Apologies to those who have been trying to keep up with sermons. The month of May was very busy and we didn’t get any of the sermons posted from that month. I’ll be posting one a day for this week so that we can catch up. Today’s post is the sermon from May 4th, 2014. The passage for the story comes from Luke 24:13-35, of two disciples on their way to Emmaus.
The Risen Lord in the Breaking of the Bread
The beginning of today’s story is a story of failed discipleship. Before he died, Jesus told his disciples to remain in Jerusalem and wait for him. But here we have two disciples on their way out of Jerusalem to a town called Emmaus. It’s hard to say exactly why they headed out. Maybe fear had gotten the best of them. Or maybe they simply thought that with Jesus’ death, the whole adventure was over, and there was nothing more they could do but return to their lives.
On their way they’re talking about what has happened, and they meet a stranger and invite him to walk with them. He joins in their conversation, and he expounds the scripture so well that when they arrive at Emmaus, and he moves to go on, they beg him to join them for dinner and stay the night. He agrees to stay. When he blesses and breaks the bread, their eyes are opened, and they recognize that the man is Jesus, but as soon as they realize, he is gone.
With that realization, everything that he said on the way over takes on new meaning. They rush back to Jerusalem to tell the other disciples what happened. Their story of failed discipleship is turned around because they invited a stranger to share a meal with them. As Luke explains it, “he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:35).
When you look at Jesus’ resurrection appearances after Easter morning, it’s kind of impressive how many of them involve eating. Of the four recorded appearances, 3 of them involve food. When Jesus appears to the twelve in their locked room in Jerusalem, he seems hungry. “Do you have anything to eat,” he asks. And they give him some broiled fish. When Peter and some other disciples go fishing, Jesus tells them to cast their nets to the other side of the boat. Then he tells them to come on in because he’s got a fire going and he’s ready for breakfast.
And if you look at his life before the resurrection, you’ll discover that a lot of his ministry involved sharing meals with people too. Every where he went, he dined with whoever would have him. Sometimes with the rich, sometimes with the poor. He invited himself over to Zacchaeus’s house. He ate with Mary and Martha. He once fed five thousand strangers with a just a few loaves and fish. He told parables about banquets and wineries and wheat. I knew a chaplain in middle school who used to joke self-deprecatingly about how he loved food so much he wrote his thesis in seminary on food and the New Testament. But the more I think about it the more I realize how central food and sharing meals were to early Christianity.
The first worship services of the early Christians were meals. They would come together and eat, and then they would break out the wine, and they’d tell the story over again, and sing hymns, and talk about what it meant to them. This kind of thing was a common Greco-Roman practice. But Christian worship services, instead of reinforcing the status distinctions that shaped their world, erased them. Jews sat with Greeks, slaves sat with wealthy patrons, women sat with men and even taught. Whereas in the rest of the Greco-Roman world the meal was a way to establish distinction and status, Christians came together to abolish them, and establish unity in their stead.
Meals today still have the power to erase distinction and establish unity. When you share a meal with someone, whether you’re at a restaurant, or a church pot-luck, or your dining room table, you’re sharing in something common, but essential. Sharing a meal with someone gives us a chance to connect with each other beyond just a handshake and a conversation about the weather. A shared meal is a window into someone’s life, it’s a chance to listen to someone else’s story, and to share your own. My church in Austin decided to put out an Advent devotional one year, and one of the stories in it talks about this. It was by an older gentleman who fought in World War II. He was stationed in France during the Christmas of 1944, and quartered with a French family. He didn’t speak French, and they didn’t speak English, and neither of them really had much to offer the other. The war had been raging in France for years, so they didn’t have much of a Christmas feast. What they had was popcorn. And the older gentleman said that they connected through the popcorn. In fact, I heard about a church a few years ago, I think it’s in Phoenix, where they covenant with each other to go out and share a meal with a stranger every week.
When Cleopas and his companion walked to Emmaus, there didn’t seem to be a lot they could do in Jerusalem. Outside of a few idle tales, the leader of their movement was gone, and thus the movement felt like it was over. Anything they could do felt like it was so big they couldn’t handle it or so small that it couldn’t matter. It’s easy to find ourselves in this place sometimes. Anything we could do is either impossible or insignificant. But their story suggests something different.
In sharing their journey with someone, in sitting down at table to break bread with a stranger, they experienced the risen Lord. Not just this story, but many stories in the Gospels suggest that just eating with someone is an act of discipleship. In connecting with each other, we have a chance to be Jesus to each other. To offer a listening ear, words of healing and comfort, inspiration or admonition. In those moments, we both offer and receive our Lord.