Morning Worship: By vanishing, Jesus stays with us through the Holy Spirit

“When I found out the theme for this week was ‘Vanishing,’ I began to look for some texts with that word,” said the Rev. Barbara K. Lundblad, referring to the Gospel lesson from Luke 24:13-35, the walk to Emmaus.

She delivered her sermon, “Staying by Vanishing,” at the 10:45 a.m. Sunday morning worship and sermon in the Amphitheater. The other Scripture lesson was Deuteronomy 6:4-9.

Lundblad preached and served as concelebrant for the annual ecumenical Communion service.

“I am sure that you have heard the story before even if you just go to church on Easter,” she said. “The story is set on Easter evening, the day of Resurrection. Would you tell it as a movie or still photos? No, you say, I hate Bible movies. If you took a picture, would Jesus look like you?

“Were you aware of the movement on the road to the sitting at the table?” she continued. “This story is about the experience of the presence of God. It has to start as a movie. They were walking, talking, debating, all those verbs. A stranger approached them. We know who it was, but they don’t. They mention the movement they were a part of. The stranger asks, ‘What movement?’ ”

Suddenly, the movie becomes a still photo. The disciples stop walking, and there is deep sadness in their faces.

“They are sad that the stranger knows nothing about their movement,” she said. “Some movement. They had hoped Jesus would be the one to redeem Israel.”

Lundblad continued: “What would a photo of hopelessness look like in your life? Have you had hopes for yourself, your children, your country? Are they still alive? If not, when did they die? This sadness still weighs on the disciples as they begin to move again. This photo of hopelessness never goes away but they have to keep going even though Jesus did not meet their expectations and did not make everything alright.”

The women of their movement went to the tomb and were met by angels and saw Jesus, Lundblad said.

“If you heard this, would you leave town or go see for yourself if Jesus is really alive?” she said. “Their hopelessness had obliterated any belief in possibilities or surprise. ‘We had hoped ….’ ”

The strange thing was members of their little group had found things just as the women said, but did not see Jesus, she said.

“Could a photo hold any more irony?” Lundblad said. “They are looking at Jesus, walking with Jesus, telling Jesus about Jesus. They are looking at him but do not see. They had already decided he was dead and gone.”

Faith can vanish just like that, she said. But the stranger began to teach them about himself.

“How long would it take to interpret the Scriptures? Seven miles [to Emmaus from Jerusalem]. Three years in seminary. Four years at Morehouse [a reference to Robert Franklin’s alma mater]. The movie camera will move behind them so you can see them turn in close [to listen].”

The stranger was going to continue on but the narrator of the story slows everything down, Lundblad said. The disciples say “stay with us” and “he went and stayed with them.” When he was “with them” he took the bread and he gave it to them.

“And he vanished,” Lundblad and the congregation said together.

The disciples eyes were opened, but they might not have been if Jesus had not interpreted the Scriptures to them. They got up and went back to Jerusalem.

“It was evening now and they were out on the road when no one should be out,” she said. “Jesus stayed with them by vanishing. By vanishing, the Holy Spirit was unleashed on earth. They returned to Jerusalem filled with bread and the resurrection.

“The Bible was not written [just] for memory but it was also written forward,” Lundblad continued. “One of the disciples was named Cleopas. Who was he? An unknown disciple who drops out after this scene. And the other [disciple]? Is you or me. Luke left a blank space to fill in your own name.”

Maybe you’re waiting for a deeper assurance or clearer revelation from God in your life. Sometimes, you hear [Scripture] as for the first time even if your faith seems to have vanished, she said

“At a table, an altar, a hospital bed, in the Amphitheater, someone will take bread and bless it, here in the midst of our differences,” she said. “You hold out the bread, and one [person] who takes it is Cleopas and the other is you know. You know.”

The Communion bread was baked by members of the Chautauqua community. The Communion grape juice came from the Grower’s Co-Op in Westfield, bottled at the original Welch’s Grape Juice plant. Many of the bread plates were created by the late Tom Osbourn from trees on the Chautauqua grounds, which had been damaged or removed for safety reasons. The matching Communion chalices were made in the Chautauqua Ceramics Studio under the direction of Jeff Greenham. The United Methodist House provided Bishop John Heyl Vincent’s personal chalice for use during the service. Jared Jacobsen, organist and worship coordinator, had the gold silk stoles and matching altar paraments made for the First Lutheran Church in San Diego. Nancy Chinn and Harriet Gleeson made the angel banners that led the procession of denominational banners. 

Sixty-two people, clergy and lay assistants, served the Eucharist at the 31 stations about the Amphitheater. They represented 11 Christian denominations. For the first time since the annual ecumenical Communion was begun, one whole family acted as servers. The Rev. Beryl Jantzi of Harrisonburg, Virginia,  was assisted by his wife Margo. Their daughters, Rose and Melissa also served as assistants. They are members of the Mennonite Church.

The Rev. Robert M. Franklin Jr., director of the Chautauqua Department of Religion, welcomed the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle Class of 2015 to their Baccalaureate service. Their class motto, “Creating Connection, Transforming Traditions” was visible by the Massey Organ pipes.

Franklin presided. The Rev. Virginia Carr served as a reader and concelebrant. The Rev. Ray Defendorf read the Gospel. Jacobsen directed the Chautauqua Choir. The Chautauqua Choir sang “Ubi Caritas” by Maurice Duruflé. Mary Giegengack Jureller, a member of the Chautauqua Choir, provided the English translation of the first anthem. Virginia Oram, served as cantor for Responsorial Psalm 116, “The Name of God,” with a setting by David Haas. The Gospel acclamation was “Joyful Alleluia” by Howard Hughes. The offertory anthem was “The Lord Is My Shepherd” by John Rutter. Barbara Kemper Hois, flute, and Rebecca Kemper Scarnati, oboe, provided accompaniment. The music during Communion included “Agnus Dei” by Steve Dobrogosz and the Communion anthem was “A Study Song for Chautauqua,” often called”Break Thou the Bread of Life,” by Mary Artemisia Lathbury, setting by David E. Kellermeyer. The organ postlude was “Carillon-Sortie” by Henri Mulet. The Robert D. Campbell Memorial Chaplaincy provides support for this week’s services.