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“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…” Luke 24: 30-31a
We have been talking a lot, recently,about darkness. Although the metaphor can give way to some problematic imagery, it is still a concept that resonates in many hearts. We understand the idea of darkness in all the times we are as uncomfortable spiritually as we would be in physical darkness: when we are disoriented and confused.
Today, we continue in Eastertide darkness, dwelling still on the very day of resurrection and the great difficulty that the disciples had in leaving that place of uncertainty. Today, we see two of Jesus’ followers road to Emmaus, discussing what had happened, and the strangeness that that very morning had held, when the women had come running back from Jesus’ tomb with incredible, fantastic stories of angelic visions and an empty tomb. There were plenty of rational explanations, but these two men found their whole world shaken, found it impossible that anyone could be moving normally through their day when the very foundations of the world seemed unstable. Their question to the stranger who met them is one we’ve often felt, in times of great emotion – how does everyone not know what has happened?
It calls into question yet again how many of the disciples had ever really gotten the death and crucifixion and resurrection that Jesus had warned them about? How many had really believed what Jesus had told them; had understood that, for once, Jesus hadn’t been speaking in parables? Not many, judging from the reactions: the disciples we hear about were fearful, uncertain: feeling their way forward in suddenly unfamiliar world.
In the darkness, even the familiar seems strange enough. Have you ever tried to walk through your house with the lights off? I tried it the other night, and immediately tripped over the toys that I knew were on the floor. We move with less confidence, even in familiar surroundings. Should something intrude on us, in that moment, wouldn’t we all be afraid? Would we, any of us, recognize even a loved one immediately? especially if we weren’t expecting them? Wouldn’t we be too afraid to believe?
In the darkenss, would we recognize the Risen Christ, walking with us, speaking with us, opening our eyes to new ideas and new possibilities?
Throughout scriptures, from the first book of our Bible to the last, one theme infuses it all: Covenant. Throughout our scriptures, we are reminded of the promises that God has made to all generations, to remain with us and to guide us through this life. It is that covenant, embodied by Christ, that we celebrate at the communion table: the reminder and the promise that there is presence; that we were – that we are – worth loving and dying for; that we are forgiven, that there is grace, always. We gather at the table in celebration of covenant in the place where we, like disciples, know risen Christ in breaking bread.
But covenant endures even when we’re not expecting, and not looking for it.
Covenant endures even when the darkness seems oppressive, and we’re disoriented and afraid; even when crucifixion seems more present than resurrection in our lives; even when we’re on the road, more focused on other things; even when conversations with strangers lead us to new, strange, and disorienting ideas.
The question of covenant has been very much on my mind this week, because of the lawsuit that our denomination has filed. The United Church of Christ, along with a few local Unitarian and Reform Jewish congregations, has filed suit in federal court against the State of North Carolina, in an attempt to overturn its ban on same-sex marriage. Now, there are several states with similar bans, and the UCC has not sued any of them. North Carolina’s law differs from the others in that it makes it illegal – punishable by a fine and a jail term – for clergy to perform any marriage-like ceremony that is not legally recognized by the state. This includes commitment ceremonies for same-sex couples, or for opposite-sex couples who, for whatever reason, choose to have their relationship recognized by the church, but not the state. So the UCC’s lawsuit argues against the marriage ban, not only on the grounds of equal protection, but also on the right that we all have to free expression of religion.
Now, certainly, there are churches in the United Church of Christ that don’t agree – as there have been, in many stances we’ve taken as a denomination. For every controversial stance that we take, there are churches who wish we wouldn’t, or hadn’t. Yet of those churches, very few end up leaving our denomination: we remain together because we are in covenant, and our covenant is a reminder and embodiment of God’s covenant with us: unconditional and abiding, loving beyond the barriers that humans erect. Even in disagreement, we remain bound together, bearing one another’s burdens, seeking God together, listening, learning, and walking together because sometimes, Christ is walking with us. Sometimes, we might recognize Christ in our midst, not only in the expected, but in the unexpected as well; not only in light but in darkness; not only in faith but in doubt
As we gather at the table, we renew our covenant with one another and with God. We renew our promise to love God by loving one another. We renew our faith with God who promises to remain with us no matter what: despite our failures of love, God remains faithful; even though we hung God on the cross, God remains faithful. And love prevails, over all we might do to prevent and oppose it. God’s love is there waiting, even in unexpected places and forms, guiding us through the darkness back to the resurrection light.