Prayer: Holy, Risen Christ – help us to experience Resurrection in your Living Word, alive in us. Amen.
This is a strange moment in Scripture. First off, there’s the almost eerie setting. Jesus appears to the disciples, and they think they are seeing a ghost. Jesus just kind of appears in the room; doesn’t need to use the door; and that’s strange. So Jesus has to prove he’s not a ghost. So, he lets them touch him. Touch and see. Touch my hands that have been pierced, and my feet. See that it is I myself. And then he says, Why are you surprised? This is what I told you all along. And he’s right. But they didn’t see it coming. And so, there are all these emotions spinning around in the room, all at the same time: Startled, frightened, troubled, doubting, joyful, amazed.
But, in the midst of all that, here’s the bit that really captures my attention. This piece of broiled fish. This is such a dramatic moment. Jesus has been crucified. And this is resurrection. Jesus is not dead. Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Everything we thought we knew has been turned on its head. Death doesn’t have the last word. Christ has come to give us life and to give us life abundantly. Life stronger than death, and stronger than everything that can do us harm.
But in the middle of this story. Jesus is hungry. “Do you have anything to eat around here?” And they give him a piece of broiled fish. And he eats it in front of them. (Now, that detail is probably there to show that Jesus was resurrected in body. But it is strange nonetheless. In the middle of everything, they give Jesus a piece of broiled fish, and he eats it.
So as we hear this strange food story, I want to tell you another. And this one is about cinnamon toast. I heard it on the This American Life podcast, and the story has stuck with me. A few years ago – cinnamon toast started popping up all over San Francisco.
Do you remember that? It was the latest culinary trend – you could find it in all the best, hipster coffee houses. People would pay $4 for a piece of cinnamon toast – artisan, locally-sourced cinnamon toast, to be sure.
So this reporter, John Gravois, set out to find out more about this trend, about where it all started, about how it became the “in” thing – and this is the story he tells. He started his research by going to the very trendiest coffee places – where they were serving all kinds of gourmet toast. But he soon found out that the cinnamon toast movement didn’t start there. No, it began in a little whole-in-the-wall coffee shop in the Outer Sunset – at a place called the Trouble Coffee and Coconut Club.
The Trouble Coffee and Coconut Club is owned by Giulietta Carelli. You can’t miss Giulietta – she wears the same thing all the time – a crop top; ripped jeans, a head scarf – and she has covered herself with tattoos.
But you might miss the Trouble Coffee and Coconut Club. It’s not much bigger than a one-car garage; and they serve just 4 things: coffee, cinnamon toast, coconut, and shots of grapefruit juice.
Giulietta calls the place “Trouble,” because that’s her word for these episodes that she’s had most of her life – psychotic episodes where she steps out of reality. She can’t really control them – at first she thought someone had slipped her LSD – but “things get weird” – she hallucinates – she feels like she is outside her body – she doesn’t always know where she is – and everything is loud, unbearably loud, even chewing food is too loud to bear. These episodes come upon her suddenly – and they’ve kept her from maintaining relationships, from keeping a steady job. She has been homeless at times – lived out of a car, or on couches, or even in a tree.
Giulietta’s episodes kept her on the move for a long time – living here, moving there. But here’s when things started to turn around: One day – when she was living in San Francisco – one of these episodes hit her – she wandered across the city – totally lost – at one point, she called the police to tell them a tree had fallen on her (it hadn’t). She ended up out at China Beach, out past Baker Beach – on a platform overlooking the beach, and there she met Glenn. Glenn was an elderly, petite man, wearing a Speedo – sunbathing on a cloudy day. They started to talk – turns out Glenn is a holocaust survivor, and a very kind man. That day, there were also some Russian men swimming in the very cold Bay. And she thought, wow, they must be strong to do that. I wish I was that strong.
So remember all that.
The episodes go on. Giulietta moves on from San Francisco. Moves away. The episodes don’t stop, but she develops coping mechanisms. One of them is coconuts. She can chew coconuts, and the chewing isn’t too loud. And coconuts are nutritious, she claims that you can live off of them, so long as you are also getting vitamin C – hence, the shots of grapefruit juice that they serve at the Trouble Coffee and Coconut Club. And she says that when you are holding a coconut people are much more likely to talk to you – they want to talk to you – because who stands around holding a coconut?
She does her best to cope, and then one day, she remembers that day on China Beach. She rents a car, dives back to San Francisco, back to China Beach, and there Glenn is. In his speedo. And he says to her, “Where have you been? It took you a while to come back.” And she starts coming back. Every day. And they talk. And she takes up swimming in the Bay, with the Russians. And every day, when she leaves, Glenn says, “See you tomorrow.” It becomes, for her, a regular place. This becomes for her another coping mechanism – the routine – every day with Glenn – and swimming – and she finds that the cold water can knock her out of these episodes and back into reality.
Now, Giulietta is working in coffee shops, and getting fired from coffee shops, until one day she gets the idea to start her own. She talks it over with Glenn, and she has no clue where to start, until a frustrated boss (instead of firing her) tells her that she just needs to do this, start her own place. He sits her down, and he gives her this advice: “Here’s what you need to do: Get some cups. Brew some coffee. When you run out of cups, close the door, and go get more cups.” And she does just that.
