Roads, Tables, and Strangers - Jesus' Top Hangouts
13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, "What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?" They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, "Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?" 19 He asked them, "What things?" They replied, "The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him." 25 Then he said to them, "Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?" 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. 28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, "Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over." So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 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?" 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, "The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!" 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
The other day I was pulling up to my house and I walked around to our front gate. I stopped and looked around at the houses up and down our block…many have jasmine vines bursting with blooms and sweet fragrance, some have charming lawn ornaments. But overall, not much seems to differentiate this day from any other in our long Southern spring. Nothing noticeable seems to reflect the things that have taken place in these days. As I walk along, I don’t notice anything on the surface that would tell me anything has changed. One house has Easter eggs tied to ribbons hanging from the tree in their front yard, but the celebration of the Resurrection is so different from Christmas in that there are no streets lined with lights, fewer explicit signs of the season.
Yet, Easter is indeed a season. Something is moving just below the surface that continues to draw us in. Somehow, even though our feet are tired…our alleluias are not quickly extinguished, but linger over 50 days of celebration. The mystery of Easter is so great, it can not be contained into a single day, but extends into an ongoing experience of delight, surprise, joy, and wonder. Easter is not a moment in history, but an ongoing occurring and an emerging reality. Easter is an ongoing experience of the resurrection. Easter is not just an event, but an encounter. And that is much harder to pin down and identify. That is something that unfolds in ways we may not have expected. Easter is something that comes to us where we are and something that engages each of us differently.
For the first people to the tomb, Mary, and the other women who saw it empty…they were given a divine messenger to help interpret what they saw and responded by running to others to tell the story. On the same day, a couple of them were in the midst of travel when Jesus comes near and strikes up a conversation. There are questions and skepticism, fear and hope. In the midst of each, Easter is revealed in ways that are personal and unexpected. God is recognized where we thought God was absent.
This idea of the “hidden God” is not unique to the gospel of Luke. In the Gospel of John, Mary comes to the garden of Jesus’ tomb, but mistakes the risen Christ for a gardener. It is when God says her name, “Mary” that she recognizes what is happening. There is plenty in our lives and in the news that cause us to wonder where God is in the midst of it all. It brings us to reflect on Gods promises and when it feels like God is excruciating silent, wonder if those promises are really true. Easter reveals it’s not that God is not present, but that we do not recognize God in our midst.
We miss seeing what is right in front of us for a variety of reasons. . We don’t know the reason the disciples were kept from recognizing Jesus, but I can imagine a few of my own. Perhaps they were not expecting Jesus in this way, or they were focused on the destination, or the next task on the journey. Perhaps they are distraught with emotion, crestfallen, hopeless, and scarred by the trauma of too many broken promises. Even when we know God is there, we know in our heads to expect God in the unexpected…our hearts are hardened and we miss it.
But on this long and winding road, Jesus keeps showing up. God meets us in the street, in the territory between certainties, in the process, in the journey which is just as important as the destination. But not in a bumper sticker, stop and “smell the roses” kind of way. God gently comes alongside us and patiently watches our eyes grow wider until at last we see the glory that shines even in the mundane. In the idle chit chat with strangers…in a Sunday night dinner. Can you imagine waiting in line with a friend at the store, when the nosy eavesdropping guy looking over your shoulder asks “watcha talking about?” and then somehow the conversations pushes through all the awkwardness, difficulty, and differences…and the evening ends with the recognition that you have been engaging with God?
While the identity of Jesus is still veiled, the disciples extend an invitation to this stranger to join them. They extend basic hospitality that would have been the common practice for Jewish households to welcome the sojourner, the traveler. They didn’t know company was coming, they wouldn’t have had a chance to tidy up or put something especially impressive on the menu. They invite this stranger, who is already transforming into something a little more familiar, to simply share in what they are already doing. They demonstrate discipleship as a way of being that wrestles with the significance of scripture in light of current events, that tells the sacred story as they walk along, that exhibits itself in public life and everyday social interactions. This discipleship, this way of being, tells of the Goods News by inviting others into an experience of hospitality and community. We see the Gospel as something that is at work out on the road as well as in the intimacy of a home and a table. Jesus is revealed in the sharing of a meal, but also in the conversation, in the teaching and learning and discovery.
Somehow, gathered around a table, over a spread of simple bread and the expression of gratitude….God is revealed in the face of someone they thought was a stranger. The table is given significance not because it’s an especially magical place, but because of what happens between people who are gathered together. Throughout Jesus’ life and now in the Resurrection, God shares a table with unexpecting and anxious disciples, but also with tax collectors, with those considered to be in collusion with the oppressive empire, with those who had terrible reputations and no social standing, with those who were powerful influencers, and those who weren’t particularly noteworthy at all. In Luke, eating is a radical act because it breaks down cultural boundaries. Among KINDRED, we are witness to the power of an ordinary table to bring together diverse people that point one another toward God’s expansive promise and presence. Not only in the sanctuary but around our tables at home, in the makeshift tables of a park bench, or the office breakroom. Christ is at the table wherever we share it. In the breaking of bread, blessing it, and sharing it among each other, we experience God’s ongoing Easter in our midst. In this glorious mystery, we are transformed, our eyes are opened, and we recognize the face of Jesus in the person we thought was a stranger.
I wonder….how does recognizing Jesus in the face across from you, shape your view of them and how you engage them? How does recognizing Jesus in that same face shape your view of God?