At The Table
Do you see God? Can you hear him? Do you sense him around you? In others? In the circumstances of your life?
Being aware of God takes some doing. Our faith tells us that he is present and moving in this world. But God is Spirit and we can easily lose sight of him.
In times of trouble we can feel he is far away. In times of plenty when we are fat and full we can be oblivious to him. But God can show up in many ways. He can be in unexpected places and in unexpected people.
That’s what these next sermons will be about. How does God show up when we don’t think he is anywhere to be found?
And we start today with something that happened the evening of Christ’s resurrection. Luke gives us this event. It is about seeing Christ and knowing his presence.
This event takes place late in the afternoon of that first Easter when Jesus has risen from the dead, while everyone is wondering what happened on that strange and confused morning.
As two of Jesus’ followers are walking away from Jerusalem to a town called Emmaus Jesus himself comes near and begins walking with them. But they are kept from recognizing that this is Jesus. He looks like just some man who has come along with them. We are not told why they are kept from recognizing him. Maybe it was something in them. Maybe God was doing something. There are several times in the Gospels when it takes God to allow people to see.
Jesus comes up alongside of them and asks them what they are discussing. Of course, they are talking about all that has happened in Jerusalem in the days leading up to Jesus being put to death. They are talking about the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, his betrayal, arrest, trial, crucifixion, and now the reports that the tomb is empty and no one knows where the body is.
But Jesus asks them what things have been going on in Jerusalem. This is Jesus. Obviously he knows. They tell this unknown stranger of their hope that Jesus was the one to bring redemption to the people of Israel. And they go through the whole story of Jesus, what he did and who he was. They say that they have heard the tomb where he was buried is now empty. Furthermore some women said angels had said that he was alive. Sure enough the tomb is empty but Jesus was not seen.
They say this, “We were hoping that he was the one…” Did you hear that? “We were hoping that he was the one…”
You can hear the disappointment. They had set their hopes that Jesus was “the one,” the Messiah, that he would bring God’s kingdom. But apparently he was not since he ended up being killed like anyone else.
So they are leaving Jerusalem. They are outta here. They are walking away from the very place of redemption because obviously Jesus turned out to be one great disappointment. It’s time to head for far off Emmaus.
Disappointment can be our story too. “If only things were different…” We face disappointment and we walk away. How many people have walked away from God and the church and the very fountains of living water because their vision of God was blocked by disappointment?
One of the ironies of this encounter between Jesus and these two people is that these living disciples are talking about a dead Jesus, but in reality a living Jesus is talking to dead disciples. The irony is that what they hoped for has, indeed, happened. They just don’t see it. They don’t see Jesus. They don’t see the good news that everything is different. They don’t see how all the pieces fit together.
But just because they don’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not real. Jesus’ presence and their redemption are actually very real in that moment.
Do we sometimes walk along our path, living our lives, not recognizing or realizing the presence and nearness of Jesus? Do we ever look back on a confusing or difficult event or experience; feeling very separated from God, and realize what we could not see at the time, that Jesus was with us all along? We think the problem is his presence when it is really our faith and vision.
I think Jesus is probably nearer to us than we often realize.
Jesus says to these two, ““How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” He doesn’t get on them for not believing in the evidence for the resurrection. It’s probably too early for that, anyway. He doesn’t get on them for disbelieving the women. He doesn’t get on them for not recognizing himself. Jesus does take them to task for their reading of the Scriptures and not understanding. He says that they are slow to believe.
As they are walking Jesus does a little bible study with them. He begins to explain how all that has happened over the preceding days in Jerusalem all fits together in the Scriptures. It says, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”
They come to Emmaus. Jesus begins to walk on. The two disciples who still don’t know who this is invite him to stay the night since it is late. He does. They are at the table eating and this is what it says. Jesus “took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them.”
And then it says this, “Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him.”
Jesus disappears and these two disciples say to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures?”
There are two ways this speaks of being aware of God.
The first is the Scriptures. The disciples’ hearts burned within them as Jesus opened the scriptures to them. Things written that they had not known, seen, or understood before started to make sense to them.
One of the certain ways we can find the Lord is through his written word. When we read the Bible on our own or with others we understand more of Jesus. We become sensitized to him. We learn the language of God and the patterns of God. And the more we understand of our Lord, the more we see his hand and presence in our lives.
