Easter Sunday – Week 7 – Come to the Table: Diving Into the Why of Communion
I pray you enjoy this message and God speaks to you through it. To listen to this message you can hear it on the Beech Grove United Methodist Church Podcast (podcast releases Monday mornings), or by clicking here.
*Also every week I offer sermon notes as an opportunity for folks in my congregation to have something to take with them for reflection on the sermon or to help in sharing with others. Check them out here!
*Note: Sermon audio does not match the manuscript…sometimes the Spirit moves
Our Eyes Are Opened
13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him. 17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 “What things?” he asked. “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.” 25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. 28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” 33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread. — Luke 24:13-35
This Lenten season we committed ourselves to engage with this manner of the sacrament of communion at a deeper level. For those of you who have not been with us during this series, we have explored what this sacrament means.
We began by exploring that a sacrament (that is what we consider communion to be in the rituals of the church) is “an outward sign of an inward and spiritual grace, and a means by which that grace is received” (Augustine w/ addition by John Wesley). The outward sign is the bread and juice and the inward grace is that ultimate gift that is offered by God through Christ in Christ’s life, ministry, death, and resurrection. It is through the entire experience of Christ’s ministry that we approach the table. That understanding of grace encompasses our entire lives.
As we journeyed through the series, we talked about how this sacrament is a form of thanksgiving. Our participation in it is how we inherently give thanks to God for the sacrament itself.
We talked about our communal engagement in this meal. We come as a community because we were created to exist in a community with one another. This meal brings us together as the community of Christ, both with those in this congregation and all over the world, and even throughout time.
We even recognize that the only prerequisite to come to the table is a desire to be transformed by God’s grace, to acknowledge its presence and work in your life. You don’t need to be worthy, you don’t need to be a member of this church, and you don’t even need to be a Christian, you just need to have a heart ready for what Christ can do in your life.
Last week as we began to wind down this series we looked at how we receive all that Christ has to give to us. This leads us to our topic and even celebration on this Resurrection Day!
The way we receive stems from the way Christ gives. That is beyond any means that we could ever imagine. Christ came to this world to give. Christ came to this world so that we could experience a better life. Christ came to this world to break down the restrictive rules created that seemingly separated people from God. The walls that society built restricting God from certain people for various reasons were broken down in the ministry and manner that Christ gave.
Christ gave of himself all the way to the point of being executed by the same world he came to save, a world that couldn’t handle his message. However, that was not the end of Christ’s story. For Jesus, it was not enough for him to give but having given to some he wanted them to give to all so that the true extent of God’s gifts would be felt and known across creation.
The Easter story and the story of the resurrection in general teach us that there is more than just what Christ has to offer us, but to go further we examine how having received from Christ, we should give to creation in need in the same manner Christ has given to us, and again as we close this series, we examine this in light of one of our holiest rituals of the church, that of Holy Communion.
The scripture before us sets the precedent for this meal.
While the Last Supper institutes the sacrament of Holy Communion (as we explored on Thursday), the story of Emmaus we look at this morning is really the earliest celebrated communion recorded (post-institution of it).
This passage is one of the “resurrection stories” found in the gospel of Luke. Luke has three resurrection stories before he details the account of Christ ascending, and this story of these disciples journeying to Emmaus is the second of three, right after the story of the empty tomb.
The Road to Emmaus
In this story, we have two disciples (unnamed) who spent their time following Jesus through his ministry. They have left the others who are followers and are journeying to Emmaus for an unknown reason. However, on their way, they are joined by a man unknown to them, but we are told it is Jesus in his resurrected form. The two are quite downtrodden by the events from the weekend, and this traveler who approaches them on the road seems oblivious to what has happened in Jerusalem. However, he seems very versed in the manner in which Jesus actually came (perhaps because he is Jesus).
The travelers reach their destination of Emmaus and seek to find their home. However, the traveler has intentions of moving on, or maybe intentions of wanting to be invited in. It seems because the hour was getting late they were able to convince him to stay.
Then the narrative shifts. The narrative moves us in a manner of worship as it were. If the roadway was the engagement with the Word. Then what happens when they get to the house, is the feast that bonds us together. They had dinner, and this meal proved to be much more than just a regular meal.
“When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.”1
Similar to the Communion meal we celebrate today, Jesus has an intentional liturgy he follows. The bread is blessed, broken, and given. However, you can hear the awe that was present in the room in verse 31 when their eyes were opened.
