we eat. We cannot avoid it for very long if we want to survive. On the lips of children it might be, “Is supper ready yet?” And how many of us have heard the question, “Can you spare some change? I need something to eat”. How many of us have heard this question as we’ve walked along the streets of our city? Perhaps just outside the doors of the church here on King Street. How many of us have wondered what to do with this question? Should I reach into my pocket or purse and find some money to help this person get a meal? Are they really hungry or do they want the money for something else? Is my money going to help or harm the person asking? Of course our Out of the Cold Program is one response to this question. And we can say, “Yes, we do have something to eat”. Usually more than just a bit of broiled fish.
Can we recognize Jesus in those who ask that question today? Can we recognize our wounded friend in those who want to know if we have anything to eat here? The gospel has an amazing way of turning our stories and our expectations around. What happens when the child is in fact the Christ? What happens when the beggar is in fact the Christ? “Have you anything here to eat?” It makes us wonder, what do we have? What can we offer those who come to us in need? And of course that is not only for food. What can we offer the one who comes into our midst seeking? Seeking meaning and purpose in life. Seeking an experience that goes beyond what the world offers. Seeking faith. Seeking to be welcomed as a sister or a brother, as part of a family, as someone who is loved and respected.
In their encounter with the risen Christ, the earliest disciples were transformed into a community of faith. They came to recognize that they had something to offer the world. Out of their own brokenness, and fears and doubts they had a priceless gift that they could offer. Just as the two disciples that walked with Jesus on the road to Emmaus recognized him when they broke bread together, so here these disciples recognize the risen Christ when they give him a bit of fish to eat. He is not a ghost. He is a real flesh and bones person who needs what they offer and can offer the finest bread to them. This is what he had been talking about all along but it is only here that the eyes of the disciples are really opened and they recognize the gift that God has given them.
Do you have anything here to eat?
This Easter world is a real world. It is not just a world that might be or a spiritualized world outside the body where all is well. It is a world of people, real people who need food to eat, whose bodies are real and vulnerable, who find strength and purpose in their relationships with others.
Maybe we can know a little more about this if we go a little deeper into the story of Out of the Cold.
Stevie Cameron tells about how it began here at St. Andrew’s. A few people here like in other communities around the city were all too aware of the growing number of homeless people on the streets of our city in the 1990’s. A changing policy on how people with mental health challenges would be treated led to the closure of most of the large residential institutions that had developed over the course of the 20th century. Quite rightly the emphasis shifted to healing and wholeness being sought as part of life in the community. People were not to be put away, out of sight like an annoyance. Trouble was, the shift in policy was not accompanied by adequate resources for this to happen in the community. It became a way of saving money and not a way to enhance the life of those who struggled with mental illness. At the same time, the amount of support available to those on social assistance was drastically reduced. Day after day, the number of people who ended up on the streets continued to grow.
“Have you anything here to eat?” That was the cry that began to be heard at the doors of churches and other communities. At first, it seemed, there was nothing to eat. There was resistance to open our doors. There were those who were afraid that having the marginalized and wounded come in would mess up our buildings. Would disrupt our lives as a community. Then, those who wanted to respond were told that the homeless could come in but they could not have anything to eat. Seemed strange. Seemed strange to Stevie and her friends who felt that they had to respond. They ordered the cheapest pizza possible. It wasn’t very good. And it certainly wasn’t what would satisfy the needs of those who kept appearing at our door and in our hall. Stevie and her friends decided that they needed to really respond. Yes, we do have something to eat hear. We really can welcome those who have nowhere else to go. Those who had been brutalized and beaten down could come here. They could come through our doors and into our midst. And here they could receive a meal. Good food like we would serve to our family and friends, especially if they came into Stevie’s home, who just happened to be a cordon bleu chef. These people were no longer ghosts, haunting our streets with no where to go. They were welcome to come in. And in them we saw our friends. Not a problem to be solved. Not an embarrassment or a bother. Not a risk to our property value. But friends. Who found a welcome. A place to come in out of the cold. And in our welcome, we found ourselves. Almost anyone who volunteers with Out of the Cold will tell you that they get back much more than they give. We find out that we are real flesh and blood people too. With our own vulnerabilities and our own needs. Who find joy when we connect with each other in community, whether cutting carrots around a table, or listening to someone’s story that somehow turned south, or being able to offer an egg and bacon sandwich to go at the end of the breakfast, or see the joy on someone’s face when you find the address of a lost family member so that a Christmas card can be sent. Kind of like those frightened disciples who rustled up a bit of fish for their friend to eat and from that moment on decided they had the power to transform the world.
It’s still Easter. There are still songs to be sung and stories to hear. We are still overwhelmed by the presence of the risen Christ among us. We still need to welcome the stranger and feed the hungry and recognize the wounded hands and feet of our neighbours and our own wounds. We still need to follow a new commandment, to love one another, just as our friend Jesus has loved us. And we need to share this message no matter where we find ourselves. Hallelujah. Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed.
Thanks be to God. Amen