“At the Table With Jesus”–Luke 24: 13-35
By Kristen Rae Nelson
Millard Community Covenant Church
Have you all seen that movie, “National Lampoon’s Vacation”? In it, the Griswold family attempts to make a cross-country car trip to visit a theme park called “Wally World”. It’s a grueling journey with many hilarious bumps and twists in the road—but the thing that keeps them going, especially the father Clark Griswold, is the hope that soon they would reach their destination.
Finally, the Griswolds arrive in California, right in Wally World’s parking lot. But as they race up to the entrance, they soon realize that the park has been closed to work on maintenance. Their hopes of riding the roller coasters and water rides, eating cotton candy and corn dogs, has been dashed. And their disappointment is almost more than they can bear.
In our scripture for today, two disciples are experiencing similar disappointment—times one million. As they walked on the road, back to Emmaus, away from Jerusalem, away from the other disciples, away from what used to be their hope, away from the One they thought was their Messiah, they talked about how their hopes had been dashed. They had longed for so much—and yet instead, crucifixion happened. They had lost all hope, and here they walked on the road, their hearts heavy.
This is the only passage in the Bible that mentions Cleopas—and his companion is not even named. Unlike the apostles, whose names we know and memorize, they were just ordinary disciples, people who had heard Jesus’ teachings and had followed Him—they were very much like me and you. They had been in Jerusalem and had seen the events that had unfolded—Jesus’ sentencing, Jesus’ death, and even Jesus’ empty tomb. And yet, still they had no hope. They were walking home, away from Jerusalem, to start their lives over. The excitement had gone, and now they were left with only sorrow.
Verse 14 tells us that they were “talking” about all that had taken place. The actual Greek word for this is “syzetein”, which suggests more of a strong debate than a general conversation. They were trying to figure out what just happened, trying to understand how Jesus could be crucified. It had been a traumatic weekend, and they debated with each other, trying to make sense of it all.
And then, suddenly, they were joined by a visitor. We who read the text know that this visitor is Jesus, but Cleopas and his friend are kept from seeing that fact. Instead of revealing who He is right away, Jesus decided to walk a bit with them, to join in the journey that they are on, and to offer hope.
Sometimes offering to walk with someone is the best thing that you can do. When I was in college, and in need of groceries, I would have to hike the 1.5 miles up to the grocery store and back again. The trip to the store was always relatively easy. But the trip back from the store, as my arms and backpack would be loaded with bags of groceries, would often be very difficult.
One day, as I found myself struggling to get home, my body weighed down with the full plastic bags, a friend of mine passed me on his bike. He had been out for a ride, and was on his way home. He took one look at my weary face and hunched-over body, and knew that I needed help. Stopping his bike, he unloaded my arms, and placed the groceries in the basket on the back of his bike. Then he took my backpack and placed it on his own back. “Why don’t we walk back together?” he suggested, and we spent the rest of the way home walking side by side, while he lead his bike and carried my groceries.
Jesus decides to walk with Cleopas and his friend because He knew that they needed a companion on their journey. It didn’t matter that they were “ordinary” people, it didn’t matter that they didn’t believe that He was resurrected. All that mattered was that they needed Him there to help them, to walk alongside them for a bit, to know their struggles and to provide some sort of comfort. And so He walked with them.
You know, Jesus promises to walk with us, too. No matter who we are, if we are in need of a companion on our journey, Christ is there to fill that need. We may not be able to see Him, like Cleopas and his friend did, but we know He is there, walking alongside us, taking up the burdens that we may not be able to carry, listening to us and counseling us. It doesn’t matter who we are or what we’ve done—Jesus will walk with us anyways, because He loves us.
As Jesus walked with Cleopas and his friend, they began to unpack for Him all they were feeling. Their words have a sense of hopelessness and loss. They “had hoped” that Jesus was the Messiah. They “had hoped” that He would be the one to redeem Israel. But all that hope had been dashed when He was crucified, nailed to the cross. All their dreams had been shattered, so they thought.
Jesus responds to them in a strong way, driving home the point and authority of His words. “Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter His glory?” You see, Cleopas and his friend had forgotten their story—they had forgotten the words of the prophets, the writings of their forefathers. They had lost track of the big picture, and instead were focusing only on what they were feeling now, here in this moment. And so Jesus began to tell them their story. Starting from the beginning, He reminded them of all the promises God had made, and all the prophecies His prophets had told. He told them the story of salvation—their story, and His story.
Just recently I came across some old journals of mine. Flipping through them, I was fascinated by the words I had written. It was so strange to read the struggles and trials and feelings which I had recorded years ago. Some of them were funny, some of them poignant. All of them reminded me of the journey I had been on. While reading them, I realized that I had forgotten parts of my story, parts of what makes me “me”. Reading my journal entries reminded me of who I was, and what I was becoming. It was my story.
