One of the many things I love about being an aunt is seeing how my brothers reappear in their kids. A certain laugh, or a way of thinking, or the rebellious choices my nephews and niece make all evoke my brothers in earlier stages of life. I find my parents in their physical gestures, too, which gives me joy.
It’s easy to imagine how the disciples recognize Jesus in a gesture at the table. The breaking of the bread is a movement of the hands and heart that they’ve seen dozens of times before. The risen Christ walks and talks with them, speaks and teaches, and it’s in this most essential physical movement that they finally see who he is.
All through his life, people complain that he eats with sinners and tax collectors. Bruce Chilton, in his imaginative book Rabbi Jesus suggests that Jesus “developed the practice of holy feasts into an art form.” Village life, the harvest, the completion of projects, and marriages all involved celebrations and feasts, of various sizes, depending on the importance of the occasion. Jesus understood the power of the spirit at work when people gather, and used the feasts to teach, to pray, to tell stories, and to connect people with each other. Here he does it one more time.
Read the scripture here.
Read the Working Preacher commentary here.
Fascinatingly, Luke tells us that the travelers’ eyes “were kept from recognizing Jesus.” I always wonder what it was that prevented them from seeing Jesus more clearly. Emmaus is west of Jerusalem, so they are walking into the setting sun. Is it a problem with the way the light falls? Is Jesus in the shadows? Or is it the heavy load of grief they’re carrying? Weariness after the trauma of the past few days? The fact that they’re not yet ready, until they hear the things Jesus is teaching them?
The travelers get the experience of sitting at the table with Jesus one more time only because they invite him to stay. He walks ahead “as if he were going on,” and they press him to stay and accept their hospitality. If they had shrugged their shoulders, said “nice chatting with you,” and let him go, there would be no experience at the table. In this, they reveal back to Jesus the encompassing hospitality that he taught and modeled for them. They extend the lesson to another stranger, just as Jesus would have done, and find that this stranger is Jesus himself.
A number of authors posit that the two travelers are Cleopas and his wife, and now I always imagine them that way, too. The image above is one artist’s imagining of that. How do you picture them?
One of the casualties of COVID isolation is eating meals with other people. Some people who live alone have been eating mostly solitary meals by for a year. The sermon might explore the power of eating with other people, and why that touches us so deeply.
Or the sermon might explore the things that keep us from seeing Jesus. What habits and patterns keep us from the fullness of his presence? Are we too settled, too weary, too hopeless, too safe?
In her Working Preacher commentary, Michal Beth Dinkler poses this question: “In Greek, the word for stranger is paroikos. Oikos means “house,” so literally, par-oikos means “outside the house.” This is the same word that is used for someone who lives in a country without citizenship. Cleopas calls Jesus an “immigrant,” a “foreigner.” How often do we, too, assume that we understand and that others are outsiders who do not belong?”
Or, the sermon might look at why their” hearts burned within them” while Jesus talks. Excitement? Renewed purpose? Shame? Guilt? What gets our hearts to burn with energy and passion these days?
Where are your thoughts taking you this week? We would love to continue the conversation in the comments section below.
Rev. Mary Austin is the pastor of Gaithersburg Presbyterian Church, which is taking cautious steps towards in-person church, alongside live streaming. She blogs from time to time at Stained Glass in the City. The image above is by Maximino Cerezo Barredo (Spanish, 1932–), Emmaus, 2002. Painted mural, 200 × 190 cm. Dining room of the Centro de Formación de Animadores, Gatun Lake, Panama. Source: artandtheology.org
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