By the Rev. Darren Miner
How many here remember the film Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray? It was about a man who was cursed to relive the same day over and over again until he learned to love others more than himself. I feel like we are in that movie, reliving the same day. For it is now two weeks since Easter Day, and we are still hearing a Gospel reading that takes place on the evening of the Day of Resurrection. Maybe the editors of the lectionary think we still have a lesson to learn from that great day. And maybe they’re right!
Today’s Gospel reading is the familiar story of the meeting on the road to Emmaus. It’s so familiar that we are tempted not to pay close attention. But we should!
It is early evening on the day of Jesus’ Resurrection, when two dispirited disciples decide to give up and head home. One disciple is a man named Cleopas. The other disciple is not named and could possibly be a woman. The two are discussing Jesus’ death when they are joined by a stranger. The Gospel says that their eyes were forcibly restrained, so that they might not recognize the stranger as Jesus. And unlike Mary Magdalene, neither do they recognize Jesus’ voice. We can only assume that Jesus was the source of this restraint. No reason for it is given. But I suspect Jesus’ plan was to open their minds and their hearts before opening their eyes.
Jesus inserts himself in their conversation, asking them what they are discussing. They go on to tell him, speaking of Jesus as a prophet who had been handed over by the Judean authorities and crucified. It is telling that they do not profess Jesus as the Son of God, but only as a prophet. They had hoped that Jesus was the Messiah, sent from God to free Israel from Roman rule. They had hoped that he would be a great warrior-king. But now all their hopes are dashed. They go on to relate the story of how some women in their group claimed to have had a vision of angels, but it is clear that they think this but an idle tale.
Their disdain for the testimony of the women disciples seems to anger Jesus. And he indulges in a bit of name-calling, using disparaging terms such as stupid and feebleminded. He then proceeds to explain how what has just taken place in Jerusalem was foretold in the Law and the Prophets and was, in fact, a fulfilment of God’s will. He opens their minds to God’s Word, and as we are told later, he also opens their hearts and kindles them with the fire of the Holy Spirit.
At this point, as the sun is about to set, they reach the village of Emmaus. And Jesus plays a little trick on the disciples in order to test them. He pretends that he has no intention of stopping there. Will they reach out to him? Will they invite him in? Will they ask for more teaching? Fortunately, they do! They invite him to their home to have dinner and stay the night, and he accepts. At dinner, a strange thing happens—actually several strange things happen! According to custom, one of the hosts should have given the blessing over the bread. But the Gospel states quite clearly that Jesus usurps the role of host. He takes the bread, blesses and breaks it, and gives it to them. Only then, do the two disciples recognize Jesus. And just as they do, he quite literally vanishes into thin air right before their very eyes.
The two realize that they need to head back to Jerusalem and report this miraculous sighting of the Risen Lord. Despite the fact that it is nighttime and pitch black, they grab their lanterns and start on that two-hour walk back to Jerusalem. There, they find the eleven disciples already gathered and talking about how Jesus has appeared to Simon Peter. After waiting what must have seemed like an eternity, they get their turn to report what has happened to them on the road and how Jesus was “made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”
This story is so full of spiritual teaching that I almost don’t know where to begin! We are reminded that even in our deepest despair Christ walks with us, though we may not realize it. We are reminded how Christ’s death and Resurrection are the fulfilment of every scripture. We are reminded to open our minds to the Word of God, to open our hearts to the fire of the Holy Spirit, and to open our eyes to Christ’s presence. Finally, but most importantly, we are told how we too can meet the Risen Lord, and that is in the breaking of the bread.
The Church traditionally celebrates the institution of the Holy Eucharist on Maundy Thursday as a memorial of the Last Supper. And so it is! But the dinner at Emmaus, when the Risen Lord himself presides at the Eucharist, is arguably just as foundational. At the Last Supper, Jesus commands us to break the bread and share the cup of wine as a memorial of his Passion. At Emmaus, he show us that this sacred communal meal is so much more than just a memorial.
For there, in the bread and wine that are taken, blessed, and shared, we really and truly encounter Christ. And occasionally, when our minds and hearts are sufficiently open, we just may get a glimpse of his divine presence. But Christ’s presence is not limited to the Gifts of God, to the consecrated bread and wine. Christ’s presence is also manifest in the People of God—in you! When we come up to the altar rail, our tendency is to focus on our own personal communion of the Body of Christ from the silver paten and of the Blood of Christ from the silver chalice. But if we but dare to look around us, we just might notice that Christ’s Body and Blood are just as present in the fellow Christians kneeling or standing right next to us.
So, today, I invite you to open your minds to the divine Truth of Holy Scripture, to open your hearts to the fire of the Spirit, and to open your eyes to the real presence of Christ both in the Gifts of God and in the People of God. Then, having been forgiven, healed, and renewed, go out onto the highways and byways of the world and invite the stranger to abide with us for a time and to encounter our Risen Lord in the breaking of the bread.
© 2017 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.