April 26, 2020
Christ Church Gardiner
Bock’s beautiful retelling of the Road to Emmaus is a sermon in itself. It reveals for us the intense emotions that all of those who loved and followed Jesus would have been feeling on the day the empty tomb was discovered. In this story, we get a glimpse of two particular disciples—their fear, desolation, weariness, their burning hearts, and eventually, their joy.
Despite its joyful ending, however, this story may resonate with a particular sadness these days. For many of us, the heart of our worship is Eucharist, or Communion, where we gather to pray and praise and participate in the consecration of the bread and wine, asking the Risen Christ to be known to us in that sacrament.
This story of breaking the bread at Emmaus reminds us of what we are missing at our shared table experience on Sundays.
Jesus, whom they have not yet recognized, is invited to stay for supper with Cleopas and his companion. He then takes the role of host and blesses, breaks, and offers them the bread, and in that moment, they know him.
We long to share that experience in our familiar eucharistic liturgy—that sense of knowing Jesus in the breaking of the bread.
In Bock’s retelling of the story, we hear that Cleopas and his companion’s eyes were opened to who this stranger was because he had “the look and feel and sound of real love.” And in that moment, the disciples were forever changed. In his love, they knew him, and they were fed and given the strength to get up from the table and head back to Jerusalem with all its danger of the unknown.
This story may bring us a moment of sadness that we aren’t gathered at the altar rail to receive communion together. I know how this sacrament reaches deep into people’s hearts. How often I see people kneel at the altar with tears in their eyes. We long for the comfort and strength we get from that gathering and receiving the presence of Christ.
And yet, if we focus only on what we are missing, what we have been denied right now, we deny what should also be a revelation to us in this story. Jesus met them on the road. He accompanied them on the way. He came into their home. He sat at their table. Jesus made himself known to them with no need of a church building. And I will even admit, no need of a priest.
These words of an old hymn by James Montgomery may be a comfort to us now. “Be known to us in breaking bread but do not then depart. Savior, abide with us, and spread your table in our heart.”
Our common life may have been taken away from us for a season, but the presence of the Risen Christ has not. Jesus abides with us and spreads his table in our hearts, whenever and wherever we break bread.
Jesus is present and accompanying us, whether we are aware of it or not. Remember…Cleopas and his companion were not looking for Jesus, but running away. Jesus found them anyway.
God always finds us. As Bock wrote in the Emmaus Road retelling, We can “expect to be found and gathered and turned round right by God’s love.” Even when we least expect it.
We all have our Emmaus roads. Maybe you’re on one now. Making your way on a path of lament and grief and fear of the unknown. Rest assured, the Risen Christ is on the road, too. Right in the thick of all the fear and grief and pain.
One of the realities of the Covid Pandemic is that it affects us all differently. It’s giving all of us a different road to travel. Some of us are inconvenienced and grieving the loss of our common life during this time. Some of us will experience that and added to it the loss of loved ones or jobs or businesses. Some of us are quarantined in unsafe situations, waiting desperately to get out. Some are risking their lives and the lives of their families to go to work every day.
But Jesus always shows up to walk with us, no matter what the condition of the road or where it’s leading. And sometimes, Jesus shows up in the presence of others.
So if your road during these days isn’t as dark or as rough as it is for others, who might you be called to walk with—even if it’s a figurative walk? Who needs your love and support? Where will you find “the least of these” and serve them, because that’s what Jesus has called us to do?
We may not be at the table together this morning. We may not be sharing the bread and wine. But when you break bread in your own homes, call upon the Risen Christ. And ask that Jesus stay, spreading his table in your hearts, feeding you and giving you strength for the journey and the courage and love to walk with others on theirs. May it be so. Amen.