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The road to Emmaus is a familiar Bible passage to many of us – two disciples, one of them named Cleopas, were heading to Emmaus about 11 kilometers from Jerusalem after Easter Sunday. Jesus joined them along the way, but like Mary Magdalene at the tomb, they did not recognize him. Jesus asked them what they were discussing about – and they shared with Jesus all that had happened – from Jesus’ crucifixion on Good Friday, to the women discovering the empty tomb on Easter morning. They were still downcast from what happened, and Jesus interpreted the Scriptures to them.
When they arrived at Emmaus, they invited Jesus to stay with them. It was when Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it and gave it to them that their eyes were opened and they recognized Jesus, and he vanished.
The two disciples rushed back to Jerusalem to look for the disciples to share with them what happened.
What strikes you in this account? (Pause)
It remains puzzling why the two disciples were kept from recognizing Jesus.
And when did they finally recognize Christ? When he took bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it.
It is in the breaking of bread – communion – that Christ was recognized.
This year we did not observe Maundy Thursday. It would have been an interesting experiment if we did. The last supper we can find ways to do online – after all we still have communion every Sunday even though we are not physically with one another. The washing of feet is a different matter altogether.
But I felt something missing. And I don’t think it is just missing something out of habit.
Diana Butler Bass points us to something about Easter, about communion:
“All this makes me think we’ve missed something important about Easter. Protestants are often accused of skipping over Good Friday too quickly in an attempt to get to Easter. But I wonder if we skip over Maundy Thursday too fast in our hurry to get to Good Friday. We’ve underplayed Maundy Thursday’s dinner table in favour of Good Friday’s suffering on the cross. What if the main story isn’t the violence of Friday, but the feast of Thursday?
We always read the dinner table from the cross. But what if we read the story the other way and understood the cross through the experience of the table? What if the story starts on Thursday?
The Last Supper is the final meal of the age that is (the age of injustice, oppression, debt and sin) and the First Feast of the “age to come” (the age of God’s reign of peace and justice). We are “passing over” from the rule of Caesar to being the children of God, from the bondage of slavery to the freedom of serving others. The table is set for the new world, we offer grateful prayers, and our exodus is at hand.
But, of course, Caesar doesn’t want this to happen. The religious hypocrites, the authorities who are complicit with Caesar’s reign, don’t want this to happen. The powers of this age want to destroy the table of gratitude, the table set by God.
So comes Friday’s execution, Caesar’s violent attempt to destroy the table forever and to keep us enslaved. Not living in grateful wonder, but in perpetual fear.
Jesus is dead. The disciples return to that room to remember and mourn what almost was. But God says, “No more!” God is out of patience with history’s Pharaohs and Caesars and injustice and hunger and oppression and violence and death and the whole thing. And so, Jesus rises. The tomb is empty.
And where does Jesus go? Does he return to Calvary’s hill and point and shout, “Look, the cross!” No. Jesus rises and goes back to the dining room to offer a table of peace with gratitude in perpetuity. And just before the credits roll in the story, gratefulness banishes fear and thanksgiving replaces grief.
What a story! One might even call it “good news.”
Jesus doesn’t return to the cross and its violence. Jesus returns to the table.
Many people have been surprised when they first hear about the open table we celebrate. Many come from church backgrounds that are quite strict about who can and who cannot partake communion, and what are the criteria one needs to meet to participate in this mean.
Of course, we have considered Apostle Paul’s warning about taking communion in an unworthy matter, in 1 Cor :27-32
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves. For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
But what Paul was addressing was something pretty specific – During that time, the Lord’s supper was actually a huge feast. It is more like a pot luck than the communion we celebrate each Sunday. What Paul was criticizing was that some people were there just for the food – coming early and finishing the food and the wine, leaving nothing for those who come later.
Paul writes: “When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s supper. For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?”
Further down, in verses 33-34 he writes:
“So then, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 34 If you are hungry, eat at home, so that when you come together, it will not be for your condemnation. About the other things I will give instructions when I come.
The Lord’s supper, which was supposed to demonstrate God’s generosity, God’s abundance and God’s love for all, became something available to those who came early. And who were the ones who could go early for the feast? Those privileged who do not need to work.
*The Lord’s supper can only be the Lord’s supper when all are able to come together and celebrate it, and that it is available for all.
It is a table of generosity. It is a table of grace. It is a table of forgiveness. It is a table of abundance. It is a table of love.
Very early on, during our days as Safehaven, we celebrated communion after being inspired by MCC (Metropolitan Community Church). They celebrated an open table because of the experiences of LGBT folks who were turned away from the communion because of who they are. Not only that – their understanding was so radical that they had lay people celebrate communion as well. We followed their example -perhaps out of necessity – because we didn’t have anyone ordained in our midst.
The reality is that there is one host at the table – that is Christ. We are just fellow guests at the feast, and we all chip in to help serve each other.
That is how FCC celebrates communion. We welcome everyone.
I read recently Pastor Quinn G. Caldwell’s reflection on the communion:
“Every week when we celebrate communion the last thing we say is:
“The first time Jesus sat down at the table to celebrate this meal, among those gathered there were one who would doubt him, one who would deny him, one who would betray him, and they would all leave him alone before that night was over – and he knew it.
*Still he sat down and ate with them. If he ate with them, surely he’s ready to eat with us – baptized or not, confessed or not, Christian or not, sure or not, believer or not, saint or sinner or a little of both. All you have to be to eat at this table is hungry; God will do the rest. All things are ready; come and receive.”
A prison chaplain told me that he had “stolen” those lines and begun using them when he celebrated communion at the prison. More than once, prisoners who had never done so before had come forward to receive communion. With tears in their eyes, they told him they had assumed that their crimes had made them unwelcome at the table. They had heard others invite them, but had never believed it until the chaplain reminded them who Jesus himself used to eat with.
“This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them?” I sure hope that’s true, it is our only hope.”
Jesus didn’t return to the hill and point at the cross, Jesus returned to the upper room, where he broke bread at the table.
The table where he commanded “Love each other as I have loved you.”
Like the way I loved you, in taking my body and broke it for you.
Loving each other like Jesus loved requires sacrifice – without weighing the cost.
Loving each other like Jesus loved means loving the ones who doubt us, the ones who deny us, the ones who betray us, the ones different from us, the ones unrelated to us, the ones who don’t deserve that love, the ones who deserve that love.
A miracle happened when Jesus broke bread and fed the multitudes. The people saw that there was abundance – enough to feed all of them and have left overs.
So too when we love. Because that source of love is God.
When we take bread, bless the bread, break it and give it to others, do we see what we are celebrating?
We are celebrating the miracle of abundant love.
We are celebrating a funeral turning into a feast.
We are celebrating God’s mercy and God’s love.
And when we see that, our eyes are opened and we see Jesus.