Originally preached at St. Giles Presbyterian Church on August 1, 2010.
No matter what our age, it can be difficult to remember everything that needs to be remembered. What are some things you must remember? Phone numbers, birthday and anniversaries, enough information to pass a test, the items on the grocery or to do list, what day it is, where we parked the car, what time our next appointment is. How do you remember all these things? To do lists, post-its, calendars, reminder emails, notes, tying a string around your finger, writing on your hand, telling someone else to remind you. Even with all these helps, how are we supposed to remember everything? And as if we didn’t have enough to remember, in today’s Scripture Jesus is asking us to remember one more thing. The one thing Jesus asks us to remember is Jesus. That is why we gather at this table regularly-to remember Jesus.
We need to remember Jesus not because we forget him. It’s more like we put other things and people in front of him. It isn’t intentional that this or that comes before Jesus. Soon, this or that have piled up and more and more things have taken precedence and Jesus, well, he was first, right up front, and now…well he is here somewhere under the clutter. Coming to worship when we have communion, when we come to Christ’s table is a time to remember to push all that other stuff out of the way and move Jesus back up to the front of our minds and hearts.
And scriptures are like that too. You may know this scripture well. It is a favorite passage for many people including me…sometimes it gets pulled out once a year to be read at Eastertime. If we only hear it once a year, how can we remember? Do you remember all the things on your to do list from the beginning of the summer? Probably not. And just like our to do lists, we need to remember so we can act on what we know to be true.
Our story from Luke’s gospel takes place on Easter evening. It has been a difficult week for those who loved Jesus. A week ago, there was a triumphant entry in Jerusalem. During the week, there was a last meal together and then came Friday. The disciples and followers of Jesus believed he was the One to change things, the one to make things right. And then he dies. And they are lost. Their king, their leader, their hero is gone. Now this morning people are seeing and saying things thought to be impossible. The tomb is empty and no one knows exactly what is happening. Things aren’t making sense.
Now we meet two people who loved Jesus who are on a journey to Emmaus. They have a 7 mile journey to talk about all that has been going on. On their journey they are joined by a man they do not know. This stranger comes and joins their journey. The narrator tells us-the readers and the listeners-that this is Jesus and yet these 2 who loved, followed, and trusted him do not know who he is. We are told “their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” This statement leads us to ask who or what kept their eyes from recognizing Jesus? Without this sentence, we might think they didn’t recognize Jesus because they didn’t expect to see him walking on the road. He died. They know this. There are stories about an empty tomb. Who would imagine Jesus would walk to Emmaus on the day of his resurrection? But it doesn’t say they didn’t recognize Jesus. It says they were kept from recognizing him. Maybe they were not ready to see him yet. To fully understand, they needed to hear him explain and watch him break the bread. Only then would they be prepared to see who this stranger was. Instead of seeing this as these two men being manipulated, look at their inability to see as God’s compassion. God gave them time to prepare for this experience that leaves their hearts burning within their bodies.
So we have three men walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus on a Sunday evening. And this stranger, who we know is Jesus, says to the other two, “What are these words that you have been pitching back and forth to each other?”’ This question stops them. They stop walking and look sad. The Message says, “They just stood there, long-faced, like they had lost their best friend.” And they had lost their best friend and their hope only three days ago.
Cleopas speaks to this stranger and his question is funny to those of us who know he is talking to Jesus. Cleopas asks, “Are you sojourning alone in Jerusalem and have not learned all that has happened recently?” Cleopas asks this question to the only one who knows everything that has happened. Jesus knows because he experienced it!
Jesus acts as though he does not know the answer when he says, “What things?” Their answer not only describes the one they are walking with, it is also their faith statement. ‘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.’
By this point, it seems Jesus can’t believe they are still in the dark. How can they be so foolish and slow to understand? The preacher, Barbara Brown Taylor describes the next scene this way, “Starting with Moses and working his way through the prophets, the stranger opens the scriptures to them and they hang on his words. He is a gifted preacher, but it is more than that. They are wounded, and what he is telling them is good, good news. Maybe they aren’t losers after all. Maybe the rumors are true. Maybe there is reason to resurrect their crucified hope” (Barbara Brown Taylor, Gospel Medicine, A Cowley Publications Book, 1995, p. 24).
Even though he is still a stranger to them, the men extend hospitality-a meal and a place to stay-to this man. He accepts. And this is the moment that will change their lives. As they sit down to eat, the guest becomes the host. “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.” The same gestures and words make them and us remember the feeding of the multitude and the Last Supper. They know those words and they know who this is. They recognize Jesus! The story does not end there! Even though it is late, they have to share this good news. They have seen Jesus. They must tell. They must share this good news!
Who are Cleopas and his friend? This is the only time we meet these regular folks. God uses them to tell this miraculous story? Couldn’t God use us too? In order for God to use Cleopas and his friend, first their eyes had to be opened so they could see Jesus was with them. We need to have our eyes opened so we can see Jesus. Where will we see Jesus?
This meal at the communion table is a meal of remembrance. When we come to this table, we are reminded to look for Jesus. Look for Jesus in the person who serves you communion. Look for Jesus in the person next to you in line to receive communion. This meal and this story call us to remember that we can’t just look for Jesus inside these walls. We must be looking for Jesus in the people we meet everywhere. Our mission team is going to West Virgina this week. They are going not only to sweat and fix things. They go to see Jesus in the people they meet, to build relationships, and to see Jesus in each other.
It isn’t easy. These faithful followers of Jesus didn’t recognize him only days after his death. How can we see Jesus in others today 2000 years later? When we see people serving one another, breaking bread together, breaking down barriers that separate us, when we see those in need we must look for Jesus and we will find him in the people he loves.
What does it mean for us to see Jesus in others? If I see Jesus in you, will I treat you differently? Will you suddenly sit up straighter and behave better as if the teacher or pastor has entered the room? If we look for Jesus in others, will it remind us to love God with all our heart and our neighbor-all of our neighbors-as ourselves? Looking for Jesus in others might lead us to eat a meal with a tax collector, a prostitute, an outcast, or a sinner. We come to this table because we are invited and because we need to come and be refreshed and renewed so we can look for Jesus in those we love and those we wish we could love.
And just as we need to see Jesus in others, we need others to see Jesus in us. Sometimes we are the wounded, the needy, the physically or spiritually hungry. We need others to recognize that Jesus lives in us too. We, too, need to be remembered.
As hearers of the word and those who we remember the word, we can be “slow of heart to believe” or “know the joy of those whose hearts burn within them.” Which way do we choose to remember?
Let us pray-”Lord Jesus, stay with us, for the Sabbath has now begun and we have many miles to journey before we rest; be our companion on the way, kindle our hearts and awaken hope, that we may know you as you are revealed in scripture and the breaking of bread. Grant this for the sake of your love. Amen.”