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. 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?”
~ Luke 24:30-35
And so today we come to the final chapter of Luke’s Gospel, where Jesus rises and his followers reclaim the joy of believing even as they struggle to understand. In reflecting on the previous 23 chapters I’ve tried to bring a fresh eye to the text. This has been an opportunity to ponder passages that aren’t usually read in church, or to dig deeper into the meaning of stories we churchgoers have heard preached again and again. Today I find my heart drawn as it always is to the story of the Walk to Emmaus, which is the centerpiece of this chapter. It’s one of my favorites, always has been, and there’s so much going on here that I don’t think we’ll ever get to the bottom of it no matter how hard we dig. As N.T. Wright, New Testament scholar and retired Anglican bishop of Durham, says, “If Luke is an artist, this is one of his most sublime paintings.”
The whole story runs from verse 13 through verse 32 so it’s relatively long, but I think it’s worth getting out your Bible and reading through it again a few times. Cleopas and his unnamed companion are on their way to a village outside of Jerusalem. They’re discouraged, weary and heartbroken. They had put so much faith in Jesus, and his death seems to have destroyed all their hopes. It’s late in the day on the first Easter, and they’ve heard that some in their group visited Jesus’ tomb that morning and came back with the news that he was alive, but most of them have dismissed this report as unbelievable. Jesus joins these two travelers on the road, but they aren’t able to recognize him. They confide their disappointment, and this stranger proceeds to interpret the scriptures that should make everything clear, but still they don’t get it.
Then at the end of their encounter, when they’re at table together, he blesses bread, breaks it, and gives it to them, and they recognize that it’s Jesus they’ve been with this whole time. Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking?
I’m touched by this story because I know it’s my story, too. I think there are times for all of us when it seems as if people in whom we’ve entrusted so much hope have let us down, and we feel both sad and angry. There are times when we wonder if what we’d believed so fervently could really be true. We see our dreams collapse and wonder how we can possibly go on. I’ve walked with Jesus and not been able to recognize him, and found him again only in sharing the bread. Our pattern of worship begins with reading and breaking open the scriptures, but it isn’t until we come to the table and break bread together that our hearts know the depths of it.
To admit this at the end of the year 2020 in the midst of global pandemic is bittersweet, indeed. Many of us are hungry for the weekly meal with traveling companions we once took for granted. The new vaccines have brought some hope, but the end of this fast is not yet in sight. Still I hold on to everything we’ve read and reflected on this past month, which for me can be expressed in one simple sentence:
Love does not die.
Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense, N.T. Wright, 157.