WBB On-line Worship: Easter Tuesday, No Cheap Hope

[An on-line Wine Before Breakfast service
for Easter Tuesday, 2020]

Introduction – No Cheap Hope (Brian Walsh)

“And what do you have to say?”

I had sent my pastoral charge out to visit
a man deathly ill from West Nile disease.

A young seminary student,
full of promise,
and green behind the ears.

He was met at the door by the man’s wife.
With one look at this young pastor-in-training she asked,
“And what do you have to say?”

What on earth could you say
that could be of any real help,
real hope, or real comfort,
to my husband, or to me?

The student returned to me devastated.
It was the most important learning moment of his internship.

Don’t come here with your platitudes.
Don’t offer us any cheap hope.
Don’t go proclaiming resurrection while the bodies pile up.


Two disciples are walking down the road.
Heads hung low.
Weighed down in despair.
Stomachs churning in anxiety.

A stranger shows up
and asks them, “what’s up?”

They stop, dead in their tracks.

What’s up? What kind of question is that?
Haven’t you noticed the bodies?
Haven’t you experienced the crisis?
Don’t you see the suffering all around you?
Don’t you know what happened last Friday?

“Umm, sorry,” the stranger replied, “what happened last Friday?”

Hope died.
Goodness was crucified.
All promise was eradicated.
Our leader was executed up by the police state.
And to make things worse, the body is gone,
and there are hysterical rumours of resurrection.

That’s when the stranger interjected,
“You really don’t get it, do you?”

And before the dejected, defeated and depressed disciples
could blow up and let this interloper have it,
the stranger told them a story.

Beginning with Moses and the prophets,
the stranger told a story.

Not a story of heroic achievement.
Not a story of cheap happy ever endings.
But a story of suffering.
God’s suffering.
A story in which hope is borne out of grief,
and resurrection is hard won,
on the other side of suffering and death.

I don’t know.
Maybe you had to be there.
But there was something about this story,
and something about how the stranger told it,
that had their hearts burning within them.

When they stopped and broke bread together,
their eyes were opened
and they recognized him.


Friends, “alleluia” does not slip off the tongue easily this year.
Resurrection hope may be the very bedrock of Christian hope,
but it sure feels like we are slipping into quick sand these days.

How do we confidently proclaim resurrection
when the reality and the threat of death is so prevalent?

How do we embrace the revolution of Easter
without domesticating it into platitudes and cheap hope?

I don’t know, but Emmylou Harris’s “The Pearl” seems to resonate.

O the dragons are gonna fly tonight
They’re circling low and inside tonight
It’s another round in the losing fight
Out along the great divide tonight

How do you sing “alleluia” in the face of such imminent threat?

Our path is worn our feet are poorly shod
We lift up our prayer against the odds
And fear the silence is the voice of God

So what do you do with that silence?
Emmylou confesses that we don’t sing, we cry.

You see, it is true:

Sorrow is constant and the joys are brief
The seasons come and bring no sweet relief
Time is a brutal but a careless thief
Who takes our lot but leaves behind the grief

So what do you do with that sorrow?
What do you do with that grief?

We cry Alleluia, Alleluia
We cry Alleluia

Crying alleluia.
Mixing our tears
with the very tears of God.

So our Easter Tuesday service at WBB this year
will begin with Emmylou Harris.
Deb Whalen-Blaize has curated two other songs
for our Easter reflection.

Neither of them contain any further alleluia’s.
And neither of them are Easter hymns.
Not this year.

Aileen Verdun has crafted our prayers,
and allows a moment of alleluia – either shouted or whispered –
right at the end.

And, in my homily, I’m struggling with the lack of bread
in our communal life together.

There is no Resurrection Party this year.
There is no champagne with our orange juice
and a big over-the-top feast for us in the office.
Not this year.

So come into this space of words and music,
come into this space of prayer and reflection,
even if it is a virtual space.

Let’s walk this road together with that stranger
who had such an amazing story to tell.
And let’s see if our hearts might burn within us.