She opens up the Trouble Coffee and Coconut Club. She takes everything that works for her and she puts it in one place – as she says – “because if it works for me, maybe it will work for other people too.” Coffee. Coffee works for everybody. Coconuts, because she can chew them even when she has an episode – and coconuts have always helped her connect with people. The shots of grapefruit juice, for the Vitamin C. And cinnamon toast.
So the reporter John Gravois asks her, Why cinnamon toast? And she says, “Because my mom used to make me cinnamon toast. And when she did, I felt safe. And if I feel that way, maybe other people do too. I mean, who can be mad at toast? It’s toast! It’s cinnamon toast! Everyone gets stoked about cinnamon toast.”
The Trouble Coffee and Coconut Club is a neighborhood fixture now. Everyone knows where it is. Everyone knows Giulietta. She’s turned herself into a local institution. Everyone in the neighborhood knows her. And she needs that. She needs that because she still has these episodes. Sometimes she is walking through her neighborhood, or riding her bike to China Beach for a swim, and all of the sudden, she has no idea where she is. So she needs for people to know her, to know that she is the Trouble of the Trouble Coffee and Coconut Club. Because sometimes, she has to knock on a door, and say, “I’m sorry, but I don’t know where I’m going. My mind is really foggy right now. Can you help me?” When she’s walking on the street, and someone calls her name, she says it helps her find herself. She says that hearing someone call her name can be kind of like diving into the cold water – it can knock her back into the world. When she’s lost, and people recognize her, they help her find her way back to the Trouble Coffee and Coconut Club. They help her find her way home.
You see, in this story, the cinnamon toast isn’t just cinnamon toast. It is how Giulietta finds her way home.
In this story from Scripture, the broiled fish isn’t just broiled fish. It is how the disciples find their way home.
In this moment, this moment of trouble, the disciples are as lost as Giulietta, maybe even more so. They have suffered great trauma, and their world is turned upside down. They’ve lost someone they loved in a horrific, traumatic way: They have been following Jesus around, as he has taught, and healed, and challenged the authorities. And they thought that he was the one. But then in just one week, he is arrested, tried, tortured, and crucified. Buried. It seemed like everything was lost. But now, they hear two friends tell them that they have seen Jesus alive. On the road. And they recognized him in the breaking of the bread.
And now all of them are together. Jesus too. And he asks them if they have anything to eat. And maybe they remember those times. When there wasn’t enough bread, or enough fish, and Jesus took a few loaves, and a few fish – and fed thousands.
Jesus says to them, “Do you have anything to eat around here?” And they give him a piece of broiled fish.
In this moment, they experience Resurrection – big and small. They experience Resurrection big - they are talking with and eating with The Risen Christ. Resurrection is God’s biggest promise to us. In Jesus Christ, God has entered into the whole of human life with us – all our suffering, all our joy – all of life, even unto death. And in Resurrection, God has made it plain that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God – not life, not death, not any power in this world, not our past, or our present or our future. They experience Resurrection life in the Risen Christ.
And they experience Resurrection life in the sharing of a piece of broiled fish. Like they’ve always done. They find new life as they touch Jesus, and as they talk together, and as they sit and eat broiled fish.
The strange thing about this story is that the longer that you sit with it the more this becomes clear: The story is not all that strange. They have lost someone they love so very deeply, and then all of the sudden, out of the blue, that someone is there present with them – fully and completely – just like always. Maybe you know what that feels like:
The love you have known fully present in the here and now.
The disciples’ world has been turned upside down – and so the disciples do the only thing they can – they huddle together – and, in their confusion, they try to piece their stories, and their world back together.
They stand in the midst of death, and they find . . . life. They experience Resurrection Life right there in the midst of Everyday Life. The Risen Christ brings us Resurrection Life, not only on out into forever – thanks be to God for that – but also in the here and now. Resurrection Life that we can see and hear and touch and taste:
· in good friends who help us try to understand the inexplicable,
· in a hand to touch and hold,
· in a brisk swim in the cold, cold ocean,
· in a community of neighbors who help us find our way home,
· in cinnamon toast,
· in a piece of broiled fish.
Resurrection life that we can see and hear and touch and taste –
and LIVE right here and right now.
The Risen Christ says to the disciples, “You are witnesses of these things.” And so are we. Witnesses are those who see, and then go and tell. But not only that – Witnesses are those who see and go out and and live what they have learned and loved, for the blessing of the whole world. Resurrection is an everyday, embodied experience of the Risen Christ – embodied in us.
Giulietta Corelli started the Trouble Coffee and Coconut Club because she knew what trouble was. And she says that she took everything that worked for her – all the things that bring her back to life – and she put them into one place – because she says, “ if it works for me, it might work for other people too.”
God takes all this – all this Resurrection Life – all these acts of tender mercy, this work for justice, this longing for community – God takes all that and puts this Resurrection Life in us. Resurrection Life FOR us – and Resurrection Life IN us – to bless the world God loves -- to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim good news to the poor, to set the captive free.
THIS is how WE are witnesses to Resurrection: By living it out.
And THIS, THIS, is how we will – all together and forever –
find our way home.
 You can listen to the This American Life episode here: https://www.thisamericanlife.org/520/no-place-like-home
You can find the original John Gravois article here: A Toast Story, Pacific Standard, January 13, 2014, https://psmag.com/social-justice/toast-story-latest-artisanal-food-craze-72676
© 2021 Scott Clark