Pastor John Kerr
Theme: “When a Supper Became a Sacrament”
Text: Luke 24:13-35 Date: April 26, 2020
It’s Easter Sunday evening. Two downcast followers of Jesus are walking home from Jerusalem to Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem. They say, “It’s all over with. We hoped he’d be the one to save and redeem Israel.” They had been to the city. They knew about the crucifixion. They heard about the women who had been to the tomb and said, “The body wasn’t there.” They heard these stories that circulated around, and they wished they were true.
A stranger joins these two disciples along the way. They didn’t know who he was. He said, “How slow you are to believe the Bible.” Then he began to explain the Bible to them. It was getting late, and as the stranger was about to move on, they said, “Why don’t you stay with us? It’s late. Day is almost over.” The stranger accepts their hospitality. They go inside, sit down for the evening meal. They ask him to say the blessing. He does. He took the bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to them to eat, and he was gone. And they said, “It’s the Lord!” They run back into the city and say, “He’s been made known to us in the breaking of bread.”
Now, I don’t know what the women of the house thought when their men brought this stranger to supper. “We got company for supper, honey!” They gather odds and ends together. “You are welcome to eat what we have. We didn’t know your were coming.”
They ask him to say the table prayer. He takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it and gives it to them. What does that sound like? Yes, the Lord’s Supper. It’s the same action as in the Lord’s Supper. They recognize him, and he’s gone. They go back to Jerusalem and say, “He was made known to us.” ‘How?” “In the breaking of bread.” In a little, ordinary town of Emmaus, an ordinary supper became a sacrament.
Notice, in their doubt, disappointment and confusion, they didn’t recognize the stranger who appeared to them. They listened to his Bible stories, but nothing happens. Their eyes are closed. He explains the scriptures. All of these things have to happen. The scriptures talk about suffering, death and resurrection of the Messiah. The prophets talk about this. Moses, the Psalms and he goesthrough the scriptures. But nothing happens; nothing clicks. It’s like sitting in church school, you hear the stories, class is over and nothing clicks. You sit in church, the sermon is over with, you go home. “What happened in church?” “Oh, nothing.”
It’s evening and they say to the stranger, “Why don’t you stay and have supper with us? It’s late. You’re tired and we’re tired.” They said that to a stranger! They showed hospitality to a stranger! When I was growing up, I was told, “Watch out for strangers. Don’t talk to strangers.”
The stranger knew his Bible, but that doesn’t mean he’s harmless. Just because he teaches and explains the Bible, knows Bible stories doesn’t mean he could not be a dangerous, damaging person. I heard that when MedgarEvers, a civil rights worker in Mississippi, was shot in the back with a rifle in his own driveway in June 1963, and the people involved in his murder, before they went home, went back to their church, sang hymns, read scripture and prayed! Ones who did great harm, quoted the Bible, sang hymns and prayed. Finally, after 30 years in 1994, his assassin, Byron Beckwirth, was arrested, tried, convicted and sent to prison. I also read that the belt buckles used by Hitler’s soldiers had on their buckles the words “God with us.”
This stranger just because he explains scripture doesn’t mean you’d invite him into your house where your family is and have him spend the night there. You’d check him out first. But they were hospitable to this stranger. They showed love to a stranger. Let love of brother and sister continue, but don’t neglect the stranger (Hebrews 13). If there is one characteristic that should mark a church, that should be “House of Hospitality.” Who is refused entrance? No one. Who is excluded? Who is thrown out? Nobody!
So they sit down together to eat. Eating together, breaking bread together, fellowship together was important. All of his life Jesus broke bread with people. The ultimate signal of equality, of sharing and loving and caring and trust is in eating together. In the Near East, when someone was a guest in your home, at your table, you’d defend them from all enemies, all harm, even before your family! Love of the stranger!
Will we ever get back to that? The showing of true acceptance and hospitality is to eat together. Much of social justice in this country occurred at lunch counters and in restaurants in the 1960s and 1970s. If we can eat together and talk with each other and be civil with each other, the battle is won! Maybe someone needs to get Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and Mahmoud Abbas of Palestine to sit and eat together—alone.
They sit down together and the stranger says the blessing and it happened! An unforgettable moment! A remarkable occasion! People all over the world have tried to recreate this scene—to make an ordinary occasion and extraordinary occasion. How can we make a plain experience and extraordinary Christian experience? How can we make a supper a sacrament? Bring out the candles, flowers, Bible, table and add some music and turn down the lights?
But what do we do to bring about the presence of Jesus, so that ordinary worship becomes real worship? So that an ordinary table becomes the Lord’s Table? So that an ordinary meal becomes The Meal? What do we do? All over the world Christians have tried different things; tried to manufacture a spiritual experience. But you can’t just manufacture it. The most inspiring experiences we have, we realize them after they are over, but at the time we didn’t.
Remember the story of Abraham and Sarah? Three strangers come to their tent. If they’d known ahead of time, they’d had more food to eat, but they had to split food for two five ways. So they sat at the table and ate. Later they learned that the three strangers were messengers of God. They looked back when it was over and realized what it was.
When St. Paul sat down and wrote letters to the Corinthians, Philippians or Thessalonians, he wrote to answer some questions, problems and misunderstandings. Later those letters were made scripture, letters of the New Testament. When Paul wrote them, he didn’t say, “I think I’ll write a book of the New Testament today.” No. Later the church looked back and said, “Scripture! Word of God!”
Ever have somebody invite you to a restaurant for lunch or dinner and say, “I want to have a really meaningful conversation with you?” You’re willing. Maybe it was a family member or friend who invites you. So you go to have a meaningful conversation and memorable evening. You get to the restaurant, order the food and are haunted by the request “to have a meaningful conversation.” Who’s going to speak first? Are you going to speak first? I’m not. If I open my mouth, suppose it’s not meaningful. You don’t have anything meaningful to say. Who will speak first? Do you know what kind of evening that will be? DULL! Food won’t taste good. You’ll be glad when it over with, because who can manufacture a meaningful conversation, a meaningful evening at dinner? Nobody!
But any one of us can look back over an occasion—maybe at a fine restaurant, or a little fast food place; maybe a five course meal or a grilled cheese sandwich—but you were with someone you cared about, a friend, family member, and you ate your food and fell into conversation and the conversation got deeper, richer and fuller, more honest and revealing. You look at your watch, and you’re late to get back to work or class or take the babysitter home.
What made the difference? This was the most meaningful conversation I ever had. How did you do it? Did you say, “Now we’re going to have meaningful conversation? No. You did what you normally do, and then it was that gift of something extra. You look back and say, “Wow!”
What makes a supper a sacrament? What makes an ordinary event and extraordinary occasion? It’s not something we do to the room—music, banners, candles, or pews. I love those things, but they don’t make the presence of God. That’s a gift.
Two discouraged, despondent disciples invited a stranger in for supper. They asked him to say the blessing and that was it. He took bread, blessed it, gave it to them, they took and ate it. They opened their minds, opened their hearts at their table and it happened—the presence of Christ.
The presence of Christ isn’t calculated or contrived—it’s a gift of God. It happens because Christ is alive, Christ is risen, Christ is here with us.