The gospel tells us that two followers of Jesus were walking and talking as they made their way to the village of Emmaus, a distance of about seven miles from Jerusalem. Just a couple of days had passed since the tragic death of Jesus, and the confusion, fear, disappointment, and grief of that event weighed heavily upon them. Some of those closest to Jesus had contributed to the tragedy: he had been betrayed by one of his own disciples, denied by another, and abandoned by his followers and friends, who had fled for their lives. Furthermore, the body had apparently gone missing! Some women who had visited the tomb earlier this same day had reported a strange encounter with“two men in dazzling clothes,” who had greeted them with the amazing news that Jesus was not there, but risen! They had reported this curious and inexplicable experience to the disciples, but the disciples took it to be “an idle tale” and sent them away.[i] And now, as these two were walking along, they were trying to make sense of all of this, trying to comprehend the incomprehensible, trying to work through their grief and confusion, trying to find some point of light to illumine the darkness and despair that had overshadowed their hearts.
And just at this moment, they were joined on the road by a mysterious stranger who claimed to be unaware that these things had taken place, and yet seemed to possess deep insight into their significance. They were so taken by his interpretation of the events that they invited him to join them for a meal, and at once he became known to them “in the breaking of bread…” They knew immediately then that it was Jesus, but he disappeared as suddenly and mysteriously as he had appeared, and they were left trembling with disbelief and joy.
That is the report, as it is remembered in Luke’s Gospel. I think this story has been remembered, not because it makes for sound, historic testimony – (though it may have happened exactly as it was recorded by the evangelist) – but because it is experientially true. The story rings true because followers of Jesus, down through the centuries, have known crises and confusion and maybe even the death of faith. They have known times when – to speak symbolically – Jesus has been taken away, when his presence has been absent or unrecognizable; times when they have been blinded by their grief or sorrow or despair, lost in the tragedy of their own circumstances. And then there has come a moment, perhaps a surprising moment and yet quite undeniable, when their eyes have been opened and they have perceived that Jesus was there, with them. That is why this story has been remembered in Luke’s Gospel: because many others down through the centuries have had this experience of Jesus’ becoming known to them in surprising, unexpected ways – in everyday events and encounters, as simple as breaking bread together. And maybe this has been true for you as well.
We celebrate this Eucharist today, as always, “in remembrance of [Christ].” At various points in life, drawing on our memory is essential in finding our way ahead. Can you recall the experience of being in some place familiar to you when the light is taken away, when you lose the light, quite literally; perhaps when the power has gone out? You cannot see… and so you have to draw from memory, from the eyes of your mind and heart, to find your bearings and make your way.
This may be such a time for some of us here. Because as we try to make our own sense of the report of the resurrection, we have not only this record from the Gospel according to Luke to read and ponder, we also have the record of our newspapers, which day by day give us confusing and troubling accounts of what is going on in the world around us, not to mention the sometimes confusing events and circumstances of our own lives. Not unlike the two disciples in today’s gospel lesson, some of usmay be having our own “post-resurrection” conversations these days as we travelour own paths, trying to make sense of our experience and of what is taking place around us. If you are having trouble recognizing Jesus’ real presence in the moment, there may be a real grace in drawing from your memory, using the experience of your past to guide you down the path of life into God’s future. What we do here this morning, we do in remembrance of Christ.
Jesus became known to the disciples in today’s gospel story in the breaking of the bread – that is, in a time of feeding. I imagine that most all of you know something about that. There is a kind of feeding we experience here in Holy Communion, something which perhaps has sustained you down through the years. Hasn’t that been true for you? You may have secured in your memory the experience of Christ’s real presence in Holy Communion during an exceedingly joyful time: some rite of passage – a birthday or anniversary, a baptism, a wedding, a time of taking on a new responsibility or a time of giving up an old responsibility. Or perhaps it was the setting that made the celebration of the Eucharist so meaningful at some point in your experience: some church or chapel, a scene along the seaside or in the mountains, a place called “home” or a place far away from “home,” and Jesus’ real presence in the context of this “eucharistic feeding” was so clear and real for you there, that it made all the difference. Or maybe some other kind of feeding recalls Christ’s gracious presence for you: maybe at your grandmother’s table which was like “Babette’s Feast;” maybe a kind of “feeding” through the grace of a friendship or the kindness of a stranger; maybe through the sensory experience of the fragrance of a flower or the aroma of baking bread, or the glorious spectacle of the setting sun, or the gentle nuzzling of a favorite pet, or in the gazing at a beautiful icon or painting. Perhaps Jesus’ real presence has been made known to you in some other way, in some kind of “feeding,” literal or symbolic, and perhaps more than once, maybe even many times. And in that context how and where Jesus was really present in your life was as clear as the daybreak… and that made a difference for you. The remembrance of Christ’s meeting you at that moment, feeding you, may be essential as you grope your way into God’s uncharted future.
I imagine many of us here would also know about recognizing the real presence of Christ not just in the bread itself but in the in the breaking of the bread. At times in life (maybe now for some of you) we are aware of something broken in us, or in someone we love and carry in our heart. It may have to do with a diagnosis or disease or death. It may have to do less with our sense of being fed than it does with our sense of feeling starved (starved for hope or help or comfort or courage or whatever…). And somehow in this breakdown in your life or in the life of someone close to you there is some kind of breakthrough by Christ, in ways in which you could not have anticipated. Your memory can bear witness, perhaps in the sorriest and most desperate of times, to Christ’s real presence being made known to you in the breaking of something, something which you would never have chosen but cannot deny. The remembrance of Christ meeting you, his brokenness meeting your own, may be essential as you grope your way into God’s future down what may seem to be a very uncharted path. Your memory of Christ’s real presence in your past may be essential as you move ahead “in faith” into areas where you maynot be able to see clearly. You may recall that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen….”[ii]
Given everything you have had to face in your life, how in the world have you made it? Draw on that memory, and the memory of God’s presence in the past to inform your faith as you walk into the future, that you may be assured of God’s love and care for you, and may proceed with hope and with confidence.
We come to this feast today, each facing our own version of life’s gifts and challenges. Christ meets us where we are – in joy or in sorrow, in health or in sickness, in success or in failure – and assures us “in the breaking of the bread” that he is with us – not just today, but tomorrow, and the day after that, and onward into all eternity. He promises that he will never leave us or forsake us, that nothing in heaven or on earth can ever separate us from his love for us, that even when we are feeling overwhelmed by life, or when we have temporarily lost our way, he will always be alongside us. Always. He wants us to know this so that we can face the future with hope and confidence and joy. The darkness may seem to threaten, but there is a light that can never be extinguished, and that light is the Light of the World, Jesus himself.
Trust in him, then, and do not be afraid. His love will enfold you, his presence will sustain you, his wisdom will guide you, his love will fill you. You are forever his!
Lord Jesus: Be known to us – now, today, in this place – in the breaking of the bread.
[i] Luke 24:1-12.
[ii] Hebrews 11:1.