Going Out of Your Mind
Driving in snow
GOING OUT OF YOUR MIND
TEXT: Luke 24:13-35
One of my favorite books for mindless reading is the Science Fiction parody, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, probably because it contains one of my favorite illustrations of being mindless.
The people of the universe are burning to know the answer to the meaning of life. So, to answer that question, they consult the greatest mind in the universe--a computer called "Deep Thought." "O, Deep Thought," they ask, "What is the meaning of life, the universe, and everything"? Well, this is a tough question and Deep Thought takes a few thousand years to compute the answer. Finally, thousands of years later, the answer is ready. "Well?" they ask Deep Thought, "What is the answer? What is the meaning of life, the universe and everything?" Deep Thought answers, "42."
At first they are stunned and think it is a joke. Then someone suggests that it is a profound answer that can only be understood by discovering what the right question is. They then go off on another wild goose chase after the proper question, which turns out to be--as you can probably guess--"what is 6 times 7?".
I love that scene because it points to one of the great mistakes of our modern culture...the assumption that technical, scientific knowledge--the accumulation of verifiable facts--is the only sort of knowledge...the only kind of truth that there is. If you're going to go asking a computer about the meaning of life, you deserve to get an answer like 42.
In many ways, we are a culture of the mind. I once heard a statistic that claimed that the most dreaded disease in our culture was Alzheimer's--the disease that takes away the mind. When we think of smart people, we think of those with lots of technical knowledge--scientists, doctors, astronauts. Our generic term for a brilliant person is a "rocket scientist," not an English teacher or musician. It's a bias we have toward the technical and verifiable, and that cultural bias spills over into our faith.
Who are the heretics? The ones who do not think the correct doctrines. It doesn't matter what they have done with their lives, if they express the wrong thoughts, we burn them at the stake. The debate over infant versus adult baptism is often a question of how much one has to be able to understand, and we say someone is a believer when they are able to tell us the right sort of doctrine about Jesus. Most important for our point today is that the battles over Holy Communion, also, have largely been fought over thinking--how do we think about the bread and the wine--are they literally or just figuratively the body and blood of Christ--and how is that rationally possible anyway?
This morning I would like to invite you to go out of your minds for a while, as I think this passage from Luke invites us to do. I don't want to say that our minds have no value. Church should not be a place where you have to check your brain at the door. But neither should it be a place where only the brain gets to participate. There are other means of knowing, other modes of understanding.
The message of Jesus is not so much about how to think as it is about how to live. It is not so much in the thinking, but in the doing of things that we really understand. Most ancient cultures knew this. The smart people were who? The elders--those who had lived the longest-- because they had real knowledge, the knowledge that comes from experiencing a lot of life. You know this. If I take a course in sociology, I might say I know about poverty. But that is laughable to those who live in poverty every day of their lives--THEY know about poverty.
This message is especially important for Communion. Look at the story we read from Luke. Jesus walks all the way to Emmaus with two men, talking about Scripture--head stuff. It is apparently an interesting conversation, but it doesn't allow them to see Jesus. They walk all that way with the Son of God opening the Scriptures to them, and they haven't got a clue who their traveling companion is. When are their eyes opened? When do they see Jesus? When Jesus DOES something, when he breaks the bread. It is only AFTER they encounter Jesus in the action of breaking bread...the ritual action that preceded every Jewish meal... that they remember what he SAID earlier on the road.
Don't miss this. For a long time we Christians have tried to talk people into faith. We quote Scripture to them, we explain about the Cross, and only after they tell us they believe these things, do we invite them to the actions, "Believer's" baptism, or the ritual meal of Communion where God has promised to meet us. Well, suppose the road to Emmaus is telling us that this is backwards. Suppose we need to encounter Jesus in the waters of baptism and the breaking of the bread BEFORE we can even begin to understand Scripture or doctrine.
This notion is a part of our Methodist heritage. Wesley fought hard to retain infant baptism and promoted what is called "open communion"--anyone could come to the table. He believed that part of the purpose of the Supper was conversion, and thus it was open to everyone. He did not restrict it to those who could recite correct doctrine or could explain what was happening. And he did not restrict Communion to those who had no sin--on the contrary, it was precisely FOR sinners who did not understand. Why? Because Wesley could see that it was in the DOING and not in the thinking that Christ was to be encountered.
Jesus did not go around explaining the doctrine of grace to sinners. Jesus said, "Come out of that sycamore tree, Zacchaeus. I'm going to have dinner with you tonight." Jesus was always getting in trouble for eating with the riffraff. And it changed their lives. Jesus didn't talk grace, he lived grace. As the sinner was accepted at the table of Jesus and invited to share in a common meal--the sinner could understand the message of God's grace in a way that was impossible for those who refused to come until they were "worthy." It is only AFTER an unworthy sinner is invited to eat with Jesus Christ that Scripture comes alive--"While we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly." Let's go out of our minds and come to the table--not BECAUSE we understand, but in order that we MIGHT understand by meeting Jesus Christ in the breaking of the bread.
