Broken bread, burning hearts

Third Sunday of Easter

Alleluia! the Hour has come!

  • Acts 2:14a, 36-41 God made the crucified Jesus to be Lord and Messiah
  • 1 Peter 17-23 Trust God who raised Jesus from the dead
  • Luke 24:13-35 Seeing the Risen Jesus in Broken Bread

Luke 24:13-35 — The Risen Jesus recognized in Broken Bread

Now on that same day two of Jesus’ followers were going to a village called  Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem,
They were talking with each other about all these things that had happened.
While they were talking and discussing,
Jesus himself came near and went with them,
but their eyes were kept from recognizing that this was Jesus.

And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad.
Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him,
“Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have
taken place there in these days?”
He asked them, “What things?”
They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth,
who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and
how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place.

Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but Jesus they did not see.”

Then he said to them,
“Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets
have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things
and then enter into glory?”

Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets,
he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
As they came near the village to which they were going,
he walked ahead as if he were going on.
But they urged him strongly, saying,
“Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.”
So he went in to stay with them.
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 that this was Jesus;
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?”
That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and
their companions gathered together.
They were saying, “Jesus has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!”
Then the two told what had happened on the road,
and how Jesus had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

A New Story turns Hell into Heaven

It was a new story growing out of and exposing an old story. The old story is the story of power and violence, of empire and exclusion. It had just taken place in Jerusalem. And it had taken Jesus’ life. Jesus had “set his face toward Jerusalem” to bring “the things that make for peace” to this seat of power. Instead the old story took over and took Jesus’ life.

God’s eternal purpose is to not let the old story have the last word. God changed everything by raising Jesus from the dead on this incredible day of resurrection.

The good thing is that what God actually did – how God raised Jesus from the dead – was not observed by human eyes. No one saw God raise Jesus from the dead. No one saw Jesus emerge from the tomb.

But we know that it happened. Why? We have witnesses to the risen Jesus. “But their eyes were kept from recognizing that it was Jesus” Luke tells us.

It takes attention and intention to see the Risen Jesus. It takes discipline to see the Risen Jesus. It takes new eyes to see the Risen Jesus. It takes a burning heart to see the Risen Jesus. And it takes place on the road and in a village called Emmaus.

Emmaus is a place of nowhere and everywhere. Today there is no hint of Emmaus even though Luke tells us that it was 7 miles from Jerusalem.

Where all hell had broken loose in Jerusalem, here in Emmaus all heaven breaks open!

This Emmaus encounter breaks open a whole new life and way to see. In this new story the heavens are broken open and the Living God is revealed in the Risen Christ.

Thanks be to God and to Luke for telling this eye-opening story. It takes place in three acts. So let’s go back over the day again and survey the scene.

Seeing the Risen Christ in Word and Bread

Act 1 — Breaking Open the Word

Two of Jesus’ followers left Jerusalem in despair because Jesus was dead and buried and along with their hopes and dreams. They set their face away from Jerusalem and toward home in Emmaus. The roller coaster ride with Jesus was over; Jesus has been crucified.

On their journey they rehearse the tragic story of Jesus’ death. This is not just a journey of despair; it is also a journey of remembering. Suddenly Jesus comes up and walks along with them. Jesus, who in their mind’s eye was dead and buried in Jerusalem, joins them on the road. Here they are on the road again with Jesus. But their way of seeing things keeps them from recognizing who it is.

Jesus never wants us to just see things the old way through our old eyes with our old expectations. But Jesus also doesn’t give easy answers. Jesus was always either asking questions or telling stories. So he starts the conversation with a question: “What were you two talking about as you walked along the road together?” They can’t believe he doesn’t know what has taken place in Jerusalem so they tell him the story of his own death and their despair.

Jesus laments their foolishness and blind eyes and explains to them all he had been explaining to them for the past years of his life and ministry. They still don’t get it.

They still don’t see.

On the road Jesus has interpreted the scriptures for them. Jesus has broken open the Word of God to them. What they haven’t yet realized is that their minds and hearts are still as “blind” as their eyes. Even when Jesus explains the scriptures to them they don’t see.

Bible study alone is not enough. Reason alone is not enough. Bible study and reason are essential but seeing the risen Jesus rather than the Domination System calls for more of something. What is that something more?

Act 2 – Hospitality to the Stranger

It’s Act 2 of the story. They come to Emmaus and the stranger keeps walking. Now they face a choice. They can part company with the stranger and enter the Emmaus of their expectations, their old story and way of life. Or they can offer hospitality to the stranger.

Blind to Jesus, the two still offer that sacred biblical act of hospitality to the stranger and invite Jesus to stay with them. Because of their act of hospitality, the second act of this Emmaus event, a third act can take place that transforms their eyesight forever.

Act 3 – Breaking Open the Bread

In Emmaus the two disciples and the stranger come to the table together. What happens? “He took bread and blessed it and broke it and gave it to them to eat.” In that act of taking, blessing, breaking, and giving bread their eyes were opened to the Risen Christ.

