This church has existed in one form or another since the 1780s. It has gone through different stages and has even existed in different places, but it has been around for a long time! Many of you have known each other for years. Your families have been members of this church for decades, maybe even centuries. There is something comforting about being that well-known, that familiar in your community.
Imagine that you and one of your fellow church members, someone with whom you are very close, are the two disciples walking along the road to Emmaus together. Not only have you been friends for a long time, you’ve recently been through the most amazing experience together. You met Jesus and became his disciples. Jesus, the most enigmatic figure you have ever met. In his presence you felt the spirit of God. You believed in him, believed that his way was the way to redemption. You had hoped that he would be the one to redeem Israel! But then, he was betrayed by one of your group, handed over to the authorities, arrested, and crucified! It was unbelievable. And, to top it all off, the women of the group were now saying that the tomb was empty and that angels had told them that Jesus was alive! After being buried for three days, they said that they Jesus was alive!
You’re together, walking along the road, talking about all that had happened, sharing your feelings, the hopes you had had, the crushing disappointment you felt when those hopes were dashed by the death of Jesus, and the confusion you felt about what the women had said. You’re sharing deeply with each other, comforting each other, giving solace to one another, when, suddenly, a stranger joins you.
Now, you could be annoyed that this stranger has joined you. I mean, you’re having an intimate conversation about something that the stranger was not involved in. Not only that, but the stranger has the audacity to ask you what you’re talking about! The nerve of him, breaking in on your personal time together, asking you what you’re talking about when he doesn’t even know you! How annoying that could be.
But, instead of being annoyed and caught up with your own concerns, you welcome the stranger. You answer his question, amazed that he doesn’t know what has been going on. You patiently describe the events of the past few days, filling him in.
And then, he has the audacity to chastise you for not believing all that the prophets had declared about the Messiah and to interpret your own prophets for you! Again, you could be annoyed at the audacity of the stranger. Who does he think he is to be taking that attitude with you? But, instead, you listen to him. You not only listen to him, you invite him to eat with you when you reach your destination, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.”
The stranger accepts your invitation and joins you for supper. And, in the midst of eating together, when the stranger offers you some bread he has broken off of the loaf after saying a prayer of blessing, all of the sudden you realize that Jesus is present. “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am.” This hasn’t been a stranger who has been walking and talking with you – it has been Christ himself, and you recognize that fact in the breaking of the bread together. And then, you look back over the past few hours that you have spent with the stranger, and you realize that, all along, your heart has been burning within you. In your heart, you knew that Christ was present, but your eyes only saw a stranger. Now, however, your eyes have been opened, and you see clearly: All along, you have been welcoming not a stranger, but Christ.
Every person with whom you come into contact – whether known or unknown, whether a friend or a stranger – can be Christ to you, and you can be Christ to them. Do you welcome them into your conversation, explain to them those things they don’t know about, listen to them patiently, invite them to share a meal with you? Or do you turn them aside, annoyed that they have interrupted your cozy and comfortable existence, annoyed that they have the audacity to approach you, question you, explain things to you?
When you welcome them, they become Christ to you and you become Christ to them. But when you turn them aside, you miss an opportunity to experience the Christ in yourself and in others.
This is God’s house and this is God’s table and all are welcome. Friend or stranger, saint or sinner, all are welcome. We come to this table now to celebrate Communion, remembering that we are all members of God’s household, remembering that we are all invited to gather at God’s Welcome Table, remembering that Christ is among us, if only we will heed the burning of our hearts as we commune together. Amen.
Sermon preached by the Rev. Amy Johnson at the Canton Community Baptist Church, Canton, CT, Sunday, February 7, 2016, the Fifth Sunday After Advent.