This will be our last regular WBB service of the semester,
and I will be in touch in the next couple of days
with a pastoral letter about where we might go
from here in the months to come.

In resurrection hope, yet still weighed down by grief.

Prelude: “The Pearl” (Emmylou Harris)

O the dragons are gonna fly tonight
They’re circling low and inside tonight
It’s another round in the losing fight
Out along the great divide tonight

We are aging soldiers in an ancient war
Seeking out some half remembered shore
We drink our fill and still we thirst for more
Asking if there’s no heaven what is this hunger for?

Our path is worn our feet are poorly shod
We lift up our prayer against the odds
And fear the silence is the voice of God

And we cry Alleluia Alleluia
We cry Alleluia

Sorrow is constant and the joys are brief
The seasons come and bring no sweet relief
Time is a brutal but a careless thief
Who takes our lot but leaves behind the grief

It is the heart that kills us in the end
Just one more old broken bone that cannot mend
As it was now and ever shall be amen

And we cry Alleluia Alleluia …

So there’ll be no guiding light for you and me
We are not sailors lost out on the sea
We were always headed toward eternity
Hoping for a glimpse of Gaililee

Like falling stars from the universe we are hurled
Down through the long loneliness of the world
Until we behold the pain become the pearl

Cryin’ Alleluia Alleluia …

Gospel: Luke 24.13-35 – The Road to Emmaus

And behold, two of them were going that very day
to a village named Emmaus,
which was about seven miles from Jerusalem.

And they were talking with each other
about all these things which had taken place.

While they were talking and discussing,
Jesus Himself approached and began traveling with them.
But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him.

And He said to them,
“What are these words that you are exchanging
with one another as you are walking?”

And they stood still, looking sad.

One of them, named Cleopas, answered and said to Him,
“Are You the only one visiting Jerusalem
and unaware of the things which have happened here in these days?”

And He said to them, “What things?”

And they said to Him,
“The things about Jesus the Nazarene,
who was a prophet mighty in deed and word i
n the sight of God and all the people,
and how the chief priests and our rulers
delivered Him to the sentence of death,
and crucified Him.

But we were hoping that it was He
who was going to redeem Israel.

Indeed, besides all this, it is the third day since these things happened.

But also some women among us amazed us.
When they were at the tomb early in the morning,
and did not find His body, they came,
saying that they had also seen a vision of angels
who said that He was alive.
Some of those who were with us went to the tomb
and found it just exactly as the women also had said;
but Him they did not see.”

And He said to them,
“O foolish men and slow of heart to believe
in all that the prophets have spoken!
Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things
and to enter into His glory?”

Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets,
He explained to them the things concerning Himself
in all the Scriptures.

And they approached the village where they were going,
and He acted as though He were going farther.
But they urged Him, saying,
“Stay with us, for it is getting toward evening,
and the day is now nearly over.”

So He went in to stay with them.

When He had reclined at the table with them,
He took the bread and blessed it,
and breaking it, He began giving it to them.

Then their eyes were opened
and they recognized Him;
and He vanished from their sight.

They said to one another,
“Were not our hearts burning within us
while He was speaking to us on the road,
while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?”

And they got up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem,
and found gathered together the eleven
and those who were with them,  saying,
“The Lord has really risen and has appeared to Simon”

They began to relate their experiences on the road
and how He was recognized by them in the breaking of the bread.

On Easter without Bread
(a homily by Brian Walsh)

“When he was at table with them, he took bread,
blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.
Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him.”

When we began Wine Before Breakfast the idea was simple,
and the method was theologically naive.

Tired of various weak-kneed attempts at Christian collaboration on campus,
and convinced that Christian unity was rooted in praxis, not doctrine,
we launched an early morning ecumenical worship service.

The idea was to gather folks together in worship;
let that be our practice of unity,
and see what happens.

And, of course, we would do that around the table.

Of course.