The Bible is the strongest catalyst to growth in faith that there is. Nothing matters more than time in God’s Word. That doesn’t mean we will understand everything we read or have great visions of God whenever we study it. But if we give it the attention it deserves we will become more aware of the Lord.
Another way we become aware of God is in the sacrament of The Lord’s Supper – Communion. Jesus was with those two disciples on the road to Emmaus the entire time, walking with them, and speaking to them. But it wasn’t until he took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them that they recognized him.
It was something about that breaking and giving of bread that opened the eyes of those two disciples to the living, risen Lord right there at the table with them.
Bread is a significant symbol in all of scripture and is closely connected with Christ.
In the Old Testament we read there were 12 loaves of bread that sat on the altar of the Temple. These loaves were called the bread of the Presence and signified the presence of God in that place.
Jesus himself chose bread to symbolize his body. He said, “I am the bread of life” and “I am the bread that came down from heaven.”
Taking bread, giving thanks and breaking it is an action that happens again and again in the New Testament.
It was on the night before he was crucified that, we’re told, Jesus “took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to the (disciples), saying ‘this is my body which is given for you.’”
At the feeding of the thousands it says Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to the disciples to give.
We read in Acts that the first Christians devoted themselves to the breaking of bread. Perhaps one of the reasons for this was the experience of these two disciples on the road to Emmaus with Jesus.
Paul, while on a ship in the midst of a storm and trying to bring physical and emotional stability to a scared crew, it says, took bread, gave thanks to God, and broke it and began to eat it – the same action that Jesus took!
There is something about the taking of bread, blessing it, breaking it, and giving it in Jesus’ that connects us to the living Lord.
At the Lord’s Table Christians repeat this action. You’ll notice that whenever a pastor leads Communion he or she always says that Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it and gave it.
Jesus told us to do this continually in remembrance of him and Christians have been doing this ever since.
I wonder if we underestimate what Jesus is doing in this time.
In some deep, mystical, spiritual way, Jesus is present and here with us as we eat this bread and drink the cup. We become connected to, aware of, the risen Lord. There is something in the breaking of the bread. I wish I could tell you. It’s spiritual. It comes by faith. We might not understand it all but this keeps our faith and hearts going.
If nothing else every time this bread is broken for me and this cup is poured out we remember with Jesus’ cross and resurrection. “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again” are words often said or prayed at this table. It is to say Jesus is still around. The bread and cup say to us, “He is alive, and I can know him and his presence in my life.” “He is with me. He loves me. He forgives me. He is guiding me.”
Those disciples said their hearts were burning as Jesus opened the scriptures to them and as he gave them the bread. The Scriptures are sometimes referred to as the bread of Christ because they feed our souls. And we could all use a good dose of “holy heart burn” like those disciples. We need times when we sense Jesus is around and ministering to us. We may go through times when we feel God is far away. We may have times when we are confused about what has happened in our lives, but we look back – maybe when we are sitting in worship or sharing Communion and praying – and realize, “That was the Lord!” ‘He was there.”
Maybe your heart is burning and you are sensing something happening right now in your life: a coming alive, an awakening of faith, a stirring of holy desires that you’ve never known before. That is Jesus making himself known to you.
Maybe you come to this table just to remember one more time what it is you believe and who it is you believe. You are once again renewing the covenant you made with Jesus to be your Lord and your Savior.
Jesus will meet you here. We believe by faith that Jesus is here and near to us.
Those disciples on the road to Emmaus had no idea how close and how near, the risen Lord was to them.
What road are you walking right now?
A rough road? An uphill road? A lonely road? A busy road? A crooked road? A straight and smooth road? What has your week been like?
I want you to know that as we go, Christ is with us, which is one of the reasons we keep doing this table - to keep that flame alive in our hearts.
As you come for Communion today, make this your prayer, “Jesus, open my eyes.” Don’t underestimate what the Lord Jesus Christ can do or where he is. He is alive and he is near.
He may show up in places and ways and circumstances you never expected. He can and will make his presence known.
Those two disciples weren’t looking for Jesus. They were sure he was gone forever. But how wrong they were. Be aware of God with you. Even right now he may be closer than you think.
Prayer: O Lord, help us become aware of you. Amen.