In The Breaking Of Bread
Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him. He asked them, "What are you discussing together as you walk along?" They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, "Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?" "What things?" he asked. "About Jesus of Nazareth," they replied. "He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn't find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus." He said to them, "How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?" And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, "Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over." So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?" They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, "It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon." Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread. -Luke 24:13-35 Read the whole chapter.
I hope I'm not alone in this. I suspect that some of you have had the same experience. That you're walking through the aisle at the grocery store and you walk past somebody. You kind of turn and think 'Boy they look familiar. I should know who they are.' Occasionally they'll have that same quizzical look on their face like 'yeah we've met somewhere before.' And so you begin going through 'Well did you go to school at so-and-so? Did you work at such-and-such?' You begin trying to put the pieces together of where you've met or seen this person before. Sometimes it takes a while but you finally say 'of course' and that aha moment comes of how and where you know that person from. Am I alone? Okay good. It happens. Sometimes it's because we removed from that context. That there are people that you may see here every Sunday when you come to worship and you know and recognize them. But removed from this context and wearing a ball cap, work clothes, or at the gym in sweats. It's different. It's a different place. A different appearance. A different look. And right now all the masks that we are wearing when we're out and about just add to that.
I don't know what happened in the text that we heard this morning on that road to Emmaus where the disciples were walking along and Jesus comes up and begins having a conversation with them. We have that verse in there that says that they were kept from recognizing him. Now it very well could have been a supernatural thing which God by the Holy Spirit somehow blinded or closed their eyes to who this was they were walking with. It could have been a very real human moment as well. In which they were removed from that context. They weren't expecting to run into Jesus. This was just another stranger on the road. Yet as the story progresses there's something familiar. We hear later on in the story that they say to one another after realizing who it was 'Where our hearts not burning within us?' But the story does give us a very insightful glimpse into who Jesus is. You see it wasn't just these disciples that didn't recognize him. You may remember in the Gospel of John that it was Mary who came to the garden and found the tomb empty. Jesus was standing there and she thought he was the gardener. So we find that there is some precedent even in Scripture for people not always recognizing who Jesus is in those moments and in those encounters.
These disciples we are told spent a better part of the day traveling with Jesus saying 'Don't you know what happened in Jerusalem?' And they began telling the story of what happened. Then Jesus begins interpreting and telling them everything that the Scriptures had said about the things that they shared. They come to the end of their journey and going in to rest for the night. Traveling at night was not safe. Traveling alone was a bad idea. And the stranger that they've met and engaged in such deep conversation with was getting ready to just keep going. They said 'No no no. Come in with us and sit and have a meal.' Now it's interesting that Jesus is the guest. Jesus is shown hospitality by these disciples. And yet after they sit down, Jesus then assumes the role of host. It says that he took the bread, lifted it, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them. It says in that moment, they recognized him. Their eyes were opened. Then he vanished from their sight. What an amazing moment to immediately have it snatched away from them, of Jesus being revealed and being made known to them. And yet suddenly he's not there anymore.
