Message for April 26, 2020
Text: Luke 24:13-35
The story of Jesus’ resurrection appearance on the road to Emmaus has long captured the imaginations of many. We wonder: how is it that disciples who had known Jesus so intimately, for so long, be unable to recognize him? If they could not recognize him, how in the world could I recognize him? Why does Luke make this huge point of saying that “Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of the bread?”
A few months ago I mentioned a miniseries that Albert and I voraciously watched on Netflix, called Messiah. It got a bit of hype at the time that it came out, and became the center of controversy and criticism — enough so that any plans for a second season have been, probably permanently, shelved. One key idea which had Albert and me intrigued throughout the series tracks back to this Emmaus story: how does one recognize Christ? The Netflix show presented this strikingly beautiful, charismatic guy, who was alternately soft spoken and bold, who performed miracles (or were they cases of an uncanny sense of timing?), and who garnered the attention and suspicion of various people in positions of power and need. Is he the Messiah returned to earth, or a grand charlatan with evil intent? That was the question turning over in the viewers’ minds as they watched this clever and thought-provoking, yet disturbing, work of fiction..
The writer, surprisingly (to me, at least), never took a cue from Luke. As I recall, never, in that series, did we see the protagonist sharing a meal with anyone. And for Luke, this was a key to Jesus’ ministry — this matter of breaking bread. It was also to be a key feature of the movement later known as the Church.
It’s interesting to me that, although Luke reports that Jesus, on the Emmaus road, “interpreted … the things written about himself in all the scriptures” so that the two disciples’ “hearts [were] on fire” ( my emphasis), Luke doesn’t record a word of that part of the conversation. Luke isn’t particularly concerned with the details of “proof” from the Hebrew scriptures (that was sort of Matthew’s bailiwick). What was key to this resurrection appearance was the hospitality of the two disciples, inviting him to join them on the walk, and to stay with them for the evening — or was it Jesus who was the host?
“Table fellowship” is the term often used, by biblical scholars, to describe this aspect of Jesus’ ministry, especially in Luke’s gospel. Luke was also the author of Acts, and in that account of the Early Church, Jesus’ followers carry on this fundamental practice, as they meet together in homes, and include all types of people in their gatherings.
You have heard me say it many times: There is something sacred, almost magical, about eating together. Time and time again, I have seen the power of table fellowship:
- A youth group I served met every Tuesday evening for Bible study. The adults in that congregation began a small group ministry at the same time (it was a Lenten discipline). The adult groups petered out after several weeks, but the youth, who met in homes, their parents taking turns hosting with pizza or other simple fare, continued on for over six years. There was something sacred in that ritual of a shared meal, what we called “highs and lows,” and opening scripture together.
- Fast forward to my time in this congregation, and I have witnessed the ‘magic” of community building at the Thanksgiving dinner, and at Stone Soup — the sense of welcome and embrace, and people who return again and again, whether or not they ever darken the door for worship, who still think of our church as “home.”
I think of families that are formed around eating together:
- The often significant first visit of the new girlfriend or boyfriend;
- The big deal that is made over holidays and who is, or is not, at the table;
- The palpable difference between the homes where teenagers hang out with their friends (and are fine with their parents hovering at the edges), and those where, for whatever reason, this does not happen.
I think of the number of times I have witnessed cultural divides being bridged because people shared food.
- My son made a lifelong friend because of his love of rice! He was four years old, and we had recently moved from our FIlipino congregation in Vallejo to serve a new congregation in San Francisco. I enrolled him in a neighborhood parent participation preschool, and he made a beeline for the Filipino kids. One family invited him for a playdate, which turned into an overnight, and the first comment the mom made when I picked Tom up the next morning was, “He likes rice!” She meant that he liked rice cooked the Filipino way — medium grain, a little sticky, no butter or salt. I replied that it was his favorite food. That young person is still Tom’s best friend.
- In another congregation I served, a “Taiwanese-English class” was formed, at the outset, by two kind-hearted volunteers who wanted to teach some English. But as food was shared around the table, it quickly became something more; the “teachers” learned some phrases of Taiwanese, and conversations centered on the all-important “idioms” of the two cultures. The word of greeting in Taiwanese, for example, literally means, “Have you eaten?” This little group became the catalyst and symbol of collaboration and community among different language groups, different worship styles, and different generations in that congregation.
- Fast forward again to my time here in Windsor, and I remember the first time that Heddy and I came to the home of our Oaxacan neighbors for ESL class, and Maria had spent the day making tamales. Instead of setting up for class in the front room, we were invited to the kitchen. Although we had eaten before came, We took the offered seats at the table, tucked into our plates with gusto, and watched the magic unfold, as one of the older family members who was usually rather shy began to talk and talk and talk — in Spanish, of course, but it didn’t matter that I didn’t understand every word that he said. We understood each other’s hearts.
Whenever a group goes on a road trip, a retreat, or to a church camp, I see a cementing of friendships happen. The shared vulnerability of travel, sleeping under the same roof, and eating meals together does something amazing.
Right now, because of imposed social distancing, we cannot share meals together with neighbors and many people we care about. And right now, the news is laden with stories of people suffering from food insecurity — record numbers turning to food banks and food pantries seeking help. A bit less flashy are the news items about the insidious power of isolation on our corporate emotional health.
If Christ is made known in the breaking of bread, how are we who are called Christian to respond to the aching needs of our world when we cannot gather together in person?
Our Leadership Board this week gave Ramona the go ahead to move forward in spite of the obstacles posed by re-thinking the plant sale where she usually gets the tomato starts for our community garden. If you can safely do so, I invite you to spend some time (on your own) in our garden. (Give Ramona a call to find out what kind of help she needs.)
Our friend Rosa Reynosa, as you may have read in this past week’s Windsor Times, is spearheading a fundraising effort for the Windsor Service Alliance, which is seeing a record number of new applicants for food — a doubling or tripling of the need level from before March. You can give online to this worthy cause.
Today is Native American Ministries Sunday across our United Methodist connection — and while we can’t give you a special bulletin insert today, you can still contribute to this effort to build bridges of understanding and respect across cultures, either online or by check to our church with “Native American” on the memo line. (For more information, check out this link.)
I hope you’ll also take to heart the invitation to break bread while you view our worship videos during this series, and to join our Zoom coffee hours and Zoom Bible studies — and to use your available technology to share a meal online with your extended family and friends. It’s admittedly not quite the same as doing so in person, but seeing one another makes a qualitative difference in our communications, and it can be a kind of promise and ritual of hope, looking toward the time when we will meet together in person again.
And I hope you’ll relish, as I will, the chance to join in table fellowship as a church community when our doors are open again. Come and contribute to Stone Soup. Attend and help out at the Thanksgiving dinner. Let’s potluck more often. And let’s invite our neighbors.
For now, when we break bread, let us say a prayer of thanks to the God who became flesh and dwelt among us, inviting to his table all who are broken, lost, lonely, rich, poor, disenfranchised, hungry and thirsty for grace, kindness, compassion, and food. Let us pray for those who labor, and those made most vulnerable by our current crisis, many of whom work in the food and service industries. Let us spend our resources wisely, strive for the common good, and demand that our leaders do the same.
May Jesus not say of us, “You foolish people with dull minds!” but instead, “Well done, good and faithful servants.” Amen.