Jesus reminded Cleopas and his friend about their story and His story. He reminded them of God’s promises, and God’s promises fulfilled. He reminded them that the Messiah was meant to suffer, that He was meant to give His life for the salvation of all.
We don’t know if they started to believe at that point. After all, to them Jesus was still dead. But I believe we can assume that it gave them a new perspective. It changed their reality a bit. Scripture can do that.
God uses scripture to teach us, too, to tell us our story. Sometimes we forget that we are promised many things. Sometimes we forget the reality of God’s love and grace. That’s why we have the scriptures. The scriptures remind us of all these things. They tell us our story again—the story of God’s love for us throughout history. Are you struggling? Go to the scriptures. There you will find the truth of who God is and who you are. There’s a great saying that goes, “Remember who you are and whose you are.” The scriptures remind us that we are children of God, and we are heirs of God’s promise—the promise of salvation, grace, and eternal life.
When Cleopas and his friend reached their home, they invited Jesus to come in with them and spend the night, to share a meal with them. So they sat down at the supper table, the food laid out in front of them, ready to eat. And then, Jesus did something very ordinary, and very extraordinary. He took the bread, gave thanks, broke it, and began to give it to Cleopas and his friend. It was an action that was common for someone to do at the beginning of the meal—usually the host. But these actions by Jesus opened the eyes of Cleopas and his friend, because the breaking of the bread by Jesus was anything but common.
You see, the night that Jesus was betrayed, just a couple nights earlier, while He sat eating the Passover meal with His disciples, scripture tells us that Jesus “took bread, gave thanks, and broke it, and gave it to them saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me’.” (Luke 22: 19) His body, given for them. His body, which was crucified just days later. His body, which was resurrected from the grave. And it was given for them. As He broke the bread for Cleopas and his friend, suddenly it all made sense. Suddenly they were able to see who their travel companion really was—Jesus! Suddenly the scriptures, who Jesus was and what He came here to do, were opened to them, and they saw Jesus for who He truly was—their Savior, their Messiah, their Lord, the One who could beat even death itself. Jesus had told them the story. He had told them of God’s love and grace. Now He showed them the reality of how deep God’s love goes—that He would defeat even death itself—for them.
One of my professors at the Seminary, the legendary John Weborg, used to talk about the Eucharist (which is a fancy word for communion meaning “to give thanks”) as God’s “hug” for us. He would say that you can tell someone that you love them until your face is blue, but unless you show them that you love them—often done with a hug—they won’t believe you. The Eucharist is God showing us His love. It’s saying, “Here is my body, which is broken for you. Here is my blood, which is spilled out for you. See how much I love you? I gave everything for you, so that you could be with me.” It’s God’s “hug” for us. Word and sacrament go together. We are told, and then we are shown. We are reminded of the promises of God, and then we are shown that they have all been completed through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
Just like Cleopas and his friend finally and fully recognized Christ in the breaking of bread, so we too recognize Him when we come together to share in communion. Christ is fully known through the sacrament of communion, because in communion Christ’s full purpose to redeem us, to redeem humanity, is laid out and made manifest. We partake in His death and resurrection. The sorrow of Good Friday is celebrated alongside the joy of Easter morning.
When we take communion, we are taking in Christ. He is here, at the table with us. He is the host of this “feast” which we are called to. And Christ welcomes us all to the table—the sinners, the disenfranchised, the down-hearted, the outcast—all are welcomed, and to all the love and grace of God are extended. We are invited to dine with Christ, to know Him intimately and personally, to share in His life-changing feast of life and hope.
Through the breaking of bread, Christ was known to Cleopas and his friend. And Christ promises to continue to be known to us, as we join in communion as the fellowship of believers. He promises to be present, to be here with us, in the breaking of bread.
Some of you may feel like Cleopas and his friend—filled with doubt and grief, wondering where God is in your life, too disappointed to hope. Christ promises to walk with you in your struggles. Some of you may have forgotten your story—the story of God’s love and grace which has been the thread through your life. Christ brings you to the scriptures, and points out God’s promises which you may have forgotten, bringing you back into the story. Some of you may not recognize God. Christ calls you to come, come to the table, remember His sacrifice for You, and meet Him there.
Oftentimes, we can feel hopelessness like those disciples on the road away from Jerusalem. But if we come to Christ, if we believe in Him, then we are filled not with hopelessness, but with a peace and hope that surpasses all the world’s understanding. We are assured that Christ is with us, that Christ is walking with us, that Christ is speaking to us, and that Christ is present with us. That’s the joy that Cleopas and his friend felt, and that’s the joy that is available to all of us today. For “When He was at the table with them, He took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him…The got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, ‘It is true! The Lord has risen…!’” (Luke 24: 30, 31a, 33, 34a) Amen.