Luke 24:13-35, ". . . their eyes were opened in the breaking of the bread."
Funny things happen when you get together to eat.
Sometimes someone reaches across the table and knocks over a glass of sweet tea . . . and maybe someone reacts angrily saying something like, “How could you do something so stupid?!?” or maybe you get the other reaction of “Oh honey, don’t worry about that. We’ll clean it up. It’s alright.” And there it is.
In that moment, just the length of time it took for someone to knock over a glass of sweet tea, just that fast, you know who you are eating with.
Because some of us can’t stand to see a glass knocked over, or for us to be the one that does something “so stupid.” And then some of us recognize that we all make mistakes, and maybe that plate of biscuits looked so good that you just had to reach across, and accidents happen . . . and there is grace for all of us. Besides all that, sweet tea cleans up pretty easy. Tablecloths will wash. Funny things happen when we gather for meals together.
Sometimes those are meals where grace is present . . . sometimes our meals are not graceful at all. You may have been to formal meals before, and you know how stuffy, how uncomfortable those meals can be for some of us. You always start with the fork at the outside; that’s the one you eat your salad with. And if there is a fork at the top of your plate, well that one is for your dessert. And maybe that gets easier as you go, but if you don’t usually eat that way, it can be intimidating.
I remember when we had the rehearsal dinner for my wife and I’s wedding . . . and had a formal meal. We had it at the officer’s club on the Air Force Base in Warner Robins. Because both of her parents had worked on the base, they still had access to some of what the base had to offer. So we booked a room in the back, with a table shaped in a “U” with my wife and I at the head, with our friends and family, and the ministers to our left and right, and down the length of the parts of the “U” that moved away from us. It was a formal dinner . . . and today, I’m not sure I could even tell you what we had to eat with all those forks and utensils.
The only thing I really remember is the toasts, and giving gifts to the groomsmen, friends of mine from college, from high school, a friend of mine who was able to make it all the way from Croatia where he was serving in the Army at the time. I gave them an engraved pocket watch, saying something about how I valued the time that we had spent together.
Rehearsals are funny things, because there is such a flurry of activity, sometimes you miss what is happening because you are so focused on what is going to happen.
Perhaps that is why you have a dinner . . . to make you stop . . . and enjoy the company of your family, your friends, those people who have been so important in your life as you get ready to take another important step.
This reading from Luke tells us about two who were taking lots of steps, journeying, walking from Jerusalem to this place called Emmaus. And as they were walking along they met a stranger, started a conversation and walked alongside this stranger for quite a ways.
They were absolutely amazed that this one that they were walking with did not know about what had happened in Jerusalem over the weekend. This meant that this person must have been a traveler, a stranger, someone who was from somewhere else. He must be from somewhere else to not catch wind of the way that this man Jesus, had entered Jerusalem, had been tried by the religious and civil authorities, and how he had been killed, crucified on a cross.
“And now people are saying that he has been raised!” one of the men tells this stranger. What amazing things! And this stranger seemed to know nothing about what had happened. But the stranger starts to tell them about why they shouldn’t be surprised by what has happened, talking about the Hebrew scriptures, what we call the Old Testament, about who this Jesus was, what he had come to do, why he died, and why it should be no surprise that God is a God of life, not death, that that this God raised him from the dead, defeating hell and death, defeating our desperation and fear, granting us life . . . this stranger talked about it all.
It was amazing how much this stranger knew, understood, recognized. But these two who walked with the stranger did not recognize him.
And sometimes when we are rehearsing something, there is the need to stop, because we might miss what is about to happen, but most certainly, when we are in the middle of an event, when the excitement, or horror, or fear, or anticipation, when all of this is there with you for that event, maybe we miss it then too. And maybe we need someone to walk along with us and explain just what is happening.
Sometimes when you are getting married, you need someone to walk along with you. Before my wife and I were married, we went to premarital counseling with a pastoral counselor up in Richmond, Virginia. He burst our bubble a little bit, on purpose, when he told us that we would not be “really married” on that upcoming June 22. Sure we would have the piece of paper signed that day, the official marriage license, but he told us that that wasn’t all that there was to it. “It takes a long time to be married,” Hunter told us. “It doesn’t just happen on that day; it takes time; marriage is a process; and something that needs nurturing and growth; it doesn’t just happen in one day.”
And to be sure, if you asked me what happened on that day that we were married, I couldn’t tell you a whole lot. I remember seeing her for the first time that day, beautiful as she was . . . and still is. But then I also remember her herding the groomsmen, at least one of which was moving a little slow and looking a bit green, but my wife to be told them in no uncertain terms that it was time to have their picture taken, “No more snacks! Get in here!”
I remember bits and pieces of the wedding, and practically none of the reception afterwards. People still tell me that they met me at our wedding reception, and I just have to take their word for it!
You see, when we are in the midst of that swirl of activity, of an important event, we may not remember much, or recognize the importance, the significance of what is happening, when we are in the midst of it happening.
Fred Craddock, a new testament scholar, writes about this passage that it is in the remembering later, that the disciples recognized what had happened. When we are getting ready for something we are too preoccupied. We the event actually happens, oftentimes we miss it. It is usually when we think back, when we remember, that we see that Christ was with us. It is in the remembering.
And maybe that’s why these two were out walking in the first place, because the events that had happened in Jerusalem were so overwhelming, that all they could do was walk. And this stranger joined them for their walk. And they invited the stranger to share a meal with them.
And sometimes you learn things about people when you eat with them. You learn how they hold their fork or spoon, about which foods they like and don’t like, about their lives because we get more relaxed, more conversational, we tend to talk more when there is food and drink present.
And as they sat around that meal, this one who was a stranger, this stranger that they had invited to eat with them . . . he took the bread, blessed it and broke it and gave it to the disciples . . . . And in that moment . . . they saw him . . . and then he vanished.
May we be people who see Jesus, who see the Risen Christ, in the breaking of the bread.
May we be people who welcome strangers to our table.
And may we value the Lord's Supper, the Eucharist, our Holy Communion that we share together, while we share it.