April 30, 2023 Reflection and Worship Link

Emerge A Metamorphosis Moment

“Open: Into the Light”

Scripture Reading: Luke 24: 28-49    

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Many years ago I heard about a psychology study in which individuals were asked to observe other individuals coming in and out of a room. Each time the people that left the room returned, something about their appearance changed. They put on a jacket or took off a pair of glasses. The research showed that more often than not the observers found it easier to see something that had been removed from the person, something that was missing than it was for them to notice something that had been added, something new. Which is apparently why if you are someone who wears glasses and you get a new pair of glasses it can sometimes take people an entire year to notice them.

I lived with this phenomenon regularly in the house where I grew up. My mother would get a new outfit and put it on waiting for my father to notice which he rarely did but if the salt and pepper was missing from the dinner table we would all hear about it.

When we lose something of significance, whether it’s the death of a loved one or the loss of a job or a relationship, or our children moving away from home or the church of the past that was always full on Sunday mornings, it can be very difficult for us to see anything other than what’s missing.

We naturally notice and feel what isn’t more than we see what is or what could be.

Today’s scripture reading takes place mere days after Jesus has been crucified. Strange tales of his resurrection have started to circulate amongst his followers. In the verses immediately before today’s reading two of those followers have been travelling away from Jerusalem on the road to Emmaus. Like all of us when a loved one has died and especially when the death has been unexpected and even more so when it’s been violent, they are processing the events of the last few days, going over the details again and again. Suddenly, a stranger comes alongside them and asks them what they are talking about. He walks with them for a long time, seems very knowledgeable about the teachings of their leader, the one who was crucified, but it isn’t until they invite him to spend the night with them and he takes bread and breaks it open at the table that their eyes were opened and they recognized him and knew him to be the Risen Christ.

They hurry back to Jerusalem to tell the disciples and the rest of their friends how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread when suddenly Jesus himself stood among them saying “Peace be with you.” But instead of being happy to see him, they were startled and terrified and thought they were seeing a ghost. He was right there alive and with them but they could only see death and loss.

They have seen the empty tomb, Mary and some of the women have seen his resurrected presence, the travellers on the road have shared a meal with him and yet they can only see a ghost, what’s dead and gone, when the Risen Christ, when Easter shows up right in front of them.

One of the things that really strikes me about this story and the other post-resurrection stories in the bible is that these are stories told in the context of those who have had the benefit of walking and talking with Jesus while he was on earth. Some of them have been healed by him, some have found acceptance and a sense of belonging from being with him that they were unable to find in any other place. All of them were inspired and changed by their encounters with him. And yet the minute things started to go south it was as if they forgot everything they had ever known. Which is surely why, in this morning’s story, the Risen Christ is so surprised at their reaction to him. Why are you so frightened by life, why do doubts arise in your hearts? He may as well have said “What’s wrong with you people? Didn’t you pay attention to a single thing I’ve taught you or that you have experienced in my midst?”

My guess is that they did pay attention and their lives were changed by the encounters they had with him, but when we are consumed by grief and fear it’s quite remarkable how quickly we can forget what we once knew. There’s nothing like grief and fear and circumstances beyond our control to cloud our thinking and blur our vision.

Some of you have heard me talk about the experience I had not long after I had been diagnosed with breast cancer and I was preparing for my first surgery. Facilitator and coach Caitlin Frost had been doing some work with us here at the church at the time and she offered to meet with me one on one to address any fears or concerns I might have about the surgery. It was a pretty straightforward day surgery and I thought I didn’t really have any fears and concerns about it. But there was one part of the procedure someone told me was unpleasant so I said to Caitlin that if I was afraid of anything, it was probably that procedure. “Good” she said, “let’s explore your thoughts about that procedure.” As we did and I discovered that deep down inside I actually had quite a few fears about the procedure. Caitlin helped me see that when those fears were activated in me I suddenly lost sight of everything I knew. Even when I was just imagining the procedure, sitting in the safety of my office here at the church, surrounded by everything I know about God and love and hope and compassion, I completely forgot it all including the fact that I actually have quite a few spiritual practices in my tool kit to address my fears and concerns. When my fear and grief about the loss of my good health took over, I actually started seeing the nurses and doctors in my imagination as enemies who were going to hurt me instead of seeing them as Christ-filled people who were there to take care of me and even love me. That was me, the one who tells you at the end of every service to go out and see the face of Christ in every one you meet. That was me, the one who teaches spiritual practices to other people for a living.

No wonder the disciples were afraid of the Risen Christ. The tragic events of the last few days of their lives stripped them of their trust and rendered them unable to see anything hopeful about their future the same way we all get disoriented from time to time even if we have regular spiritual practices.

Which is why we call our life of faith a journey and why we speak of practicing our faith. In the rhythm and flow of our lives we are always moving forward through time.

Like the first Jesus followers, we are always being sent out ahead, like the butterfly leaving the chrysalis we are always being propelled towards new life. But when we are in the midst of change and loss, it can take time for that new life to come into focus and time for us to embrace it when we see it.

I don’t know if it takes a butterfly any time to flap their wings and fly when they first catch a glimpse of light breaking through the chrysalis and they unfold and open themselves to that light. I do know that for us humans the process can take a while. The caterpillar doesn’t turn into a butterfly, doesn’t grow new eyes, overnight, which is why we journey together.

Did you notice in both parts of this morning’s story, in the part about the Emmaus travelers and in the part about the frightened disciples who think they are seeing a ghost in front of them, there are references to food, bread and fish. They are there are reminders to us to keep feasting on the truths that lies at the heart of the Easter story, the truths that tell us that even when we are in the places of deepest despair at the state of our world, at the circumstances of our lives or both, the love in which we were first created, the promise of forgiveness and new beginnings, the assurance that life goes on even after death is always with us.

The more we feast on these truths together, the more likely it is that we will be able to leave the past behind, to open our eyes, to look for the light and to see the life that is right in front of us, to gradually unfold our wings and learn to fly again.