Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Moment In Time

I’m certain that the Easter evening meal in the village of Emmaus was a dinner to remember.[i] I don’t always recall what I had for dinner but had I been at THAT supper I would remember even the sounds;
a clay plate being set down on the wooden table,
the low hum of women working in the kitchen and
the delicious smell of baking bread
My memory would be lit by the first candles of evening as they shed light into the growing darkness of the time just after sunset.  And I’m sure I could still hear Jesus’ voice offering the traditional blessing for bread;
“Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech Haolam
Ham-o-tzi lechem meen- Haaretz

The supper at Emmaus was a moment forever frozen in time for two men whose eyes were opened to see Christ in the man breaking bread before them.

The famous painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio painted this moment in time twice in his life.
He painted the first one when he was 28 and enjoying a popular career. His life was a success, he had patrons and fame. When you look at this painting you see action in the characters. Arms and hands are spread open in surprise, one man is about to spring out of his chair,
Jesus is robed in red and his face looks like porcelin. His arm reaches out to those around him. The scene is inviting and bright.

The second time Caravaggio painted the SUPPER was 5 years later when his world had turned because his life-choices had resulted in his exile, fleeing from the sentence of death (for taking someone else’s life.)
In this 2nd painting, the emphasis is on emotion, which is seen in the faces of the characters. Each person looks very real. The lines in their weathered faces can be counted. Some are half hidden in shadow yet still show the concentration of discovery and revelation.
Jesus is in a similar pose as in the 1st painting, but only his hand is lifted as if in blessing for the bread. The drama of the moment is expressed more subtly, in a raised finger and a man’s hand TIGHTLY gripping the table.
The room dimly lit. The robes are the color of the dark earth from which Jesus has arisen.

     This second painting is the most powerful, in my opinion. I find it the compelling and sat before it for a long time when I saw the original in Milan several years ago.

     I am drawn into the moment of Jesus’ divine connection. His words appear to captivate everyone in the room from the male travelers to the female servers. Perhaps he has just blessed the bread.
Jesus sits in transition on this resurrection night, paused in between the divine to whom he prays and the earthly with whom he eats.
The artist portrays this moment in time where recognition dawns on those to whom he gives bread. 
     Cleopas and friend, are frozen with the question on their face. Can this be him?  ----
Their eyes open like the dispelling of fog, and he slips away, vanished like the moment.
      “Were Not Our Hearts Burning within us...” they say.

* * *
. . . A moment in time.  A moment when Christ was made visible in the breaking of the bread...

We all have moments when we recognize Christ.  Some are quite dramatic and don’t seem to fit within the explainable circumstances around us.

     I’ve heard many stories over the years.  We need not feel sheepish and uncertain about sharing such mysterious and liminal experiences but sometimes we do feel timid.  We wonder if it is safe to share?
Perhaps because I’m a pastor, there is a sense that I may accept the story, that I just might believe the outrageous idea that Christ has been spotted in the world today...

     I once had just such an experience when I was sure the man standing before me in someway embodied the Christ.  We were engaged in a simple act of putting gas into a car.  I couldn’t see his face at first and when he did turn, I was surprised at the simplicity of his features.  He was just a common man, Yet in that moment, I recognized Christ.

Where have you seen him? the Risen Lord? What moment is painted perfectly in your memory?

You have heard me say I have an incarnational spirituality. I believe we see Jesus in people who chose to follow his way. 
I believe we meet him in the acts of compassion from our sisters and brothers.  And that we offer his presence in our acts of service. 
We bring Christ into the world in the way we love and serve others.
and so we shouldn’t be surprised at the places where Jesus comes near and walks with us.

The times when we recognize Christ are transformative and life-forming. They are moments in time that give shape and definition to the choices of our life.

In the same way an artist decides what scene to paint,
what paints to use,
how to stage the scene and
on what surface she or he will paint, so do we choose how to paint our life-journey.

     For the dedicated artist there are years of schooled preparation long before decisions about a painting are made.