These three acts in the Emmaus story are the form of worship that gives us the sight we need to see the Risen Christ and the whole world anew. Faith is a journey with Jesus. Worship is a journey with Jesus. It is a journey explicitly in worship that models the way we are to live in the world: breaking open the Word, offering hospitality to the stranger, breaking bread.

Burning Hearts

At the intersection of these three great acts, the two suddenly realized how their hearts were burning. Immediately Jesus disappears so that they are left with their burning hearts.

Hearts are burning all the time. With eyes blinded by the way of the world, the way of empire, the way of the powers, the way of violence, our hearts will burn with hatred and enmity. Or with eyes opened by breaking open the Word, offering hospitality to the stranger, and breaking bread together, our hearts will burn with love and peace as we see the Risen Christ and join God’s reign breaking into this world.

The heart is central for God’s Word. We only heard the first part of Peter’s sermon in Acts this morning. Reading on we would hear that those who heard Peter “were cut to the heart” (2:37). Being “cut to the heart” called for action. So they asked Peter, “What should we do?” Peter went on to say what Jesus had said, “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven and you may receive the Holy Spirit” (2:38).

In Peter’s First Letter to the church in Asia Minor heard this morning, Peter charges us to “love one another deeply from the heart….through the living Word of God” (1:22f).

Antoine de Saint Exupery, in his wonderful little book, The Little Prince, sums up our Emmaus revelation with these words: “It is only with the heart one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

Miles and Meals – Word and Table

Journeys and hospitality, miles and meals, Word and Table are woven together to help us see the Risen Jesus and become the Body of Christ.

Mennonite NT scholar, Rita Halteman Finger has recently written a book about meals in Acts ( Of Widows and Meals: Communal Meals in the Book of Acts (Eerdmans, 2007) .

Gordon Houser, Associate Editor of The Mennonite publication wrote an editorial on “Radical Meals” based on Rita’s work. Gordon begins, “Eating together in a group marked….by a common commitment to Jesus Christ is a radical act announcing that God’s kingdom has appeared and is coming.” He goes on to quote the heart of Rita’s book: “Jesus [practiced] a radically inclusive [sharing food] as a key tactic in announcing and redefining the kingdom of God…..What makes Jesus’ eating practices – and those of the early church – so radical is that he and they ate not just with people in their own social group but with people outside that group. Jesus was criticized for eating with outcasts and sinners….In our culture of private dining and eating on the run, such deliberate eating together… a radical, countercultural act….If we learn to eat together across [all] lines, we will come even closer to the vision of God’s kingdom, which covers the globe and includes people from every tribe” (3/18/08, p. 32 ).

Yes, there are ways we do that already. Yet it begs the question: What if we frequently enacted the Eucharistic practice of breaking bread together in worship and over meals across all lines and barriers in the church? Furthermore, what if we frequently broke open God’s Word with all the stories in Luke and Acts that have to do with eating together? Do any of us really think it would not change us? Do we think we would not see the Risen Jesus with new eyes of faith?

One person who was truly transformed by blessed and broken bread is Sarah Miles. Her book, Take This Bread , along with Shane Claiborne’s The Irresistible Revolution , are two of the most eye-opening books that I have read in a long time.

Sarah was an atheist, peace activist, journalist in Central America who ended up in San Francisco. One day out walking the neighborhood she happened upon Saint Gregory’s Church and walked into their worship. Without having a clue what was taking place, she shocked herself by hearing the invitation to the Lord’s Table and coming to receive bread broken and wine out-poured. It was a transforming Eucharistic conversion to see the Risen Christ for Sarah Miles. With a burning heart Sarah saw the Risen Jesus and saw that Jesus meant to bless, break, and give bread to everyone, especially the hungry and outcast. She soon transformed the Lord’s Table of Saint Gregory’s Church into a great meal for homeless and hungry people of every tribe and nation.

Larry Miller, General Secretary of Mennonite World Conference, tells the story of a recent meeting of Mennonite leaders who had come together but were “locked in bitter conflict rather than engaged in mutual service.” After the first day of this meeting the person mediating the conflict sent a message to Larry saying, “What can be said so far is that we have survived and there has been no physical violence – lots of verbal violence, but such is the church.” The second night Larry received another message, “After a couple of days with the leadership gathered around the same table, I felt today like it was Pentecost….It was a major breakthrough. They all signed an agreement and were able to talk to each other. They shared a meal with the joy of being in each other’s company” ( Courier , 2008/1, p. 16).

Here in this place every Sunday evening is a community meal to bring people to the table across all barriers and boundaries to break bread together. Jesus says Come to the table and break bread together and become my body broken for the world.

Ritual of Breaking Bread

Let us enact this Emmaus event by breaking bread together in a very simple way in worship this morning. Please stand in circles of 4 people, especially inviting the stranger who may be near you. One person from each group quickly come to the table and pick up a small loaf of bread on a napkin and take it back and share it with your circle of 4. Everyone is invited to receive this blessed and broken bread and see the Risen Jesus.

May God bless this bread and our breaking and sharing it this morning and may God open our eyes to see Jesus. AMEN

Come let us break bread together.