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“Jesus Known in the Scriptures and the Breaking of Bread”: April 23, 2023

The Third Sunday of Easter:
Luke 24:13-35

[This is the 8:00 AM sermon. At 10:00 AM we were blessed to hear from street outreach worker Chris Morton.]

We’ve heard from Matthew and John the last few weeks, and now from Luke. Luke, like Matthew, has two Marys going to the tomb and finding it empty (and finding angels), but added to the group is one “Joanna.” The big difference is that Jesus does not appear to them. They are told he’s been risen, though, and they run to tell “the eleven and all the rest” but, we’re told “these words seemed to them an idle tale.”

And then our gospel comes in: “Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven milesĀ from Jerusalem…” These two could be from the “all the rest” of the followers of Jesus; not from “the twelve” (or eleven). One, we’ll learn, is named Cleopas. Now, sometimes (especially in the Passion part of the Gospels) there is some overlap between Luke and John. And in one part, John speaks of the women near the cross, including “Mary, the wife of Clopas.” So some wonder if Clopas and Cleopas refer to the same person, and so perhaps the unnamed walking companion is indeed Cleopas’ wife, Mary. Our salvation doesn’t hinge on any of this, but an interesting thing to consider (especially as women tend to be underrepresented in Church history).

These two disciples are walking away from Jerusalem, again perhaps unswayed by the report of the empty tomb and angelic appearance and message. Seven miles is Emmaus from Jerusalem. You might recall how ‘seven’ is often seen as a symbolic number, representing completion, fullness. Is that part of the message here? They are walking ‘fully’ away from Jerusalem… away from the community of disciples.

But there is hope for them yet. There is the good news of Easter, as an objective reality. But as I tried to say last week, that Easter is planted and in God’s own way and on God’s own time, is waiting to sprout and bloom. Jesus, we see, comes alongside the discouraged disciples. (Actually, isn’t that what happens again and again in the different Easter stories!) Comes alongside but doesn’t force Easter on them. He walks with them in their pain, and doubt: “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel…” He listens, and at the right time, offers some correction. Helps them look at things anew. And looking back on it, the two disciples will recognize that even before things come to fruition, their hearts were ‘strangely warmed’ in that experience with the stranger.

And then as the story goes on, we get to the climax with Jesus playing coy, like he’s going to keep journeying. But he accepts their invitation, “took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them” and is recognized in that. And then disappears.

We will have recognized these actions from the miraculous feeding of the 5000, in which he similarly took, blessed, broke, and gave. And we’ll recognize it from our liturgy each Sunday: taking the components of our communion meal. Saying the prayer of thanksgiving (or consecration). Note that I break the bread after the prayer (even against the italicized instructions in the Prayer Book), so as to more clearly follow this pattern. And then communion is given.

So it’s a story of Jesus being recognized both in the scriptures (in his conversation with them along the road) and in the sacrament (in his breaking bread with them). Imagine being part of ‘Luke’s’ church a generation or two after the events being narrated here. Some may have felt left out or discouraged for having not been around for the resurrection appearances. (Maybe sometimes feeling like they’ve just been left with sporadic persecution.) BUT: they have this story commended to them. Jesus is known — and present — in the breaking open of the scriptures, and in the breaking of the bread. We may not always have eyes to see it. We may not always be the ideal, healthiest ‘soil.’ But that’s the seed of Easter that’s been planted — in the Church, and in each of us.

Our Prayer Book puts it beautifully: “a perpetual memorial of that his precious death, until his coming again.” But more than that — it’s not just the preservation of stories, or memories, or remembrance of a dearly departed leader. But instead, as a living memory, and a continual meeting of Jesus — the risen Jesus. A Jesus who is truly present. But also a Jesus who is beyond our control, or desire for comfort and certainty (though also more than what we could ever “ask or imagine”). A Jesus, as someone has said, who is there, leading the way, but always to some extent, just ahead of us, just around the corner.

“Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.”

© 2023 The Rev’d Matthew Kieswetter