Holy Communion 30th April 2017
The Walk to Emmaus
Holy Communion 30th April 2017
The Walk to Emmaus
Luke 24. 13 - 35
Meals are important – and not just for nutrition. Who you eat with is important too. The school I taught in did not have a special table for staff: pupils and teachers ate together, and I think it affected things for good as we shared the experience of Mrs Wasley’s cornish pasties, beans and chips…
Think of the meals you most easily remember. You might remember the menu, but I would guess that most people would remember the company, the atmosphere and what was learned and said. Meals draw people together. The modern family is often described as a freezer and a microwave, but families and households, groups of friends and communities know that having a meal together cements things. I gather that the French now bemoan the fact that an average family meal takes less than two hours. It used to take four.
Luke’s gospel is threaded through with meals. The gospel is written in such a way that we are justified in looking at them as a whole. We are meant to draw parallels, find common themes and draw conclusions from what happens when Jesus eats with people. The meal at Emmaus is no exception. Indeed, many commentators see this as the hinge point of Luke and Acts, the point where the church becomes the sign of God’s new future. The gospel has been leading to the point where the promises enacted in the Last Supper are revealed to be true. Now, in the knowledge of the risen Christ, the church’s eating together is a sign of the new covenant. Meals will never be the same again.
The Emmaus story is unique to Luke, and beautifully constructed as opposites in a series of concentric circles –
The outer circle: The two disciples walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus, and at the end they walk from Emmaus to Jerusalem.
The next circle: They talk on the way about how their hopes had been dashed, and after the meal they talk about how their hearts burned within them when they met the man they now know to be Christ.
The next circle: Jesus joins them for the journey, and in the meal he vanishes from them.
The next circle: They were prevented from recognising him as they walked, and in the meal their eyes are opened.
And in the centre of the story is the shape of the church’s future table fellowship. They gather together. They encounter the scriptures and discern Christ within them. They break bread and recognise the presence of Christ among them. And they leave with a mission to tell their friends, and the whole world, about what has happened.
At the Last supper Jesus commanded his followers to break bread in remembrance of him. The meal at Emmaus is the first recorded instance of his followers doing just that, and what is revealed is the fullness of the promise which the Last Supper pointed towards. It was inevitable that, because they had eaten together so often, whenever they ate after Jesus’s death they would remember him. I do that whenever I go to Bradford, or Kettlewell and remember times shared with my mother. Memories cannot be stopped. But here, as they break bread just as they had three days before, Jesus is present with them. Their remembering brings eternal life, the Kingdom of God, the presence of the Christ and the hope of glory right into their present experience. They don’t remember, they encounter, and it is no wonder that they do the journey back to Jerusalem twice as fast as it took them earlier.
There are echoes of other meals too, which challenge us to follow Christ and to be the church in a way which speaks of the values of the Kingdom of God. One commentator has said that Jesus was put to death precisely because of the type of people he ate with. Think of Levi, the reviled tax collector, the notorious woman who poured perfume on Jesus’s feet, and Zaccheus who extorted money from his own people. Whenever the church eats together it should welcome to the table the ones who are least likely to be invited to a Buckingham Palace Garden Party. In eating this meal we become a community which is inclusive, which looks for reconciliation, which welcomes all and looks to them to be changed even as we are changed.
The meal at Emmaus is the first meal of the revelation of the new covenant. Henceforward every time they ate they would know that Christ was risen from death, and that, in a new form and by belief and faith, he would be with them always.
Meals are important. We gather today at a meal. It is intimately related to the meal at Emmaus. Gathered together as a community we have attended to the scriptures and will break bread together. This is how the church remembers, and in our remembering encounter the reality of the risen Christ.
Now, if you are English and Anglican please remember that if your heart burns within you, the expression of your joy should be measured, characteristically underplayed. So be it. But let us not forget that when we break bread, Jesus shares our table. When we share the Peace we demonstrate that we are a community of reconciliation, and all who will seek forgiveness, whatever their worldly status, will be welcome here. When we eat the bread and drink the cup let us remember that we eat the meal of the life of the world, the food of the new covenant. This is what grace tastes like.
How can we not leave with a mission? How can we not want to proclaim the love of a God of justice, righteousness and forgiveness to a world whose economics and structures deliver an unforgiving hierarchy and servitude to the majority? Let your hearts burn within you, but do not let being Church of England deflect you from the truth that in this meal we are touched by God,
To whom be all glory, in the Church and in Christ Jesus, now and forevermore. Amen.