An artist apprentices herself to a master painter.  She learns how to mix paint and make the right choices for color and texture.  All this before touching brush to canvas.  One day she is given a canvas of her own and lifts the brush for the first stroke.

We who have chosen to walk with Jesus are given a fresh canvas for our journey. Even when much of life seems decided by circumstance, WE CHOOSE EACH MOMENT HOW TO LIVE, like the artists chooses the moment in time to portray.

We begin our Christian Journey with a BLANK CANVAS

     Our formation with parents, teachers, and Christian community is our time of apprenticeship and we choose the brush strokes that become our masterpiece.           

Does my work this day need a fine and delicate touch for the small nuances of life?
     Or will wide and BOLD stroke have the greatest impact?
When we are formed as Christians we often choose COLORS that set us apart from other artists as we decide for a different palette of priorities than materialism and choose colors the rest of the world reject.

     Can you think of the times when you chose to color your life with bright, vibrant colors--;         That stood apart from everything else?

Or do you remember when you needed a blended color, one that took in the needs of the people who walk the road with you. 

We have different styles.  It takes a great diversity to represent all humanity’s gifts. – Some choose to paint landscapes and others’ portraits,
Some freeze action scenes and others paint still-life.
even modern art styles such as Jackson Pollack with his unique way of scattering paint onto a canvas, is done with intention and a style unique to the artist and the influences of his life.

Caravaggio’s painting changed as his life was formed by his choices.  He painted the supper at Emmaus in two very different ways.  That first painting is full of bright colors. Later, when he was in a darker place his work reflected his life.

     Sometimes, Our life painting needs illumination from a brighter source that we have within ourselves.
The recognition of Jesus’ presence at just such a time can be as transformative for people near us as it was for Cleopas that evening he walked with the unknown Jesus.

A moment in time where we see Jesus grabs us from the chaos of life.  It stops us in our tracks. A transforming experience may not be pleasant, at least not at first.

 The men journeying to Emmaus had been formed as apprentices of Jesus and when they think he is gone, a question from a stranger that brings the crushing experience back, STOPS them in their tracks.  It was the kind of pain that takes your breath away. . .
Still in this one moment, Jesus joins their journey calls out their experience, even before he is recognized.  And in the telling they are reminded of the hope they found in him.
Even as they are shaken by all that has happened, their intentional choice of generously welcoming the stranger for dinner opens the way for a transformative experience.  And in the breaking of the bread they see Jesus.  (pause)

This moment with Jesus recalled all the commitments these two disciples had made. It renewed their faith and it restored their intention to live in the Jesus’ Way.

We too are apprenticed to the master.
The choices we make paint the picture of our life; a moment in time in the midst of all God’s creation of time. This is YOUR moment in time.

Our choice is to share God’s/Christ’s love with the world. When we do so we paint a transformative moment in time for everyone we meet.

How is your canvas coming? What does the painting of your life look like so far?

The moment that you recognized Christ forms the way you paint your masterpiece.

If you’ve recognized Christ in someone KNEELING before you then you may paint a broad life of service. It may be the work of your life, or the passion of your volunteering.  Christ has formed you into one who kneels before others.

If you’ve known Christ as the one who ENLIGHTENED you; the one in whom all things make sense.  Then you may paint life with the careful strokes of a teacher who lives with the mission of helping others to see what you have seen.  You create opportunities for other’s to be enlightened and to recognize Christ in their own moments of transformation.

If you have grabbed hold of Christ as he calmed the sea that was tossing you from place to place, then your artistic tendencies may be to assure others that the storm they are facing will not overcome them.

If you have heard Christ calling your name and reassuring you of his presence.  Then you may paint a pastoral scene again and again so that other will see and know there is NEVER a moment in which we can be separated from the love of Christ.

These moments in time are all resurrection experiences along the road.

with brush strokes that are
bold and delicate,
               light and dark,
                                colorful and subtle

YOU PAINT LIVES of service, teaching,
                   love and compassion,

And Together they form the MASTER-pieces of our lives.

[i] (traditions differ as to whom the other person was with some saying Simon; not Peter, but the “other” Simon and some saying Nathanael)