So, Christ is risen. Now what? “He’s gone on ahead of you to Galilee, where you will see him,” the men in dazzling white told the visitors to the empty tomb. All the post-resurrection stories are different. They did see him there in Galilee, –on the lakeshore, barbequing fish. And we know the story of the disciples who’d locked themselves in that upper room, when Jesus suddenly appeared in the their midst and breathed the Holy Spirit on them. And then he came back when Thomas was with them, and offered Thomas his hands and his side with their gaping wounds, so that he could get over his obsession with not seeing Jesus and get on with living in the Way of Jesus.
And then this story that we read this morning about what happened on the road to Emmaus–the two disciples, one named, the other not, walking home after the horrible events in Jerusalem and the unlikely tale of the women; and then the stranger coming up behind them, asking what was going on, and his walking them through the scriptures which indicated that the Messiah must suffer before entering into glory. Who was this man? And then their arriving home, and pressing the stranger to stay with them for supper and the night. It was then–when he took and broke the bread and gave it to them–that their eyes were opened, and they recognized Jesus. And he was gone.
John Dominic Crossan says that this story is the story of what happened to Jesus’ followers after his death, somewhere in the early 30’s, until the time that Paul noticed them and had his own encounter with the risen Christ, somewhere in the 50’s. This story of what happened on the road to Emmaus, and especially what happened when they sat around the table at the end of that journey, is a summary of how the message and movement of Jesus was spread in the early years after Jesus’ death.
Jesus had sent them out before, two by two. Remember that? Take nothing with you, he’d told them, and if someone invites you in, go in and eat there. If they don’t accept you, wipe the dust off your feet, and move on. And when all the pairs came back, they told Jesus about all the things they’d been able to do. “You’ll do all that I’ve done and more,” Jesus had said to them.
So here in this Emmaus story, are two disciples traveling together, one named Clopas, so obviously a male, and the other one unnamed, quite possibly female, as that is often how the early Jesus followers traveled. They are talking about Jesus, still trying to figure out the meaning of his death and the strange tales of his resurrection. When they study the scriptures, they get a sense that Jesus is part of the meaning and movement of God’s intentions, but it’s not perfectly clear. It is only when they invite the stranger in to their homes, offer shelter and food, that they recognize the Risen Christ in their midst. And note, they invite him, he doesn’t invite them.
“When he was at table with them, he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened.” Bread that is blessed and broken is shared bread. Wine that is poured into a cup and given is shared wine. Shared meals were at the heart of what Jesus was about, not just because all sorts of people ate together, which they did–tax collectors, prostitutes, “sinners”–but because anyone could come and have something to eat.
The Roman occupation had increasingly wrung dry any and all resources for the poor to rely upon. In fact, many of the poor were absolutely destitute, having next to nothing to feed their families. Many existed on the edge of starvation. Those who have been truly hungry, hungry with no idea when they will ever eat again, are marked by that experience. So the meals that Jesus and his movement centered around were not just symbolic meals, with a piece of bread and a sip of wine; these were actual meals, potlucks really, where everyone brought whatever it was they had to share, or themselves, if they had nothing, and then everyone had enough to eat. Enough to eat and a place in the community. That was Jesus’ definition of Justice, and God was above all, a God of justice.
It was not uncommon in the ancient world to hear stories of visions of dead men raised. That Jesus’ followers said they had seen him resurrected would have been received by others as interesting but not unheard of. It was the content of their vision that was intriguing. You mean, when you take in strangers, when you sit down and share bread and wine together in his memory, that’s when he appears? You mean, I could come and join in such a meal? I would be fed? That’s right. Come and see. We gather around 10 and eat around 11 or 11:15 on Sunday mornings. We gather at 5 on Sunday afternoons.
Our Sunday Socials. Sunday Suppers. Dinners for 8 or 80. We may each experience the Risen Christ in many different ways, but he promised that wherever two or three were gathered in his name, there he’d be in the midst of them. When bread is taken, blessed, and broken, the Risen Christ is present. When the wine is blessed and poured out and the cup is shared, the Risen Christ is present.
“Resurrected life and risen vision,” Dom Crossan says, “appear as offered shelter and shared meal. Resurrection is not enough. You still need scripture and eucharist, tradition and table, community and justice; otherwise, divine presence remains unrecognized and human eyes remain unopened…. “Emmaus never happened,” he writes. “Emmaus always happens.” [Crossan, The Birth of Christianity, p. xi We are still on the road to Emmaus. And look, here is bread and drink for the journey. Let us share it with one another and the Risen Christ. Amen and amen.
Rev. Mary H. Lee-Clark