Preached by Rev. Jason Haddox
At our spring Clergy Conference this week, one of my colleagues remarked that when he looked at the Sunday scriptures his first thought was: “What am I going to do with this?” I wanted to slap him. If the Episcopal Church did not require its preachers to deal with a lectionary, I would preach every week on either the Prodigal Son or the Road to Emmaus—because for me these are two of the key gospel stories. God’s unconditional welcome, and God’s triumph, manifested in the breaking of bread at the dinner table.
Let’s look at this story. “On the same day two of the disciples were going to a village called Emmaus…” On what day?
The day of resurrection. Easter day, in the afternoon. Mary and Joanna and Magdalena and the others had gone that morning to the tomb and seen angels, who told them “Jesus is not here, he is risen as he told you.” But they hadn’t seen him yet. So they were, all of them, confused and bewildered and amazed. What is going on here?
And these two travelers are also wondering “What is going on here?” as they walk together, talking about all of these strange things. And then a third traveler joins them, but they do not know who he is. The stranger asks them “What are you talking about?” They are amazed at the question. “Don’t you know what all has happened here in Jerusalem the last few days?” “No, tell me…”
And they begin to tell him about Jesus, and all that had happened. The crucifixion, and the news from the women that morning about the angels and the empty tomb. But “their eyes were kept from recognizing him.”
We’ve been talking about seeing and perceiving and understanding a lot at St. Augustine’s this spring. Our Lenten Wednesday Series was all about our windows here in the church, and learning to read and speak the language of the windows. It’s been a struggle, because it’s not always obvious, even though the images are right there in front of us. Sometimes we don’t see what is right under our noses.
These two disciples, Cleopas and the other one, have no reason to expect to see anything out of the ordinary. They’re on their way to Emmaus, a few miles from Jerusalem, and they know every landmark on the way and every rut and bump in the road. Ho hum, nothing new here. Same old-same old. Or so they think.
“How foolish and slow of heart you are!” their traveling companion cries out to them. In the Bible, “Heart” usually refers to the Will, to human intentionality. Here, the meaning is slightly different. It seems to have something to do with perception, comprehension, understanding. He’s asking them, “Don’t you get it?”
He begins to interpret the scriptures—that is, the prophets and the psalms to them, concerning the role and work of the Lord’s Messiah. They have a good rabbinic conversation as they walk along together.
At their parting of the ways, Cleopas and his friend urge the stranger to come in and have supper and stay overnight, which he does.
“When he was at the table with them he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.” Sound familiar?
“Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’”
Their eyes were opened. They saw—for the first time in Luke’s gospel—the risen Christ, at the moment that the bread was broken and shared.
“Were not our hearts burning within us…?” This is not the kind of heartburn that asks for bicarbonate of soda or an antacid tablet—this is the heart rising in joy, perceiving by intuition even before full awareness dawns. Their hearts were warmed because they knew, even before they knew it, that something amazing was at hand. That their world was about to change in ways they could not begin to imagine.
How clever of Jesus, to reveal himself in conversation and the stories of scripture.
How clever of him, to show himself to them most fully at an ordinary dinner table, in the breaking of a loaf of bread. In an act, a gesture, so completely ordinary and unremarkable that only eyes truly opened by God, only hearts truly filled with the Holy Spirit, could have seen anything extraordinary in it at all. And there, they saw everything at once.
In the remarkable movie Babette’s Feast, the title character is the housekeeper for a pair of unmarried elderly sisters in Denmark. A refugee from civil war, Babette is a stranger in the tiny, close-knit and highly religious village where the sisters have lived all their lives. She takes care of the sisters, and through their various ministries to the village, ultimately she takes care of all of the townspeople. One day word comes to the village that Babette has won the French national lottery: ten thousand francs—an enormous sum. The villagers all assume that she will now take the money and return to Paris. But before she does, she asks permission to cook a real French dinner for the sisters and their guests, in honor of the birthday of their father, the pious clergyman who founded this little community where they live.
In the course of consuming this amazing meal, and the conversation at the table that accompanies it, old suspicions and long-held ill feelings between the townsfolk simply vanish, and every person who sits at Babette’s feast goes away changed forever. They are no longer who they were, when they sat down at the beginning. They see—they perceive in their hearts—that the world itself is full of glory and wonder, and they themselves are filled with that same wonder and glory.
How clever of Babette, to serve them a meal that would transform them from the heart, inside-out.
How clever of her, to work such a miracle in a rough kitchen, and at a plain wooden table, in a tiny house in an obscure corner of the Danish coastline.
How clever, that the act of eating and drinking together, with eyes to see and hearts to understand, might tranform old hurts and wounds, hardness of heart and stubbornness of soul, into wonder and joy in the presence and glory of God’s good creation. Might transform God’s people more and more into the image and likeness of the risen Christ himself.
Will you pray with me?
Open our eyes, O God, to see your hand at work in the world about us. Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal. Let the grace of this Holy Communion make us one body, one spirit in Christ, that we may worthily serve the world in his name.
Risen Lord, be known to us in the breaking of the Bread.