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Meals with Jesus
Evening Meal in Emmaus

Meals with Jesus

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Evening Meal in Emmaus 

Read St Luke 24 : 13-35 (NIV)  

It is late on Easter Day. Early that morning, the tomb of Jesus was found open and empty. Strange stories are circulating, of angels and resurrection. Far from being good news, this only adds to the exhausted confusion of the disciples. Two, Cleopas and, possibly, Luke have decided to go home to Emmaus and in so doing were walking towards the sunset. It has been suggested that that is the very reason why they did not recognize Jesus. Emmaus was 7 miles west of Jerusalem. The sun was sinking, and the setting sun so dazzled them that they did not know their Lord. 

A stranger joins them on the road and they talk at length. It is Jesus but they do not recognise him. They reach their village as the light is failing and they urge him to stay with them. 

emmaus road

The story now reaches its climax. At their meal table, the stranger becomes the host. In an action familiar in any Jewish home, he blesses the food - taking, breaking and sharing the bread. At this moment their eyes open in startled recognition: it is Jesus! This is exactly what he did at his final supper with his disciples, just days before. But while this is surely a connection that we should be making, Luke is setting the scene in a wider context. 

In Luke's Gospel, meals with Jesus are occasions where significant moments of teaching and ministry happen. The issue of who he ate with was a source of great scandal. At those tables he confronted the social and religious assumptions of his day as he spoke on love, justice and the life of the coming kingdom. Prejudice and religious arrogance were exposed. There (as in many parables), outsiders became honoured guests (see Luke 5: 27 - 32). 

Wherever Jesus was the host at a meal, a new community was called into being and God's generous welcome was declared, most vividly at the feeding of the 5000 (Luke 9: 12-17). All these themes are present at the meal that Christians have celebrated ever since, in obedience to his command: "Do this in remembrance of me" (Luke 22:10). 

In no other meals in Luke's Gospel, though, are 'eyes opened'. That happens in only one other place - at the first meal in the Bible, when Adam and Eve take and eat food they have been forbidden to touch (Genesis 3: 1-7). Their eyes were opened then, but not to life or joy. Catastrophic loss followed, they were condemned to wander for ever in exile from each other, from creation and from God. 

Here on the far side of death, that wandering comes to an end. The risen Jesus takes, blesses, breaks and shares the bread. Eyes are opened as before, but this time to joyful recognition. It is the eighth meal in Luke's Gospel: It is the first day of the new creation. This meal proclaims that the long exile of the human race is over. Creation is renewed. The story is beginning again. 

emmaus road

Jesus is physically present only until he is recognised. Then he vanishes - but no one seems to notice. The resurrection stories are very sensitive to those, like us, who live and believe without physical sight of Jesus. More intimate than physical acquaintance is to know his life within. 'Did not our hearts burn within us?' 

The whole story now goes into reverse. The two disciples immediately return to Jerusalem and, as they described the event, they are very specific in recalling the moment when Jesus was recognised. He made himself known 'in the breaking of the bread'. Ever since, when Christians celebrate Communion, that moment of the breaking of the bread is very important. 

Jesus is found not only where life is whole but where he willingly shares its brokenness. There is room at this meal for lives fractured and unhealed. Perhaps this has renewed significance for you as you listen? Nowhere is Jesus more needed. Nowhere do we long more to recognise him than in the wounds of lives found, for whatever reason, in far exile from 'wholeness'. 

Here in this meal is the promise that Jesus is present where we need him most - as stranger or in startled recognition. Here is food to sustain all of us on the journey into the welcome and home of God's love. 

This is another of the immortal short stories of the world and we can take out of it that: 

  • It is true that the Christian is a man who walks not towards the sunset but towards the sunrise. Long ago it was said to the children of Israel that they journeyed in the wilderness towards the sun rising. (Numbers 21:11.) The Christian goes onwards, not to a night which falls, but to a dawn which breaks--and that is what, in their sorrow and their disappointment, the two on the Emmaus road had not realized. 

  • It tells us of the ability of Jesus to make sense of things. The whole situation seemed to these two men to have no explanation. Their hopes and dreams were shattered. There is all the poignant, wistful, bewildered regret in the world in their sorrowing words, "We were hoping that he was the one who was going to rescue Israel." They were the words of men whose hopes were dead and buried. Then Jesus came and talked with them, and the meaning of life became clear and the darkness became light. It is only in Jesus that, even in the bewildering times, we learn what life means. 

  • It tells us of the courtesy of Jesus. He made as if he would have gone on. He would not force himself upon them; he awaited their invitation to come in. God gave to men the greatest and the most perilous gift in the world, the gift of free-will; we can use it to invite Christ to enter our lives or to allow him to pass on. 

  • It tells how he was known to them in the breaking of bread. This always sounds a little as if it meant the sacrament; but it does not. It was at an ordinary meal in an ordinary house, when an ordinary loaf was being divided, that these men recognized Jesus. It has been beautifully suggested that perhaps they were present at the feeding of the five thousand, and, as he broke the bread in their cottage home, they recognized his hands again. It is not only at the communion table we can be with Christ; we can be with him at the dinner table too. He is not only the host in his Church; he is the guest in every home .

  • It tells how these two men, when they received such great joy, hastened to share it. It was a seven miles tramp back to Jerusalem, but they could not keep the good news to themselves. The Christian message is never fully ours until we have shared it with someone else. 

  • It tells how, when they reached Jerusalem, they found others who had already shared their experience. It is the glory of the Christian that he lives in a fellowship of people who have had the same experience as he has had. It has been said that true friendship begins only when people share a common memory and can say to each other, "Do you remember?" Each of us is one of a great fellowship of people who share a common experience and a common memory of their Lord. 

  • It tells that Jesus appeared to Peter. That must remain one of the great untold stories of the world. But surely it is a lovely thing that Jesus should make one of his first appearances to the man who had denied him. It is the glory of Jesus that he can give back to the penitent sinner his self-respect.

Janice Todd, May 2017


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