“Traveling to Emmaus” Colchester Federated Church, April 26, 2020, (Luke 24:13-35) Third Sunday of Easter (**Virtual Worship)
This week, on the Third Sunday of Easter, we have another Resurrection Appearance to discover. We’ve been exploring some of the stories in the Gospel according to John where Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, then ten of the disciples, and then Thomas and the other ten disciples eight days after Easter Sunday. Now, we’re turning to the Gospel according to Luke to see how Luke presents the Resurrection Appearances. Luke doesn’t talk about Mary Magdalene alone with Jesus in the garden or Jesus appearing before Thomas and all his doubts and wanting to touch the wounds of the Risen Christ. Luke’s famous Easter story is the Road to Emmaus.
Luke begins by telling us that two disciples were traveling to a village called Emmaus on that same day. That means that this story happens on Easter Sunday. Remember how I said that Easter isn’t just one Sunday, Eastertide is a whole season? The women had gone to the tomb that morning with fragrant spices they had prepared to anoint the battered body of Jesus and discovered that the stone had been rolled away from the tomb and Jesus’ body wasn’t there. The women encounter two men in gleaming bright clothing (spoiler alert—probably angels) who tell them that Jesus has been raised just as he told them he would be. Here’s the crazy thing about how Luke tells the Easter story—the women return from the tomb and report everything they saw to the disciples. But (and this is Luke 24 verse 11)—“their words struck the apostles as nonsense, and they didn’t believe the women.” (Slow sarcastic clap for these guys who don’t believe the women.) Anyway, Peter runs to the tomb after the women share what they saw and he bends over and looks inside, seeing only the linen cloth and returns home wondering what happened.
Then it’s as if the camera pans over to two disciples who were traveling to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. That’s where our story gets really interesting because the Risen Christ appears to these two disciples and joins them on the journey, except they have no idea it’s Jesus. We don’t exactly know why, Luke just tells us “they were prevented from recognizing him.” Jesus asks what they were talking about as they were walking along and Cleopas asks if he’s the only visitor to Jerusalem who doesn’t know what happened over the last few days. Jesus inquires, “What things?” And then they launch into the events that just transpired and Jesus himself explains why all of this had to come to pass, even interpreting everything written about him staring from Moses and going all the way through the prophets. Yet, Cleopas and the other disciple still don’t recognize that this person walking alongside them is Jesus.
They finally arrive at Emmaus and invite Jesus to stay with them because it was nearly evening and the day was almost over. Jesus agrees and takes a seat at the table. “He took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight.” Only then do they realize that this person who they traveled with all day was Jesus. Only then do they acknowledge that their hearts were on fire when he spoke to them along the road and explained the scriptures. Only then do they figure out the truth of the Resurrection. And even though by then it’s nearly dark (and it’s not as if people had streetlights to guide them home back then), they travel all the way back to Jerusalem that night. They find the eleven disciples and their companions and tell them, “The Lord really has risen!” Hopefully the disciples believe them. And how did they know that it was Jesus—through the breaking of the bread.
New Testament Professor Mark Allan Powell wrote that one of the characteristics of Luke’s Gospel is that it displays “an unusual interest in food.” Maybe that’s part of the reason Luke is my favorite Gospel. Anyway, there’s 24 chapters in the Gospel according to Luke and there are 19 meals mentioned! Luke’s interest in food is all over the pages of the Gospel he wrote. Jesus appears to be eating all the time—Jesus talks about food, tells parables about banquets, and he even gets criticized for eating too much and eating with the wrong people. Now food may be a metaphor for life. When food is shared with one another that means that we are sharing our lives.
Professor Powell also notes that we learn from the book of Acts (which Luke also wrote) that Christian fellowship and worship in the first century involved food. Fellowship and worship often happened within the setting of a meal. Sometimes people have done Dinner Church (gathering together [often in people’s homes], worshiping, and sharing a meal) and that’s not a revolutionary modern phenomenon. Dinner Church is getting back to how Christians used to gather for worship in the early days of our faith. The followers of Jesus gathered for “the breaking of the bread” meaning that they were eating together in a context that also included teaching, worship, and observing Communion in remembrance of Jesus as he instructed. So if meals were settings for worship, then it’s no wonder that Luke focused on food and all of the times that Jesus shared meals with his disciples like he did in this morning’s Resurrection Appearance in Emmaus.
In the end, one of the things that we may be missing during this time of staying home and staying safe is simply going out for a meal. One of those simple pleasures of life that we possibly took for granted before this global pandemic. We can do take-out and we should support our local restaurants as we’re able. Though at the moment we can’t go out and sit down and share a meal with those we love. For people who live alone, most meals are being eaten alone at home right now and that can feel isolating because we share our lives with one another over meals.
Food (sustenance) helps us have life. And there’s also the communal act of eating where we talk and share our lives with one another. Remember that Jesus’ disciples didn’t recognize who he was until he sat down at table with them, until he blessed the bread and broke it, and gave it to them. It was in the simple act of sharing a meal that the disciples recognized their beloved friend, who had indeed risen. Don’t underestimate the power of fellowship in the Christian community, it’s part of what makes us who we are as followers of Jesus the Christ. Be sure that you’re reaching out to those you love. Even though we can’t share meals right now, we can share that spirit of hospitality that is embodied through table fellowship, that spirit of hospitality that Jesus embodied when he sat at table with those he loved in Emmaus. And remember that though we are physically apart, you are not alone and God is with us all. Thanks be to God. Amen.