And now that we're out of our minds that far, other parts of Communion begin to look a little different, too. Jesus said "Do this in remembrance of me." What does it mean to remember? Most of us immediately think of--what else--thinking. To remember is to go into our minds and think about the past. We might even close our eyes to make sure nothing pulls us out of our minds so that we can try to imagine the shapes, the colors, the places, and see them in our heads. But what does remembering look like when we have come out of our minds a little bit?
What happens when you lose something and thinking does not help you remember? Don't you actually go to the places where you have been? You must have done this--"Let's see...I was in the kitchen" and you go to the kitchen, "and then I walked into the dining room," and you walk into the dining room, "and then I went down the hall...no, wait a minute...I turned here and went into the bathroom--here it is!" Your memory was enriched by actually doing what you had done before. There are many examples of this sort of thing. Crimes are reenacted to aid the memory of victims or witnesses. Therapists help us reenact scenes from our lives to help us remember and to promote healing.
But these reenactments don't just help our thinking, they allow us to experience the event. This means that by acting something out, not only can we experience a past event again, but we can experience events where we were not actually present. Have you ever been to a historical site? My house in Maryland was a 150-year-old farmhouse that had been used as a station on the Underground Railroad. In the floor of an upstairs closet was a trapdoor that led down a ladder into a hidden room where runaway slaves were hidden as they escaped to the north. I had read about such places, and had thought about them--I remembered what they were. But to enter that house--to live there--was a completely different thing.
As I went down through the trap door into that room, I wasn't a white lady from the late twentieth century anymore. All of a sudden I could feel the tension and fear of a slave on the run. I listened for noise on the road--for pounding on the door and demands to search the house, the creaking wheels of a hay wagon, a gentle tapping on the door, and then a whispered password and the click of a lock. I could almost smell the warm bodies, huddled in both fear and hope, down in that small room. I couldn't walk through that house without being a part of the peole who had lived there before me--without remembering in a way that was very different from plain thought.
And this is the fuller meaning of Jesus' words--Do this in remembrance of me. Listen to it: DO this in remembrance of me. Not THINK about me, but DO this in order that you might remember. And as we do this--as we reenact what happened, not just at the Last Supper, but also at Emmaus and at every other meal with Jesus, the same mysterious thing happens that would happen to me in my Maryland house.
We reach out our hands to receive the bread, and suddenly they are more than just our hands. Suddenly, they are the hands of the disciples in Emmaus who have just recognized their Lord among them. They are the hands of the twelve in the upper room. And it doesn't stop there. Christians have been celebrating the Lord's Supper for almost 2,000 years. My hands are also the hands of St. Paul, or Joan of Arc, of Luther, of Wesley, of Martin Luther King, of Mother Teresa. My hands are black hands and white hands, Lutheran hands and Baptist hands, and they are the hands of Christians yet to be born. They are the hands of sinners and because Jesus also ate the bread, they are the hands of God.
Communion is the ACT that makes us the Body of Christ. It is the act that brings us together and unites us across space and time. It is not about how we think as individuals, but about who we ARE as a group. It is about our identity, not about our thinking. It is a way of knowing that is out of our minds. We can't THINK Jesus into our midst anymore than we can THINK a departed loved one back from the grave. Ah, but when we begin to get out of our minds and start to DO, we experience things that happen in no other way.
When I was a child in New England, my father liked to take me out driving in the snow. As soon as the snow would start, he would call me and we would get into the car and go. It was always beautiful, especially at night, when you could watch the snow dashing into the headlights, curving down toward the car like a sparkling white road that led up into the sky.
My father has been dead 19 years now, but he lives and is present with me whenever the snow begins to fall, and I get into my car and drive. I can think about him, but he is not present in the same way that he is in the snow, or when I read one of his letters or touch something that belonged to him. You know this kind of presence, as I know many of you experience the presence of departed loved ones when you sit in a certain chair, revisit a place, read a letter, hold a picture.
To me, this is part of the mystery of Communion. God is with us always, and Jesus makes a home within our hearts, but Jesus Christ is present with us in a special way when we come to the table, and we are present with each other and with all Christians of all time, as we share this special meal. The others are all here...the Communion of Saints we call it...and they join their hands with ours at the table. We are one body with them, with each other, with God. This act is who we are...the body of Christ...one bread, one body. I don't know that because of a course in theology or because I've thought about it for a long time. I know it because I once joined a slave woman in a secret room and felt a dead man live again on a snowy night. Come with me--out of your minds and to the table of our Lord Jesus Christ. Do this in remembrance of me.
© 1999, Anne Robertson