Today is one of the holiest days in the Christian tradition. It is Easter.
Easter, as many of us know is the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. We like the Mary and Martha approached the tomb this morning expecting to find Christ laying there, still dead and wrapped in cloth. However, the tomb was empty, and they saw Christ in the garden. As we gathered this morning in the early morning light we heard this story and I encouraged those present to experience Jesus through the empty cave. That is what the resurrection is all about, it is about experiencing Jesus.
This Lenten Season we have gone through a worship series in looking at the sacrament of Holy Communion. A sacrament which we will partake in a little while. For those of you who have not been us during this series, we have explored what this sacrament means. We saw that a sacrament is “an outward sign of an inward and spiritual grace, and a means by which that grace is received” (Augustine w/ addition by John Wesley). In that the outward sign being the bread and juice and the inward grace being that ultimate gift that is offered by God through Christ in Christ’s life, ministry, death, and resurrection. It is through the entire experience of Christ’s ministry that we approach the table.
We have talked about that grace being all-encompassing in our lives. God’s grace is for everyone, it doesn’t matter if you believe in God or not, it doesn’t matter how often you make it to church, or how often you pray, God’s grace is there. However, we do believe that through those manners of belief and participation in the collective ministry of Christ we grow in our understanding of God’s grace and become perfected in the love God has for us and the love we have for others. We talked about the manner in which this sacrament is a form of thanksgiving. Our participation in it is the manner in which we give thanks to God for the sacrament itself. We talked about our communal engagement in this meal. We come as a community because we were created to exist in community with one another. This meal brings us together as the community of Christ, both with those in this congregation and all over the world, and even throughout time. We even recognize that the only prerequisite to come to the table is a desire to be changed. You don’t need to be worthy, you don’t need to be a member of this church, you don’t even need to be a Christian, you just need to have a heart ready to be changed by what Christ can do in your life.
Last week we began to wind down our series by talking about the manner in which we receive all that Christ has to give to us. This leads us to our discussion today because the manner in which we receive stems from the manner in which Christ gives beyond any means than we could ever imagine. Christ came to this world to give. Christ came to this world so that we could experience a better life. Christ came to the world to break down the restrictive rules created that separated people from God. The walls that society built restricting God from certain people for various reasons were broken down in the ministry and manner which Christ gave. Christ gave of himself all the way to the point of being executed by the same world he came to save, a world that couldn’t handle his message. However, that was not the end of Christ’s story, because for Jesus it was not enough for him to give but had given to some he wanted them to give to others. The Easter story and the story of the resurrection, in general, teaches us that there is more than just what Christ has to offer us but to go further we examine how, having received from Christ, we should give to a world in need in the same manner Christ did.
Our scripture today sets the precedent for this meal. While the Last Supper institutes the sacrament of Holy Communion, the story of Emmaus we look at this morning is really the earliest celebrated communion recorded, and from it, we learn a lot and recap much of what we have talked about. However, the end of this passage is what I want to focus on because we must focus on how the resurrection sends us forth to do the work we are called to do, and how that call comes from the communion table.
Our passage is a story some of us may be familiar with. It is one of the resurrection stories found in the gospel of Luke. Luke has three resurrection stories before he details the account of Christ ascending, and this story of these disciples journeying to Emmaus is one of the ones that make the cut for the Luke’s Gospel. In the story, we have two disciples who spent their time following Jesus through his ministry. They have left the others whom are followers and are journeying to Emmaus for an unknown reason. However, on their way, they are joined by a man unknown to them, but we are told it is Jesus in his resurrected form. The two are quite downtrodden by the events of the weekend, and this traveler who approaches them on the road seems oblivious to what has happened in Jerusalem. However, he seems very versed in the manner in which Jesus actually came (perhaps cause he is Jesus).
The travelers reach their destination of Emmaus and seek to find their home. However, the traveler has intentions of moving on, or maybe intentions of wanting to be invited in. It seems because the hour was getting late they were able to convince him to stay. They then had dinner, but this meal proved to be much more than just a regular meal. We read, “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, and he vanished from their sight.” (Luke 24:30-31 NRSV) Similar to the Communion meal we celebrate today Jesus has an intentional liturgy he follows. The bread is blessed, broken, and given. However, you can hear the awe that was present in the room in verse 31 when their eyes were opened.
We have discussed the fact of Jesus’ presence in this meal. Our eyes are opened in the same way these disciples eyes were. In the blessing, breaking, and receiving of the bread our eyes are opened to Christ’s presence at this meal, and we receive Christ in this meal in the manner the two receive what Christ offers each and every person who approaches this table. However, as I noted last week the reception of Christ is just part of the story. Every time I read this story of the Road to Emmaus I always feel like the first 19 verses are just a teaser for the last four.
“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?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem, and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” (Luke 24:32-35 NRSV)
Now we know from a few verses before that it is getting late, yet once they realized what has happened the immediately eject themselves from their seats and head straight back to Jerusalem. Now, this journey is about 7 miles and at a reasonably speedy walking pace, it probably would take about two hours. Roads at night at this time were very dangerous, and any number of things could have gotten in their way. However, they noticed how great a message they had to share.
The great part is we have that same message. That table these two disciples experienced in Emmaus is the same meal and table we gather around this morning. I cannot think of a better way to celebrate the Risen Savior than to act upon his presence among us today. The Communion meal is not just a gathering, and we would be foolish to think so. The Communion meal is also a sending forth. The reason that the Communion meal is attached to our service or worship is because of what happens in this story. This story is essentially a worship service. The traveler (Jesus) and the disciples gathered together, prayers are brought forth, the scriptures are proclaimed and expounded, and the receive Holy Communion. What greater example of worship might we look for and it doesn’t even happen in a church building. And most importantly the disciples were sent forth…and they went.
Our response to the Communion meal must look like this. We must believe that this meal changes us. We believe that through this meal the grace that God offers us is most surely experienced. Therefore, if you feel God nowhere else in your life, you can come to this meal and know that God is there. And then you take God with you. It is not just a reminder, it is an all-out experience, it is a complete embodiment of what God has planned for the Kingdom of God. Isn’t that an awesome message to share. Doesn’t that make you want to jump up from your seat right this second and go and tell someone? To run up to that stranger in Walmart and proclaim what you have experienced and what you continue to experience?
These two disciples had all but given up hope. While we see they are told that the tomb was empty, it doesn’t seem like they took it as good news. However, it is in the meal that they meet the Risen Christ. Their Easter experience has given us an Easter experience. An experience we partake in every time we gather at the Communion table. How are you going to respond?