It Happens at Dinner

Apr 30 2017

                                                                                                                                                                       IT HAPPENS AT DINNER

It happens at dinner. All sorts of things happen at dinner. Families come together to eat and discuss the day or each one of them rushes to grab something before watching TV, doing homework, or starting another project. Couples meet one another over dinner, court over dinner, and break up over dinner. But the greatest gift of coming together at dinner is the opportunity to share – to share food, to share stories, to share companionship, and to share love. In our story this morning, two men ask Jesus to join them for a meal and become changed persons.

It all starts as the two men are taking a journey to Emmaus from Jerusalem, a distance of about seven miles. We guess, from the context, that the travelers know about the events of the past week leading to the crucifixion. But they also know about the visit to the tomb from some women who went there and came back to tell them. So we know, also, that these men were either disciples, or close to the disciples. We are given only the name of one of the men, Cleopas.

As they are walking along, Jesus simply appears. He comes near to them and starts walking with them. However, there is no indication that anyone else is on the road at that time.

The second strange thing about this encounter is the fact that the men do not recognize Jesus. They treat him as just another traveler on the road. In fact, they are astounded that he does not know about the events that have occurred in Jerusalem during the last week. The speaker also states that “some of them” went to the tomb and found it as the women had indicated, but there is no mention of any angels telling them anything that has happened.

The men share their sadness with Jesus and we are told that he first admonishes them and then begins interpreting Scripture to them. But the direction that the story takes seems contrived. It becomes doctrinal and Jesus starts to explain his role as the Messiah through the use of Old Testament prophecy. They still do not recognize him

When they reach Emmaus, they beg the stranger to stay with them since the day is almost over. He does so, but now another strange event occurs. He takes over the meal as the host, and “he took bread, blessed it, and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.”

They return to Jerusalem to the eleven disciples and their companions and relate their story.

Several things are significant about this story. The men are walking AWAY from Jerusalem and AWAY from their support system. Second, they do not recognize Jesus. Third, there is a specific point made about the relation to prophecy. Fourth, the formula – took, blessed, broke and gave – is consistent with the words of Communion. Fifth, Jesus vanishes.

These words were written probably around 60 AD or roughly thirty to forty years after Christ. The early church had plenty of time to formulate its theology. The author of Luke is also the author of Acts that contains the story of the early church.

So as time passed and got farther away from the years that Jesus spent on the earth, there had to be more and more effort to convince the people that the Resurrection had occurred. This story points to some very important issues. One, the people were moving away from both the time and the people who actually witnessed any of the ministry of Jesus, so Luke was writing in an attempt to reach those people.

Second, the description of Jesus fully implies that his was a changed body. He appeared and disappeared into and from locked rooms. People did not recognize him. His appearances were only to those chosen as witnesses according to Peter.

Third, and most important is the liturgical formula coupled with a realization that somehow Christ is closer to us at the moment of take, bless, break and give. At that moment our eyes are opened and we recognize the Christ who is in us, in others, and who forgives us through his love and mercy. He becomes, as he did on the road to Emmaus, God’s anointed one, the one who dwells with God. It is through the meal that we call communion that we draw closer to Christ and closer to one another. It is a spiritual meal that calls us to covenant and companionship with God and one another.

Their eyes were not physically opened. They were not blind, but their very being was symbolically opened to understand a deeper truth of the existence of God – a deeper truth of a spiritual nature.

From the earliest moment of the church, there seems to have been a very close connection between the experience of Jesus alive, and the experience of gathering in the Lord’s name to break bread together. Somehow, this experience of gathering together to take, bless, break and give becomes the means whereby we can draw closer to the reality that Jesus is the bread of our spiritual lives – that Jesus has come to feed us spiritually and that the death of the body is not important.

This story, as many other “appearance stories,” was written to try to explain the experience of God that the people felt in Jesus. And to this day, in the celebration of communion, we experience the spirit of God among us.

We can often have a temptation to read the appearance stories as literal truth. Yet when we examine them in the context in which they were originally written, we can find much deeper spiritual truths within them. May God grant that we can find the spiritual truths that resound within each one of us. Amen.