Jesus’ presence in this meal
Our eyes are opened in the same way these disciples’ eyes were. In the blessing, breaking, and receiving of the bread, our eyes are opened to Christ’s presence at this meal. We receive the presence of Christ in this meal in a similar manner the two disciples receive what is offered through Christ. It is in the reflection in those last 4 verses that this is made real for us.
“They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”2
Now this journey is about 7 miles3 and at a reasonably speedy walking pace it probably would take about a couple of hours, and I am sure they may have picked up the pace a few times. You also think that roads at night at this time were very dangerous, and any number of things could have gotten in their way. However, they noticed how great a message they had to share and rushed to tell the disciples.
I cannot think of a better way to celebrate the Risen Savior than to act upon his presence among us today. To name the Communion meal as a gathering, names the importance of practicing this sacrament when we gather.
Emmaus: A Moment of Worship
I urge you again to think of this scripture as a moment of worship. It contains all the pieces of worship we hold in our contemporary theology.
There is welcome and gathering, when Jesus arrives and is invited for the journey.
There is a proclamation, in the conversation that occurs on the road.
There is a thanksgiving and communion, in the celebration of the meal.
There is a sending forth, in vanishing of Jesus and the yearning to share the message.
Communion SHOULD be a part of our regular worship experience, because in it we are reminded and experience what is completely there in all of worship and that is Christ’s presence. Christ has come into this space and blessed us with presence. Now we have been invited to share that experience, and the table has been set. The early church would have practiced this meal as an experience of Christ’s resurrection each and every time they gathered, and we are called into a similar ritualistic understanding.
Also notice, it is the disciples who set the table, and then Christ “presides” and inviting the manner of Spirit, for those around to receive. And yet it is the gathering that places us in the mindset to be sent forth.
If the Communion meal is about gathering and receive…then it is also a sending forth. The reason that the Communion meal is meant to be embedded in our worship is because of what happens in this story, and how the nature of worship carried from this example and throughout the history of the church.
Diving Into History
We may think ourselves finding complacency in repetition of this meal, and yet we must acknowledge that it’s presence in worship enhances what we take away and how we are fed. The practice of monthly communion did not come about until the revolutionary war, when all the clergy of Anglican (British) Church left the colonies. Knowing the importance of the presence of clergy in consecrating the meal, John Wesley encouraged clergy to offer the sacrament as often as possible, to embed the experience in the faith of good-hearted Christians in the colonies, and even encouraged laity to engage in communion as often as it could be offered. However, this met resistance when there just were not enough clergy in the colonies to offer communion in the experience of weekly worship. Clergy were few and far between, because they would ride circuits of 20-30-50-100 churches. They could only be at a church once a month or even once a quarter. Then as churches grew and clergy became more stationary the practice stuck, often out of convenience, and with that, this understanding of gathering, receiving, and sending has almost lost its nature in our contemporary church.
This story points us towards the importance of the presence of the resurrected Christ among us, and not just among us, but the embedded nature of truly receiving each and every time we are gathered together. Do not hear this as a sermon to punctuate a to return to weekly communion, though I think it becomes a vital practice of experience to undergird our faith. No, this is a sermon of the resurrection, this is a sermon of setting the table, inviting Jesus in and making him comfortable among us. Jesus will invite us to the table, but the thing is we set it for him. Just as the disciples did at the last supper, and these disciples did in this meal. Our eyes will be opened to Christ in the meal, but it takes those of us willing to participate to set the table for the resurrected Lord to invite us to.
Set The Table
We set it for him by responding to our own invitations that we have received, and by having come to the table before we are sent and given the space to set the table for others. When our eyes are opened at the meal, we should have the desire to run, nay sprint, to let others know. It should stir within us, the desire to complete the circle. We have gathered, we have received, we have been sent forth, and so now we do it again. Except this time, when we gather, we gather with all who came before us, who dutifully set the table so that Christ could invite us, we gather with those who will come after, whose tables we set so that Christ may invite them, and most importantly we gather with Christ, so that we may receive that eye opening experience each and every time we are in the presence of our resurrected Savior and Lord.
This meal is not just a reminder, it is an all out experience, it is a complete embodiment of what God has planned for the Kin-dom. It isn’t just a message to share, but an invitation to more. Doesn’t that make you want to jump up from your seat right this second and go and tell someone. To run up to that stranger in Walmart and proclaim what you have experienced and what you continue to experience?
Those two disciples had all but given up hope. However, it is in the meal that they meet the Risen Christ. Their Easter experience has given us an Easter experience. An experience we partake in every time we gather at the Communion table. How are you going to respond?
Luke 24:30-31 NRSV
Luke 24:32-35 NRSV
cf Luke 24:13