On the Road
Luke 24: 13-35
It’s fitting that today’s text – for our final worship of the semester – happens on the road. People headed off from home base.
It’s still Easter day in Luke’s story and two followers of Jesus are headed from Jerusalem to Emmaus, a 7 mile walk. They’re talking, going over the strange, sad, hopeful things they’ve seen and heard about during the past three days. They’re lost in conversation, worry, rehashing. A stranger approaches and asks what they’re discussing, so they tell him. They don’t exactly proclaim the gospel but they tell him about the recent strange events. They still aren’t sure what to make of it all. They aren’t proclaiming beliefs, just reciting moments in the strange story they’ve been living. Moments that somehow haven’t quite added up for them yet, to form a story worth shouting to the world.
So an eavesdropping stranger asks them about their conversation and when he hears it all he points out how scripture has been fulfilled by the events they’ve mentioned.
There is still no lightning bolt, aha moment for them. In fact, the stranger prepares to walk on ahead and leave them to their reminiscing. But when they see the stranger’s back up in front of them, they come to their senses – at least a little bit.
It’s getting dark and it’s time for supper. They are almost to their destination, where they know there will be food for them. And they can’t just let this man go off alone with no where to stay or to eat. So they invite him over. One of the commentaries I read this week says that it is here that “their sense of hospitality came to the rescue” (“Living By The Word,” The Christian Century, 5/3/11).
Jesus is headed off without them and there at the last minute they remember their manners. Though they haven’t quite believed all that’s happened and though Jesus’s own teaching on the road hasn’t sunk in yet either, they do remember what he taught them before all this. They remember their calling to hospitality, to caring for the stranger, to open their doors and their hearts to brothers and sisters on the road. And, without much thought or anguish or theologizing — just out of habit really — they invite him over.
Luke doesn’t say much about what else happens until they get to the table. Presumably they put down their things, wash up, greet the others who would share the meal, sit down to relax after that long journey. Still, no recognition.
And then, just like he did so many other times before, when they get to the table, Jesus takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to everyone. It’s the same “4-fold action” we continue to celebrate at this Table – take, bless, break, give.
That’s what it takes! These two who had spent quite some time with Jesus by now, without an inkling of who they were traveling with, suddenly see. They recognize him. And then he vanishes, leaving them there at the table holding the bread that brought it all home, looking at one another in astonishment.
The next part always cracks me up. They turn to one another and say That whole time we were on the road with him – couldn’t you just feel your heart burning within you? While he was explaining the scriptures, didn’t you just know it was him all along?
Luke doesn’t say this, but I imagine they could have taken it a step further: We knew enough to invite him in, didn’t we? We’re no slouches! It’s such a delightfully, fallibly human moment to hear them reinterpret what they had completely missed while it was actually happening.
Next they get up from the table, put their shoes back on, and walk the 7 miles all the back to Jerusalem so they can tell everyone what’s just happened. Now this time they do have some proclaiming to do. This time they are ready to announce the gospel. Back in Jerusalem they tell everyone, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” And they tell the whole story about the road and “how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread” (vv. 34-5).
I have three things I want to say about this story as we head out on our own roads from here.
One: It’s not enough just to know the facts. These apostles know the details of what has happened. They recite the whole story to the stranger-Jesus on the road to Emmaus. But the story – the good news – hasn’t changed their hearts and minds and lives yet, has it? They are so engrossed in rehashing the details of the story that they never once notice the very one they are talking about. So far, it’s only a story worth repeating and puzzling over, not something they know how to live by just yet. But once it all “clicks” for them, they are not too tired or sleepy or full from dinner to walk all the way back to Jerusalem to spread the news. This time they aren’t waiting for an eavesdropping stranger to horn in on the conversation – they head out in the opposite direction to go tell everyone they know.
It’s interesting to me that they go back to Jerusalem that same night. You know the word “repent” literally means “turn around,” and here they are quite literally turning around and heading back the way they came. When the facts become more than mere facts, when the story becomes good news – and when they realize it’s theirs to proclaim – they change how they live. They head in the opposite direction. They don’t wait to be asked for the news. They go out on a mission.
Here’s the second thing I want to highlight: We know and trust that Jesus is present with us in this Feast. Of course, we can clearly see that Jesus is with the apostles for quite some time before they pick up on it. But he is revealed at the Table. All the pieces fall into place. Their confusion clears. Their hunger is satisfied. And the bread they eat there with Jesus becomes bread for the journey, the fuel that carries them back up the road to Jerusalem.
The Table is not the only place to meet Christ, obviously. But it’s a tried-and-true place. Jan Richardson writes that the table is “a place where we recognize that we cannot rely solely on ourselves to summon the sustenance that we need. A shared table is a sacred space where we acknowledge, in the presence of others that we are hungry: not only for the feeding of our bodies but also of our souls” (www.paintedprayerbook.com, 4/3/2008).
And #3: Even though the apostles had a way to go, their sense of hospitality saved them. Who knows if they ever even believed what Jesus said about the scriptures as they walked along towards Emmaus. They certainly don’t recognize him. But it’s dark and it’s time to eat. So they say “Come on over for a bite to eat.”
This sort of instinctive, habitual hospitality reminds me of y’all. It sounds like when you headed over to feed homeless men on the Corner with hotdogs leftover from concessions at JPJ. It sounds like this year’s Spring Challenge which, though it lasted only 6 minutes, was a fantastic “no reason but love” offer for some Rugby Road folks in desperate need of food. It sounds like the wonderful women of the Cottage who on more occasions than I can count have offered a couch for the night to someone suffering a break up or a bout of loneliness.
Well, maybe you don’t know what to preach yet – with the shape of your life or the content of your major or how your family will fit in or with the job you’re working your way towards. But you can do this – keep doing this! No matter the road from here or how long it takes before you come by this way again, know that your hospitality can lead you right to supper with Jesus. It already has.
As you’ve been fed at this Table, with these brothers and sisters in Christ, head back out onto the road with glad hearts, ready to shout the good news with every bit of your life. Share the peace with one another, take this bread into your body and be fed by it, then hit the road to share the good news!
Thanks be to God!
© Deborah E. Lewis 2011