As if the Eucharistic table had always been the place of Christian unity.
As if the history of the church wasn’t littered
with eucharistic exclusion.

As if the Lord’s Table had ever functioned
as a practice of deep hospitality to each other.

I mean, when the colleges of the Toronto School of Theology
gather for worship, it has never been at the Table.
That would assume a unity that does not exist.

But, starting Wine Before Breakfast,
we just kind of ignored that history
and invited folks to the table anyway.

Simplistic and theologically naive.
Counter to any experience of ecumenical gatherings.

Now WBB didn’t in fact become an ecumenical worship community
representing the various Christian groups on campus.
But I’m not sure that the table was the stumbling block.
Early morning worship just wasn’t strong enough to pull folks out of their silos.

Something else happened that was just as counter-intuitive at the time.

Regardless of the intentions of its founders,
WBB emerged as something of a church plant.

Not a church in any conventional sense,
nor even a church with very many
recognizable ecclesiastical structures,
but a church nonetheless.

Anywhere from ten to sixty or seventy folks over the years
have gathered for prayer, mutual encouragement,
spiritual formation, pastoral care,
word and sacrament.

That’s church, isn’t it?

We didn’t know that the church planting wisdom of the day
said that you couldn’t root a new church community in the Eucharist.

Eucharist was setting the bar way too high.
Eucharist was something that you could work your way towards,
but you couldn’t start there.

Hmm. Either no one told us this,
or we just weren’t paying attention.

I mean, we had already set the bar of admission high.
We met at 7.30 in the morning (and then eventually at 7.22!!)
for crying out loud.
If that isn’t a rather high bar of admission, then what is?

But why would bread and wine at a table of hospitality
be setting the bar too high?

Well, maybe because there is an assumption
that admission to this table has certain requirements.

Like maybe Christian faith.
Or perhaps the right theology,
Or maybe a clear and particular eucharistic understanding.

You can’t break bread and pour the wine together
until everyone is on the same page,
until everyone is subject to the same eucharistic discipline.

Again, no one told us these things,
or maybe we just weren’t listening.

How about if admission to the table is rooted in hospitality?
How about if we come to the table as the Lord’s table, not ours?
How about if admission to this table is based on hunger?

Are you hungry?
Do you have the kind of hunger that you think might
be met with a little morsel of bread and a sip of wine?
Then come, the table is set,
the bread of life and the cup of blessing is on offer.

That has been at the heart of Wine Before Breakfast from the beginning.

And that is what is hardest for me at this time of isolation.
We aren’t communing together around bread and wine.
We are subject to an imposed forced eucharistic fast.

Now … let’s consider this story.

Two unnamed disciples are leaving town.
They’re departing the scene of the crime.
They are abandoning the city of disappointment,
the site of crushed dreams,
and heading to small town Emmaus.

A dude shows up on the road.
A bible study to end all bible studies ensues.
And then they convince the guy to hang out for dinner.

“When he was at table with them, he took bread,
blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.
Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him.”

So here’s the question:
What would have happened if he didn’t stay for dinner?
What would have happened if he didn’t break bread with them?

Would their eyes have been opened?
Would they have recognized him?

Well … no.

The story is clear.
That opening of the eyes,
that moment of deep recognition,
happens in the breaking of the bread.

I know that this is true.
I’ve seen it happen.
I’ve experienced it.

That opening of the eyes,
that moment of deep recognition,
happens in the breaking of the bread;
it happens at the table together.

Sometimes the recognition happens
in a radically revelatory moment,
but usually it is over time;
week by week,
morsel by morsel,
sip by sip,
eucharist by eucharist,
one Tuesday morning at a time.

Here’s the thing, friends.

Precisely because Jesus is risen from the dead,
precisely because the tomb is empty,
precisely because this is new creation,
precisely because this is all about bodily resurrection,
we can only know the truth of Easter
in an embodied way.

That’s why the body of Christ is so crucial.
We are the body, we are the resurrected embodiment of Jesus.