I believe I've made reference to this before but one of my favorite Christian writers and authors is a gentleman by the name of NT Wright. He has a book that he wrote a number of years ago called Simply Christian. It's his way of laying out of what does it mean to be a follower of Jesus. One of the parts of this book, that's not necessarily original to him, it comes out of Celtic spirituality. He talks about that in our spiritual lives, we experience thin spiritual places. Places, where Heaven and Earth come together so closely that in those moments we get a glimpse of what it's like on the other side of whatever it is that is separating here from the kingdom of God. We get these glimpses. They're often as he describes them 'fleeting moments'. Sometimes they are places, sometimes they are experiences. The disciples had a moment of experiencing one of those thin places in which Jesus was revealed and made known to them. Then it faded. And the routine, the mundane, the normal came rushing back in. Yet they were changed. That experience was one that left such an impact on them that they could not wait to tell other people about it. They spent a day traveling. It was night time and they were ready to eat a meal and rest. But instead, immediately we are told, they got up. They turned around and they headed back to where they had come from so they could tell the others. When they got there they said 'We've seen him. We've seen Jesus that was revealed to Peter. we saw him too.' They told of what had happened on the road and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
Now, remember they've spent the whole day traveling, walking, journeying, and listening to all that Jesus was saying. But what was the most impactful part for them, they didn't go back and meet up with the others and say 'Okay now somebody get a pencil and write this down because this is good stuff. You're not going to believe what Jesus told us after we figured out who he was.' They didn't say anything about what they'd heard. It said they talked about what had happened on the road but more importantly they said that he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread. Now this breaking of bread was not an unfamiliar thing. This text we're looking at actually happens the day after the resurrection. It's often a lectionary text for that first Sunday after Easter they had witnessed this. Maybe they were present. We know the 12 were there in the upper room for that last supper. Maybe they were there. Maybe not. Maybe they had seen this other times because I suspect this was Jesus' mealtime ritual. That as they gathered, they'd sit down. He'd grab the bread, give thanks to God, break it, and he'd share it with them.
We see this throughout the ministry of Jesus. The gospels all have an account of the Last Supper. But what's more, if we look in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we have the story of the feeding of the 5,000. And that story when the disciples had come to Jesus and said 'There's all these people out here, they're hungry, send them away. And Jesus says 'No, you give them something to eat.' They said 'All we've got is a little bit of bread and a couple of fish.' So Jesus takes the bread. He gives thanks to God. He breaks it and gives it to them to feed that multitude. This pattern and practice was one these disciples had witnessed, experienced, and seen Jesus do probably on numerous occasions through the time that they had spent with him. It may not have been any different than what other people, other Jewish people, did when they gathered for meals.
Yet somehow in the way in which Jesus engaged in the simple act, there was something sacred happening. That in that breaking of the bread, Jesus was made known. We gather, worship, celebrate, and we share this meal each and every Sunday that we gather. Other churches may share this meal less frequently, once a month, quarterly, or different numbers of times. Yet when we do, we say the same words that the pastor, priest, or person residing at the table reminds us. That it was Jesus who took the bread, who gave thanks to God, broke it, and gave it to those who were present. When we gather Jesus isn't just the guest who comes. Rather Jesus is the one that invites. And in the breaking of the bread, we are reminded and shown once again that Christ has come and offers himself to all of us. And that prayer of Great Thanksgiving when I'm blessing the elements I say those words, 'Make this be for us the body and blood of Christ. That we might be the body of Christ given for the world, redeemed by his blood.'
Like those disciples, this isn't just a private act. This isn't just something that's a special me and Jesus moment. Yes we come, and we receive humbly, and thankfully this gift that God gives us. Yet in receiving it, the expectation is that we will be changed. We will be transformed. We will be equipped and empowered to go and be Jesus in this world we live in. Those disciples got up that very moment and went to share this good news with others. We get up from this place and we depart to go and to share the love of Christ with those who need it. Christ is revealed in the breaking of bread. We do so in the context of worship, yet there are other times where we break bread as a sign of peace and reconciliation, when we sit down and have a meal with the people that we are estranged from, with strangers that we have not met. We break bread by sharing a sandwich or a bowl of soup with someone who's hungry. And in doing so, not just offering them nourishment but offering them the love that we have found in Jesus.
Christ is made known through actions. Words are important. Words instruct us. Words teach. Words help to build us up. Where is as they did for these disciples can make our hearts burn with passion, broken with conviction but more than that are the actions that demonstrate that love. Today there are people around the world celebrating Holy Communion with words that you and I would not understand. Likewise, ours would be as foreign to them. This practice that we share with Christians of all persuasions is one in which that if they were here now, when we lift this bread and offer a prayer, break it, share it, we won't need words to convey what's going on. When we break this bread, lift this cup, and share it with one another, we're saying all are welcome. This gift of God, his very son, is made known when we break bread. Thanks be to God for the love that he has for us that through his son the broken bread we share, we receive him and he is present with us.