What defines you? Is it your job? Your family? A hobby?
Are you defined by your likes or dislikes? By your accomplishments or failures?
What defines who you are?
For many in this room (or reading this), one answer that should come to mind relatively soon in this thought process is this: I am a Christian. The fact that I have been saved by Jesus Christ defines me.
But this doesn’t simply mean that we are called by Jesus’ name and that is all. It means that we live in a particular way, a way that reminds others what it means to be Christian, to follow Jesus.
This means that we fulfill the call to love one another: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). But loving one another is often much easier in theory than in practice. A preacher I once heard put it this way: I don’t love you because you’re lovable, I love you because Christ loves you; and how can I hate what God loves?
Most of us are less than lovable, especially when we’re at our worst. And yet, we’re commanded to love one another–and ourselves–as Christ loves us. Sacrificially. Unflinchingly. Without regard to what is deserved.
The love that we are called to extend toward one another is the same sort of love that God extends toward all of us, and it is a function of grace: one-way love without need or expectation of reciprocity (though it does inspire reciprocity). That this love is a function of grace is clear in that it is undeserved and, without God’s help, we are unable to offer it to others. God’s grace must be operative in us in order for us to become conduits for this love.
If Christians are a community defined by and reflecting God’s agape–over flowing, one way love–then we are also a community that must reinforce the recognition of our dependence upon God in the most basic ways. Because of this human need, we can be thankful that Christ did not simply leave his fledgling community with a series of impossible commandments: he left his sacraments as a means of equipping the saints for their work. That is to say, the sacraments are both signs and effectual means of God’s grace.
Specifically today, it is appropriate to reflect upon the Lord’s Supper (or Eucharist as Episcopalians usually refer to it). In our Gospel lesson (Luke 24:13-35), I would argue that we see Christ acting as the celebrant of the Eucharist, offering it to his disciples. Just as he had done during the feeding of the five thousand, and later during the last supper, Christ takes the bread, blesses it and breaks it. In each case the need of those receiving is met. Through their reception of bread and wine, Cleopas and his companion have their eyes opened and they are able to see the truth and understand the teachings that Jesus opened to them on the road.
In these events we not only have the precursor to the Eucharist, but also the structure of Christian worship: study/reflection/teaching on the Holy Scripture, followed by the breaking of bread.
It may seem strange that God would choose something as common place as bread and wine–as common as a meal–to be the sign of his continued presence with his people. And yet, that is precisely what he does. God takes what is ordinary and makes it extraordinary, what is mortal and makes it divine, what is finite and makes it infinite. Iin Christ, God takes ordinary humanity and makes it divine. As Christ ascends to the right hand of the Father, humanity is taken into the very life of God, and that in turn, through Christ in us, the power of God is give to us so that we might live as Christ lives.
The Eucharist constitutes and forms the community and then gives the community the means to go forth into the world rejoicing in the power of the spirit. Like the disciples that Jesus encounters on the road to Emmaeus, Christ is revealed to us (again and again) in the breaking of the bread.
And being the community that is called together by the sharing of a meal, by the confessing and forgiving of our sin, we are called to go forth and spread the good news to others. In doing this, the Eucharist provides us with sacramental strength, but also an effective example that should be an encouragement to all of us: God is going to accomplish his purposes through us; no matter how ordinary we believe ourselves to be, God makes us extraordinary.