In my opinion, which means you are free to hold a different opinion, in my opinion, the story of the famous walk to Emmaus is one of the loveliest pictures in the entire Bible. Artists have given us literally hundreds of interpretations of this walk. Emmaus is right up there with pictures of Jesus and the children, or tongues as of fire on the heads of believers at Pentecost, or even Moses coming down the mountain with the tablets of the Commandments.
Emmaus belongs in the picture book of our faith. In Luke’s lovely word-painting, two believers are burdened with grief, mourning the death of Jesus. They are sharing their sorrow with each other. “Why did he have to die?” “What will happen to those of us who were with him in the hills when he taught us how to live?” “Did the Romans think his kingdom would replace their rule over us?” Then the stranger joined them.
They mistake him for a visitor to Jerusalem who did not know about the crucifixion or the news of that first Easter morning. They tell him their lost dreams and vanished hopes about Jesus, but he was crucified. Jesus does not come right out and say, I am Jesus. So it goes until at the table, they ask him to say the blessing.
He takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it, and in that instant, they recognize him. What a story!
If I could have only one picture of Jesus in the scrapbook of my faith, it would be this moment when bread is broken by the Risen Christ and given to the followers.
When those nail-scarred hands broke bread, everything came into focus. If there is one scene, if there is one detail of all biblical images that must be remembered, — if there is one moment when God’s love becomes present and overpowering, if there is one scene that transcends time and brings us into the presence of the risen Christ, it is this moment in Emmaus.
Jesus Christ gave his body broken on the cross, and when he prayed over bread, they knew who he was and what he had done.
Someone has said the power of creativity is the willingness or the ability to look at one thing and see another — like seeing images in the clouds. Faith works the same way.
We splash water on an adult or child, and say, “God has brought forth a new life and now Our Father claims this person for himself.”
We share bread and drink wine in the church’s ceremonial meal and say among ourselves, “This is the body of Christ, broken, given, and shared for me.”
And in the dark night of the soul, when we wonder whether the resurrection of Christ can mean new life for us, or whether there is release from guilt, relief from burdens, whether our own storms can be stilled, then we must find this picture in the album of our faith and revisit that table in Emmaus.
Of course we come to the table thinking not about events in first century Palestine but worried about life at our home address in 2017.
The followers in Emmaus knew Jesus when they saw how personally he broke the bread. They knew him to be the Risen Christ, victorious over the grave. “Did not our hearts burn within us at his presence?”
The centerpiece of the Christian faith is that God comes to us in ways and means that are accessible to ordinary people such as ourselves.
Lutherans and others believe God comes to us in the renewal of our baptism, in the story of God in the Bible and in the breaking of bread, the Lord’s Supper, where he reveals himself.
God has not devised an obstacle course of monastic spirituality, nor required us to feel the spirit’s invisible Pentecostal presence. He makes himself known and gives himself to us in telling the Jesus story, in the splashing of water and the breaking of ordinary bread.
In the moment of the bread, we are again taken through the whole salvation story of God’s love for his people. When the bread is offered, we are transported back to Egypt, waiting for the angel of death to pass over our huts but punishing our masters, as God promised, so that we can escape and begin our journey to the Promised Land.
When the bread is given, we are on the hillside where 5000 were fed, knowing that God was responsible for the sudden appearance of enough bread, and hearing Jesus call himself the bread of life.
When the bread is taken, we are in the upper room as Jesus used the Passover meal to make a new covenant.
Now we’re on our way to the cross, some to deny, some to betray, and all of us letting him go alone in our place.
When the bread is taken, we are all caught up in the story of Emmaus. We’re not in the dining room where we put on the best linens and silver place settings, but at the kitchen table where the family faces life as it really is.
Luke fashioned the story of Emmaus to tell what happens to people who are not expecting God at their table. This story tells us God is here for us.
Faith says to us that God will continue to love and strengthen us. What God did in Jesus Christ will come to all his family all over the world, whatever our burdens and fears.
We wait for him whose face we all know. He lives in us.
We come here because we hope that he whose life shall never end will make our hearts burn within us as we gather around his table.
We come because we want to know the saving, healing, powerful presence of Jesus Christ. We see beyond this picture of intense passion, and say, “Here is the presence of God.”
Our hearts burn within us, yearning, longing for a glimpse of God, a word from the scriptures, hungering for a hint that God is interested in us.
Worries about health, or income, or family, or career, or faith, or spiritual decay, or lost hopes, or old sins can all throw up a smoke screen so that we imagine we are estranged from the living Christ.
But an inner voice proclaims to each of us, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to me.”
Because he lives, we can live with hope, with promise, with joy that overcomes every one of us. On our behalf he has moved through the cross and the grave and now he lives again in life eternal.
He comes and blesses us with his presence. Praise him. Our eyes are opened as never before. We see him for who he is. We see ourselves as people of God receiving the promise of forgiveness and life eternal.
That is the picture we carry forever in our hearts.