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The 3rd Sunday after Easter
May 8, 2011
The Rev. Anne Lane Witt
Grace Episcopal Church
1 Peter 1:17-23
Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17
O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
“Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” So goes the end of our Gospel for today.
This Gospel reminds me of a very well-known verse from the Epistle to the Hebrews: Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Cleopas and the other disciple entertained Jesus without knowing it.
Today’s Gospel passage takes place on the day of the Resurrection. Word has gotten out that the stone had been rolled away from Jesus’ tomb, and that the tomb was empty. Word that Jesus has risen has even reached Cleopas and his fellow disciple, but they do not believe it as no one they have spoken with has seen their risen Lord.
Cleopas and his companion are speaking as they make the seven-mile journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus. As they are walking and talking, Jesus joins them, “but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” Jesus asks them what they are discussing as they make their way. Cleopas tells the stranger about Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified three days earlier, and whom they had thought to be the Messiah. As we heard with Thomas in last week’s Gospel, Cleopas names what is truly going on within him. I would imagine it to be the elephant in the room: Cleopas is sad, disappointed, and conflicted.
He and many others had given up their lives to follow Jesus, who had been their hope to liberate Israel, whom they thought to be the Messiah. But three days after Jesus has been crucified and placed in the tomb, the tomb is empty, angels declare that Jesus is risen, and yet, none of his disciples have seen Jesus. Was he really the Messiah?
Cleopas does not realize that he is asking these questions directly of his Lord, but he is being honest about his concerns, laying himself bare in communication with Jesus. As Thomas did in last week’s Gospel, Cleopas does not let his fears govern him; he asks questions instead to name those fears. Jesus reminds Cleopas and the other disciple that the Messiah had to suffer, then enter into glory according to the prophets. Whether or not this convinced the two disciples, we do not know, but we do know that they insist that Jesus stay with them as the day is almost over.
After sitting at table together for their evening meal, Jesus takes the bread, blesses it, and breaks it. It is then that the two disciples’ eyes are opened, and they recognize Jesus. And as quickly as they recognize him, Jesus vanishes from their sight, not bound by the ordinary limitations of embodiment. Together, Cleopas and the other disciple discuss their encounter with the resurrected Jesus and are so excited that they leave that hour to travel the seven miles to Jerusalem so that they can share the good news with the other disciples. The Risen Lord was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
In our liturgy, we ask Jesus to be known to us in the breaking of the bread here, now, in our own day that we might go out into the world and tell the Good News. We come here with our own doubts and questions, our own fears and concerns. We are all on our own journeys to Emmaus. We come in times of joy and in times of sorrow, in times of plenty and of little. And we ask Jesus Christ to join us in this feast of radical hospitality, inviting his presence that we might take it in and take it out into the world, having been “made one body with him, that he may dwell in us and we in him.”
Wherever we are on our journeys to Emmaus, we are welcomed here. He will meet us where we are. As he is revealed to us in this holy feast, so we are enabled to go out into the world, loving serving God as faithful witnesses of the Risen Christ.
Be known to us, Lord Jesus, in the breaking of the bread. AMEN.