There’s an old joke, pretty common, about United Methodists. I’ve heard it said about Presbyterians and Lutherans too but its our joke. Did you know that we actually have three sacraments, not two? Communion, baptism, and the church potluck. It is a joke, we just have two sacraments, but we United Methodists know and live something the two disciples learned through their walk to Emmaus. That Christ is made known to us in the breaking of bread. Christ is made known to us at the table.
Our scripture begins with, On that same day, what day was it? It was the day of resurrection. Two of the disciples, probably not one of the big 12 but still a disciple or follower, they were traveling from Jerusalem to Emmaus sometime after the women had come and told all the disciples about the empty tomb and Christ’s resurrection. They were talking about what the women had said and these two disciples were sad, they didn’t understand what was going on. Meanwhile Jesus, who they do not recognize, comes near and goes with them. He stays with them even after they arrive at Emmaus. While he is at the table with them, he breaks bread, blesses it, and shares it. Now, if you’re wondering, yes that scene is supposed to be reminiscent of the last supper, it is part of the point this gospel is trying to make. When he shared the bread with the two disciples, they recognized and realized. “Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.” They even commented on how they had known something was going on even while they were walking, “were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road…?” And then that same hour, right after walking seven miles to Emmaus, they walk seven miles back to Jerusalem to share the good news. “Then they told what had happened on the road and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”
Jesus had literally, literally, walked with these two disciples, talking and teaching. For seven miles, Jesus came near to them, went with them, stayed with them, and sat at the table with them. But something blocked their hearts and minds. Verse 16 conveys the intent of the greek beautifully with the translation, “their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” The greek word translated as “kept” means held, seized, or grasped. Something kept their hearts and minds closed, something held those doors shut and kept them from recognizing what was right there. Until, at the table together, they shared a meal. And in that meal, Christ was made known to them. In that moment, the disciples discovered what we have come to know as well, that meals are more than just meals. Meals are times of transformation and connection. It is why we as a church are drawn to and come up with new ways of breaking bread together all the time. Church dinners, church breakfasts, pancake lunches, potlucks, picnics, barbecues, and fish frys. Meals are more than just food. They are places of transformation that bring people together, connect us, and open our hearts and minds.
My last year of seminary I lived in a house that was a part of something called the Missional Wisdom Foundation. It had multiple houses across Dallas and each one was an intentional Christian community. I lived with an architect and another seminary student and we prayed together daily, fasted once a week, worshiped together when we could, and every Thursday evening, opened our home to the neighborhood for a community meal. Every Missional Wisdom house had a weekly community meal and the times at those tables were so special. You could have professors, pastors, grad students, people experiencing homelessness, and just folks from each neighborhood all breaking bread together. People would stay and talk, someone might bring their laundry over, one time a stray cat even snuck in. At those tables, we encountered God’s presence. They were more than just meals. At those tables, our hearts felt more open and there was this connection and divinity all around us.
It can happen even with a simple snack. Back in 2015, while spending time with my friend Katie in her home state of Georgia, I discovered boiled peanuts. She was so excited to share them and, y’all, I’ll admit it, I was skeptical. Peanuts in the shell, boiled in salt and spices? But y’all, they were so good! So back in November when I was in Georgia for that professional development trip, I had to get some boiled peanuts. We were getting gas and I saw the convenience store was selling them. I was so excited. I bought them, ran back to the car with my styrofoam cup filled with boiled peanuts, and asked if the rest of the car wanted to try them. I was with Pastor Alex from Wamego Kansas, Pastor Seungli from Kearney, and Pastor Jacques from Salina Kansas. Jacque turned around and was like, what are they? I said, boiled peanuts, and showed him, and his face just lit up. He is an African pastor, from the Congo, from the DRC, and he grew up with boiled peanuts. Those same peanuts that reminded me of one of my best friends reminded him of home and his childhood and family.
Meals are more than just food. Meals are times of transformation and connection. At the table, our hearts open and we experience the connection and divinity that is all around us. The table is a transformative place that brings people together, connects us, and nourishes our souls.
We know that truth from church.
We know it from our lives.
And we know it from scripture where over and over again we encounter the power of meals. The feeding of the thousands, the last supper, Abraham and Sarah showing hospitality to strangers, Jesus having meals with tax collectors and women with poor reputations, here in our passage today. The traditions of our faith, the experiences of our lives, and the words of scripture all affirm that at the table, grace transforms, hearts are opened, and God is made known.
So this week, I offer you a challenge. This week, come to the table. Whatever that looks like for your schedule and your family. Ask yourself, who can I break bread with? How and when can I come to the table? Maybe it is lunch with a friend. Maybe it is a group of y’all newly or almost retired having brunch together. Maybe it is an evening meal or a good old Sunday dinner. Whatever it looks like for you, make time to encounter the power at the table. Meals are not a third sacrament but God is there. This week come to the table, where grace transforms, hearts are opened, and God is made known.