Luke 24:13-35 / Acts 2:36-42
The dinner table was always sacred to Cleopas and Hannah. The evening meal was a holy time.
Now the ďtableĒ was really the floor, near the small, clay stove that provided a meagre heat to cook the food and warm the house. Lately, Cleopas had taken to dragging the rough wooden box where they stored their food, out from its place against the wall to use as a table of sorts.
He could get down and sit on a cushion for awhile; but reaching down some more to get his food, or stretching out full length and leaning on his arm was just too much. So Hannah put their food on the box, and they sat on opposite sides for their meals. It actually brought them closer to one another. In the flickering light, he could see her eyes, and he still loved to look into those eyes, after all these years.
Time was, meals were noisy affairs, with their girls, always talking, always on the move. Those were great days, days filled with laughter, and wet with tears. The girls fine daughters had homes and families of their own now. The birds had flown, not far away, but the nest was empty.
Except for their supper on the Lordís Day, the first day of the week. Then they had company.
It was on the evening of the first day of the week that their first guest came.
Cleopas and Hannah were in Jerusalem most of that day. They were on their way back to Emmaus, a long walk into the setting sun. They were tired, and their heads ached from all that had happened. The sunlight was enough to blind them. But there was nothing else to do, and no place else to go, but home.
They were alone on the road and they were glad of it. Then they felt a presence, felt before they saw, that a stranger was walking with them. They never really got a good look at him.
The stranger heard them talking. He asked them, ďWhat were you talking about as you walked along?Ē
Cleopas hesitated. Was it safe to be known as a follower of Jesus? Should he just say, ďItís none of your business?Ē Try to walk a little faster? But he was so tired, and his heart was so full!
ďAre you the only person from Jerusalem who didnít know what was happening there these last few days?Ē
ďWhat do you mean,Ē the stranger asked. So Cleopas told him. Even Hannah dared to speak up in the presence of a man. They told the story of Jesus of Nazareth. How they had placed their trust in him all their for themselves and their nation.
With their children grown and gone, they had time to go into the city, and even beyond. They heard of Jesus, and they were caught up in the enthusiasm of people who knew him. People like them, plain folk from the villages and the countryside.
And then they met him. They heard him speak. They knew what the others knew. He was a true prophet, a worthy teacher, who just might be the one the Messiah!
And he was crucified. The powers of the city took him and they killed him.
And now, some of his friends were saying that his body was gone from the place where they buried him. Some of them were saying that the body wasnít there because Jesus was alive again!
The stranger didnít seem to appreciate their pain and confusion. He called them ďfoolish,Ē and he began to lecture them! Cleopas and Hannah were angry at first, at this manís presumption. But he talked a good line. He knew his scriptures. They began to understand. He believed in the Messiah. He was telling them that Jesus had to suffer and die; but that he also had to rise from the dead!
The man surely had more to say, but when they reached Emmaus, he just walked on. They called him back, and invited him to their home for the evening meal.
He accepted, and when they got to the house, Cleopas tried to do his duty as a host. But the stranger took the hostís place when they sat down for supper. Hannah hurried to find some bread that was still good enough to eat. After all, they had been away from home for a little while.
When she brought the bread, the man reached out to take it from her. He held it, and whispered a prayer. He broke the loaf in two, and gave it to them. And he was gone. Gone. Just like that!
Was it...? No. Could it...? It was Jesus! It was Jesus!
The bread, the prayer, the breaking... Didnít Simon Peter and the others say that, when they ate with him the last time, he took bread, and broke it... ? Remember the story about the people he fed, thousands of them, on a hillside up in Galilee? What were those words we were taught? ďI am the bread of life...Ē
And, didnít we feel that same fire within us that we felt the first time we heard Jesus speak? Out there on the road, it was the same as before! It must have been Jesus!
So they went, as fast as they could, back to Jerusalem to tell their new friends what had happened. They arrived in such a state that they had to take time to recover. While they caught their breath, they heard Peterís news. Jesus was really alive! Yes, of course, they knew. They knew, because Jesus had walked with them a long time, and come into their house. Their house, and who were they to welcome their Lord?
And there he was again. They didnít have a moment to welcome him. Jesus was with them, and it was such a fright that Jesus had to reassure them he wasnít a ghost! He asked for some food. They had a little cooked fish, and he ate it, while they watched.
Jesus talked with them through the night. Every one there felt the same inner fire that Cleopas and Hannah knew, as Jesus opened up the meaning of the scriptures for them.
