We continue our series on the stained glass windows here at St. Andrew’s. This Sunday is World Communion Sunday and it is appropriate that the window we consider is also a communion story.
Scripture: Luke 24: 13-35
When was the last time you shared a meal with a stranger? Invited a neighbour you hadn’t known previously over for a meal or a drink? It isn’t something that we do often, it is radically outside of our comfort zone, even if the individual only lives two or three doors down. We tend to keep to ourselves and our established circle of friends. It takes time to build the confidence and trust in a relationship before we share a meal.
The closest I have gotten to sharing a meal with a stranger is while hiking. Similar I suppose to the walk that those two individuals took to Emmaus. I was hiking the West Highland Way in Scotland and over the course of six days I sat down for meals with many of my fellow hikers. I didn’t buy them a meal, nor did they buy me one, but we sat with one another, bonding over our common experience.
Today we heard from the end of Luke’s gospel, a story commonly referred to as ‘The Road to Emmaus’. Two followers of Jesus, not two disciples, but two individuals with knowledge of the inner circle of disciples are walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus. They come across Jesus, but are prevented from knowing it is him. They talk about the week’s events, surprised when Jesus asks what’s been happening. Jesus then opens all of scripture to them as it concerns the Messiah. They still don’t recognize that it is Jesus before them.
They arrive at Emmaus and the hour is late, Jesus indicates that he is travelling onwards. The two other travellers do something remarkable. They say to Jesus, don’t travel it’s late. Instead stay with us and join us for a meal. It is an act of remarkable generosity and hospitality. It invokes everything they must have known and understood about Jesus. Though they don’t recognize him yet, they are clearly familiar with Jesus and his ministry. Perhaps they were among the 5000 who were fed on the hillside.
Today we continue our series on the Stained Glass Windows that we find in the sanctuary of St. Andrew’s. It is fitting that the window we consider this morning is a communion story on this World Communion Sunday. Our window shares the words ‘He was known to them in the breaking of bread.’
Communion is one of the ways that we allow God to come close to us and how we approach God. It, along with baptism, is one of our two sacraments. A simple table, a simple meal. Here in the story of the ‘Road to Emmaus’ we hear that Jesus was made known to two followers in the breaking of bread. That through this simple meal we will partake in we might also have Jesus made known to us.
This passage which ends Luke’s gospel informs us of many things about Jesus and his earliest followers. Some of these are evident from the passage, others we need to dig for. Two things that are evident:
- That Jesus is found in the breaking of bread, known and understood through the sacrament of communion.
- That by searching through scripture, and when Jesus explains what all of scripture says about the Messiah, he is only referring to what we call the Old Testament or the Hebrew Scriptures. There was no New Testament, the gospel accounts hadn’t been written yet. Only by going back and understanding the Law of the ancient Israelites, the Law that Jesus manifests in his person, only by understanding the words of the Prophets can we fully understand and appreciate Jesus within the world that received him.
There are other parts of the Road to Emmaus that teach us things that may not be so evident.
- Belief in Jesus as the risen Lord was not self-evident to the earliest followers. It took divine revelation for them to believe. It’s hard to put ourselves in the shoes of those early followers of Jesus. To be sure, their faith and devotion changed the world. But Luke makes it clear there was much doubt and uncertainty in those early days. The GNT tells us that ‘somehow they didn’t recognize Jesus’ most other translations say ‘they were prevented from recognizing him.’ That tells me that Jesus deliberately prevented them from knowing who he was. It might seem an odd thing for Jesus to do, cruel perhaps. However, I think it was necessary for Jesus to explain the true reason that he, the Messiah, came. They needed all of scripture to be revealed to them, only then could they appreciate and understand that magnitude of Jesus coming. Only then could they comprehend how and why Jesus was alive.
- That through the sacraments others can come to Christ. That’s why this table is open to all people, not just those who claim to know and follow Christ. All are welcome, because Christ welcomed all.
- Arland Hultgren writes, “This is a story about movement. It contains at least nine verbs describing movement. The two men “are going” (24:13), Jesus “came near and went with them” (24:15), they “came near” Emmaus (24:28), Jesus “walked ahead of them” (24:28), “he went in to stay with them” (24:29), “he vanished from their sight” (24:31), and “they got up and returned to Jerusalem” (24:33). Some of the verbs tell of movements made by Jesus; others tell of the two men. Either way, both Jesus and his followers are on the move. But it is not movement for its own sake. The moves being made have a purpose, and that is to tell the story of Jesus, to interpret it, to have fellowship (communion) with Jesus and others, and to share it all with others. That is what it means to be the church.” (Working Preacher)
Luke likes to take us on road trips. Mary and Joseph took a trip to Jerusalem and that is where Jesus is born. Where we meet Jesus for the first time. Jesus sets his eyes on Jerusalem and travels there. In Acts, written by Luke Paul travels to Damascus and has his conversion. Here at the end of Luke’s gospel two followers of Jesus are also on the move, they are travelling to Emmaus when they meet the risen Christ.
There is something dangerous about being on the move as a Christian. It leads us places, takes us on journeys. We know that our own journey’s of faith aren’t static. We don’t stay still, we learn, we grow, we question, we move.
Jesus moves us. Moves us in our hearts and our minds. Compels us to move forward, softens our hearts, encourages us to ask hard questions which lead others to move.
Today our passage features a great deal of movement. Movement in the physical sense of travel and movement as two followers of Jesus grow in understanding.
Prof. Eric Barreto asks, “I wonder what we think is the most characteristic activity of Jesus. When we imagine Jesus, what is he doing? For many, he is on the cross. For many, he may be preaching to a crowd. For many, he may be healing the sick with the touch of his hands. For many, he may be enthroned at the right hand of God.” (Working Preacher)
For Luke it is when Jesus is around the table. Think of all the meals and feasts Jesus attends in Luke’s gospel. Meals with Pharisees, meals with Mary and Martha, meals with tax collectors and sinners. Meals with the disciples, a meal of bread and wine. In all of these instances’ hearts are moved, people are changed.
The act of hospitality performed by the two followers of Jesus is turned on its head when Jesus breaks bread. In that moment Jesus becomes the host, Jesus becomes the one offering grace and hospitality. At that moment Jesus is the one being generous.
When we follow Jesus in faith, we often find the tables being turned. Intended consequences are turned, made better, because we have carried them out in faithfulness. Amen.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.