Series: Taste and See that the Lord is Good
#2: The Other Lord’s Supper
Luke 24:13-35 (NIV)
By Rev. John Gill
“It only takes a moment…” Any of you who are Broadway buffs will recognize those as the words a young man named Cornelius sings to Ms. Malloy in the musical “Hello Dolly.” In this song, he declares that, at first sight, he has fallen in love, and that his life has been forever transformed!
That song was meant to describe the power of love – the transformation one day can make in our lives – how in one moment, you are sad and alone, discouraged and depressed – and in the next moment you meet the love of your life, and everything changes. Suddenly the world seems different, your future looks brighter – you have new hope and joy. Yes, it’s amazing how one moment can transform your world, and your outlook on life.
Those followers of Jesus who walked the dusty road from Jerusalem to Emmaus could testify to just how true this is. In one instant as they sat at dinner with a stranger, their lives were forever changed. Their sadness was turned to joy; their grief to glory – and it only took “a moment.”
It was the evening of Easter. Throughout the previous 72 hours, they had watched helplessly as the Teacher they had devoted their lives to had been betrayed, arrested, condemned, flogged, ridiculed, spat on, and subjected to one of the most gruesome torturous deaths the human race has ever devised. Their hope had been nailed to the cross, and buried in a tomb. There was nothing left to do but to go home and try to pick up the pieces of their lives.
But before they set out on their journey, something peculiar had happened. The women who had gone to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus came rushing back and announced that the body was missing, and that they had seen a vision of angels who announced that Jesus had risen from the dead.
The men were stunned by the news of the women, but it seems that the disciples had trouble believing that it was so – you know how unreliable those women-folk can be! (That’s not my view, of course – that’s what the disciples thought!) They couldn’t accept the word of women on such an important matter as this, so several of the men ran to the tomb to check out their story.
Indeed, they were right – the body WAS missing. But angels? According to Luke’s account, the disciples didn’t see any angels. Apparently, even later in the day, the men still didn’t quite believe the testimony of the women, for as Cleopas and his companion begin their journey home along the Road to Emmaus, they are dejected, disappointed, and discouraged . . . or as our scripture text words it: “their faces (were) downcast.” They had heard the good news of the Resurrection, but they were still distraught about the Crucifixion. The sadness of Good Friday eclipsed the joy of Easter. The Savior they had served was dead, and no amount of wishful thinking could change that fact.
The men-folk needed to see the risen Jesus with their own eyes if they were to believe, but all they had to go on was a far-fetched story told to them by hysterical women. The men needed proof. And so the Risen Christ went out of his way to show himself to the male disciples who were so slow to believe.
You’ll recall that, according to John’s Gospel, Jesus appears to the disciples in the upper room, and even comes back a second time to let Thomas not only see him, but to touch his wounds. Unlike the others, Thomas was from Missouri – he said “show me!” Thomas needed to see to believe.
But, interestingly enough, that’s NOT the way Jesus chose to show himself to Cleopas and his companion.
As they walked along the road, a stranger came alongside them, engaging them in conversation. Of course, we know that this person was none other than the risen Christ himself. But Jesus played dumb. His appearance was veiled in some way so that they didn’t recognize him. And in the course of their conversation, without ever giving away his identity, Jesus gave them a crash course in Old Testament messianic prophecy, and showed them how it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and die before he could be glorified. They finally began to understand.
By this time, the daylight was fading as they reached their destination. Never one to impose himself on someone uninvited, Jesus indicated that he would continue on his journey. But the men begged him to stay and be their guest. But at the dinner table, the stranger began to act, not as a guest, but as the host. He took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and handed pieces to his two friends. And Luke tells us that at that instant, they realized who was present in their midst – he was known to them at the moment he broke the bread.
Yes, it only takes a moment, and your life can change forever.
While the other disciples got to see the Risen Christ face to face, the followers from Emmaus did not. They were only able to see the presence of Christ in the face of a stranger, and in the broken bread and poured out wine of Holy Communion. As one of our wonderful communion hymns so beautifully puts it,
Here, O my Lord, I see thee face to face,
Here would I touch and handle things unseen.
Here grasp with firmer hand eternal grace;
and all my weariness upon thee lean.
I think this resurrection appearance of Jesus speaks so powerfully to us, because you and I can identify with Cleopas’ experience far more easily than we can with Thomas’. How many of you here this morning have been privileged to receive a visitation by the risen Christ? I dare say none of us have had that experience.
Our experience is much more akin to that of Cleopas – we are challenged to look deeply into the face of the stranger among us, the neighbor, the coworker, the friend, the family member, and to see there the face of Christ. And you and I are invited to recognize his presence in our midst whenever the bread of Holy Communion is broken and we sit at the table where he is the host.
I love this story of the Emmaus Meal because it reminds us that “We serve a Risen Savior, Who’s in the world today.” Jesus is alive, and present among us whenever we gather together, especially when we break the bread and share the cup.
I believe that this Emmaus appearance was not meant by Christ only to be a gift to Cleopas and his companion, but as a wonderful gift to all of us throughout all generations who have believed without having actually seen Jesus. It’s God’s vow to us that we are never alone, that whenever we break the bread and share the cup, Jesus promises to show up! As Jesus assured us in Matthew 12:20, “Whenever two or three are gathered together in my name, I am in the midst of them.”
But I also believe there is another reason Jesus revealed himself at the table in Emmaus with words and actions so reminiscent of the Last Supper. He deliberately gives us two “Lord’s Suppers” to use as models: Jesus wanted to redefine our understanding of Holy Communion from being a wake for the dead, to being a celebration of victory over death!
But, in most our churches, we have tended to come to the Lord’s Supper with the same attitude as Cleopas and his companion – heads downcast, dejected and sad, grieving the death of Jesus. Like them, we have heard the good news that Jesus is alive, and yet we approach the sacrament as if we were attending a funeral – a memorial to a fallen hero. When we observe the Lord’s Supper in our churches, we usually reenact the gloomy and poignant meal eaten in the shadow of the cross of Good Friday. (And that is appropriate during certain times of the church year.)
But within hours of his resurrection, Jesus offers the Church a new template: ANOTHER Lord’s Supper, an Easter Lord’s Supper, this time in the afterglow of the empty tomb.
If what we profess to believe is true – if Jesus is really alive – then all our services of Holy Communion should be joyous Easter celebrations!
As the songwriters Avery and Marsh put it:
Every Morning is Easter morning from now on.
Every day’s resurrection day, the past is over and gone!
My friends, we “serve a risen Savior; he’s in the world today!” It’s time we started acting like it!
That, my friends is the power of “a moment” – the moment your eyes are opened, as Cleopas’ eyes were opened, and you see the risen Savior and open your heart to him. In that instant, its love at first sight and your life is changed forever.
Then the words Cornelius sang in “Hello Dolly” take on a whole new meaning – the refrain goes like this:
It only takes a moment
For your eyes to meet and then
Your heart knows in a moment
You will never be alone again
My friends, as you come to receive the bread broken for you, may this be your “moment” when your eyes are opened, and YOU see Jesus.