He told them that they must be ready to go anywhere and everywhere, telling all the wonderful things that they had heard and seen. He would send them power from heaven to do it. They had to wait in the city until that power came.
Jesus was saying good bye. They all knew it. When morning came, they walked with him to Bethany, where he blessed them. And then, just like in Hannahís kitchen in Emmaus, Jesus disappeared from sight.
For the next few weeks, most of the disciples stayed in Jerusalem, praying, worshiping in the Temple, wondering what would come next.
Cleopas and Hannah made the trip back and forth to Emmaus many times. But they were always with the others in the city on the first day of the week. It was the Lordís own day, after all. The day of his rising. The day he came to their house, and broke bread with them.
When the feast of Pentecost came, the city was full again; though not like it was at Passover. There was still room to walk in the streets. On that day there were about 120 disciples gathered in a large public room, when the wind and the fire came. One moment, they were quietly saying their prayers, joining in chants and responses. The next, they were out in the streets, shouting the praise of God, telling the story of Jesus, proclaiming the new kingdom. To strangers, foreigners!
Where did the words come from? How could they all speak so that people from all over the world could understand them? This was the power that Jesus had promised them!
Peter spoke to the great crowd that had gathered around them. He spoke for a long time. He spoke with passion, and eloquence. This wasnít the Simon Peter that Cleopas and Hannah knew! Another miracle?
Peter finished telling the story of Jesus, and what the prophets had said about Jesus without even knowing it. People mobbed the disciples, asking what they must do. No one knew what to say! Then Peter shouted, ďRepent and be baptized!Ē There was a mad rush, down to one of the pools at the foot of the Temple mount.
Such a commotion! Cleopas was wary, and he and some others kept a close watch for... Well, they didnít know who. Romans, or Temple authorities? With, how many people? 3000, someone said afterwards. With that many people running through the streets and making a lot of noise, someone was sure to notice.
In days that followed, the excitement continued. The disciples couldnít all meet in one place anymore. They all went to the Temple, though. And they met wherever they could get together. Peter or one of the others who had been closest to Jesus taught them. They began to share their possessions, and what money they had. They just couldnít see anyone in want.
Whenever they gathered, as families, in twos or in dozens, they broke bread. Every time they got together, whether they shared a meal or not, someone would have some bread. They would pray. One of them would say a blessing, break the bread, and pass it to the others. If they had something to drink, they would share it, too.
Their gatherings werenít complete, they werenít real gatherings in the name of Jesus, if they didnít break the bread.
As time passed, and the authorities began to take notice of the growing band of disciples, Cleopas thought it wise to stay at home in Emmaus. He wasnít getting any younger, even with this wonderful new Spirit within him. He worried about Hannah. She seemed more tired every day. So home it was, back to their little house in the village. Just the two of them.
Except for suppertime, on the first day of the week. It was the Lordís own day, after all. The same day he had come to their house. Then they opened their door to anyone who cared to come.
Family, neighbours, friends from Jerusalem, travelers, strangers. They never knew who would be there, from one week to the next. If they didnít recognize even one face in the circle around their table, it didnít matter.
They talked. They prayed. They ate, if there was food enough; and there always seemed to be enough, though they never promised food when people came! One thing never changed: the breaking of bread. When they broke the bread, it was as if Jesus himself was there. Especially when there were strangers in the house. People who came for reasons they didnít know, and never asked. Jesus was there. He was known to them all in the breaking of bread.
Now, this is a story born of scripture and imagination. We donít know who Cleopas was. We donít know if his companion on the road was his wife, though itís likely. We donít know where Emmaus was, or even if there ever was an Emmaus. Luke may well have wanted the two disciples on the road to represent every disciple, Emmaus to stand for every community, and their house to be every home.
One thing we know for sure: they knew him in the breaking of bread. In the breaking of bread a stranger became their best and truest friend. In the breaking of bread, a motley band of disciples became a family of believers, a community, a church. And when we break bread, and share it, with our families, our neighbours, our friends, he is with us. When we share our tables, our homes, our church, our life with strangers, he is with us. And strangers cease to be strangers, no matter how hard we try to make them and keep them strangers.
To break bread and share it means breaking ourselves open to share with others. How often do we do that, even with our own families?
If we will do it, risk it, Jesus will be there. He is risen. He is alive. He is with us. And he meets us, at his table, and at our kitchen tables, when we break bread.