And that’s why the body and blood are so crucial.
The bread and the wine are the body and blood of Christ,
and it seems to me that we come to fully know him
in the breaking of bread.

Just like those two disciples on the road.

I’m not trying to float any particular understanding of
the elements of communion here.
Rather, I am bearing witness to how crucial it is
that we know him in the breaking of the bread.

So what are we to do
when we cannot break bread together
as a community?

Well, at the moment we remember.

Kind of odd, really.

This is a meal of remembrance,
a meal of recognition,
a meal where things click and our eyes are open,
a meal where the light goes on and you say, “now I get it.”

So in the absence of that meal,
the meal of remembrance,

Remember when we broke bread together.
Remember how your eyes were opened.
Remember how we recognized the risen Christ in our midst.
Remember how we were body together.

And remember, dear friends, remember.

Christ is risen.
He is risen in us.
Let us live that resurrection.
Let us be the body of Christ together.
Knowing that we will be broken for the world.
Trusting in resurrection.

And as we remember,
let us hope.

I so long to share the bread and wine together with you.
And we will, my friends, we will.

Song: Death Be Not Proud (Audrey Assad)

Death, be not proud, though the whole world fear you:

Mighty and dreadful you may seem,
But death, be not proud, for your pride has failed you
You will not kill me.
Though you may dwell in plague and poison,
You’re a slave to fate and desperate men,
So death, if your sleep be the gates to Heaven,
Why your confidence?

When you will be no more,
You will be no more,
When you will be no more.

Even death will die.
Even death will die.

Death, be not proud.
Death, be not proud.
Death, be not proud,
Cause even death will die.

Prayers of the People (written by Aileen Verdun)

Very early, the sun has risen
and with it, the women who were beloved by Jesus have risen
only to discover that their once-dead teacher and friend has risen, indeed.

“Why do you look for the living among the dead?
He is not here, but has risen!”

But what are we to make of this, God?

What are we to make
of Jesus defeating death,
of Jesus’ radical resurrection,
in a time marred by isolation, fear and death?

Death’s sting felt acutely by more and more each day.

Lord, have mercy.

[prayers for all those affected by COVID-19]

We are like the two walking along the road to Emmaus;
confused, perplexed, trying to make sense of what’s going on around us.

What does the resurrection mean when we are grieving?
When we are struggling with fear and anxiety?
When we cannot gather together?

We need you, Christ, to walk with us,
to remind us of the story that begins
with Moses and all the prophets,
the story in which you have always been the centre,
the story that we, today, are living within.

[prayers for guidance, wisdom, and comfort]

Reveal yourself to us in the our breaking of bread, Jesus.

Whether that be gathered with the few in our homes,
with our family, friends, and loved ones virtually,
or in the dropping off of food to our neighbours in need.

Open our eyes to recognize you all around us,
not dead, but alive,
present in our world and with us.

In the wake of the resurrection,
whether it be a shout of joy or a faithful whisper,
we declare,

“Alleluia! He is risen!”
“He is risen indeed! Alleluia”

Reflection Song:  “Left and Leaving” (The Weakerthans)

My city’s still breathing, but barely, it’s true
Through buildings gone missing like teeth
The sidewalks are watching me think about you
Sparkled with broken glass

I’m back with scars to show
Back with the streets I know
Will never take me anywhere but here

The stain in the carpet, this drink in my hand
The strangers whose faces I know
We meet here for our dress rehearsal to say
I wanted it this way

Wait for the year to drown
Spring forward, fall back down
I’m trying not to wonder where you are

All this time
Lingers, undefined
Someone choose
Who’s left and who’s leaving

Memory will rust and erode into lists
Of all that you gave me
A blanket, some matches, this pain in my chest
The best parts of lonely

Duct-tape and soldered wires
New words for old desires
And every birthday card I threw away

I wait in 4/4 time
Count yellow highway lines
That you’re relying on to lead you home

Wine Before Breakfast

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