Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?


Emmaus by Emanuel Garibay, Philipines

A Sermon for Sunday May 1, 2011, 2nd Sunday of Easter, Luke 24:13-35

About noon on Thursday—

after an intensive Lenten Season and Easter Sunday; following a short work week, which for me included a sick toddler and wife and news of severe weather affecting family and friends in Alabama; ahead of a Session dinner meeting and many preparations for Sunday; ahead of a Mission In My Backyard Saturday; ahead of an upcoming trip with Katie to visit my mom in Florida

— Anna Brown, who has a mighty full plate herself, stuck her head in my office and said, “You know, I’m thinking that about 3 pm today we need to go get banana pudding milkshakes at Chik-Fil-A, because by 3 pm, I think we’re going to need one”

 And boy did those milkshakes (and small order of waffle fries) hit the spot:Mmmmmmmmm …delicious!

(The company and fun conversation wasn’t too bad either. 🙂 )

Have you ever noticed that whenever folks need to take a break from all of the worry, stress and busyness in life, they do it over a meal with others?

Every Tuesday before or after staff meetings, Anna, Holly, Dave and I go out for lunch cause it’s nice to grab a bite, chat about family life and have a few laughs before “talking church business.”

After a morning of English and World History and Physics, the youth tromp into their school’s cafeteria to eat lunch and talk about the test they just took, the hotty in their class, the latest iPhone app or weekend plans.

Following a long day at work, many adults come home to either make or partake in a sit-down table dinner with their families. Or maybe join the family at a favorite restaurant when no one has the energy to prepare a meal.

When someone needs advice, their friend from yoga class or church will meet them over coffee and a muffin at Starbucks.

Upon hearing great news about test results or a job offer or passing exams or playing a good game, folks go out and celebrate with a meal.

There is just something special about gathering at table with friends, family and food.  Our best memories are rooted in those table events: the post-Easter lunches, the wedding receptions, the senior graduation parties, the summer cook-outs, and church picnics.

Whatever the context, gathering at table is often a way in which we escape from our regular routine of running around like chickens with our heads cut off.

Luke’s gospel tells us about two disciples, Cleopas and an un-named friend, who were leaving Jerusalem by foot (getting out of dodge if you will) because of the recent death of Jesus and the rumor that the Roman authorities were about to come after Jesus’ followers.

These two men are walking a stretch of seven miles to a village called Emmaus. They were escaping the stress and the trauma of the previous days’ events. They’re going down the road when a stranger and fellow traveler comes upon them and asks, “Whatcha talkin about?”  

The stranger is, of course, Jesus.  The disciples don’t recognize Jesus, and the writer of Luke’s gospel never says why they don’t know it’s him. Like Mary at the empty tomb, maybe they thought Jesus was a gardener, maybe even a traveling gardener going to pick up some fertilizer in Emmaus.

Whatever the reason for their “not seeing,” the disciples tell Jesus all that has happened in Jerusalem, including the report from Mary and other women that Jesus’ tomb is empty and the body has disappeared!

Jesus, possibly feeling a tad bit disappointed and annoyed that his closest friends didn’t recognize him, scolds Cleopas and companion for not remembering the words of the prophets who said God would redeem, renew and restore all of creation and bring about new life.

Then, like any good teacher, Jesus gives them a refresher in Scriptures 101 about all the references to God’s triumph over death through unconditional, steadfast, merciful and sacrificial love.

By the time Jesus has finished the lesson, the sun is beginning to set. They are close to Emmaus but decide, after an intense weekend, a long day of travel and heavy talk to stop at an inn for some food and rest. And that’s when something amazing happens, according to Luke’s gospel, they sit down at a table and Jesus takes the bread (possibly brought by the innkeeper’s daughter) blesses and breaks it, and gives it to them. Immediately, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and Jesus vanished from their sight!

Cleopas and his buddy are amazed and they turn to one another saying: “Wasn’t your heart leaping with praise as he walked and talked with us on the road?!?” Without another word between them, the two men get up and run back to Jerusalem to tell the rest of the disciples that Jesus had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

I don’t know about you, but I love this story! Of all of Jesus’ resurrection appearances in the gospels, this is my favorite! It’s such an incredible moment that we can imagine every part in vivid detail as if it was the memorable breath-taking scene from a five-star Oscar-winning film! You remember and cherish each part of that scene, wishing it could’ve happened to you.

 But in reality, we know we can’t literally break bread with a stranger, recognize it was Jesus all along and then watch Jesus disappear. It would be just as impossible to have that experience as it would be to cast a spell like Harry Potter or swordfight like Captain Jack Sparrow.

 Or can we?

 Of course the experience wouldn’t be exactly like the one Cleopas and his friend have when the flesh and blood Jesus is fully noticed in the breaking of the bread. But being able to recognize Jesus at table is possible; it’s not some fleeting fantasy but very much an event grounded in the present, active and mysterious work of God in the world.

In the Emmaus event, Jesus is not celebrating the Eucharist. He doesn’t go through the same rituals he did at Passover or that churches have practiced for centuries since.

Jesus simply blesses and breaks bread and gives the pieces to his disciples.  He’s just a guy having dinner, sharing a meal with his traveling companions. That’s all. No words. No cup. No prayer.  No Eucharist. However, in that hallowed moment, Jesus does remind the disciples and each of us about the powerful significance of the Eucharist, of Holy Communion, of the Body of Christ.

 In the breaking of the bread, Jesus reminds us that every meal we partake in, especially the ones we have with strangers, “has the potential of being an event in which hospitality and table fellowship can become sacred occasions.”[1]

 Haven’t your hearts been leaping in praise or burning within you as you recognized the presence of Christ in the midst of a meal, in the breaking of bread with another human being? Haven’t you felt excitement pulsing in your heart and joyful energy as you’re sharing good food, stories and laughter with friends, family or someone you’re eager to know more about…

 The lunch-time meal of rice, onions, beans and chicken, in the Valle de Brizas in Honduras—a meal prepared with care and love by the women of the village, a meal prepared from all that they had to give.

 Another lunch-time meal of peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches that fed 300 children and 20 plus adult workers in Haiti—a meal that brought us face to face with a country and people devastated by natural disaster and cruel oppression.

 The after-worship dinner on Palm Sunday in Fellowship Hall with 200 or more people, including the men of Clifton Sanctuary Ministries, enjoying mounds of jambalaya on their plates, the HS youth, Elders, and Adult Choir and members providing hospitality, folks dropping bills and checks into a basket to help cover the meal and the youth mission trip to Honduras.

The three HS senior girls (Hope, Amy and Hannah Ruth) preparing and serving a meal for the families of Rainbow Village on the Tuesday evening of Holy Week that included a spontaneous plan to make Rice Krispie “bird’s nests” with malted eggs tucked inside for the kids.

The Session dinner-meeting this past Thursday in which we celebrated the ministry of the elders rotating off Session and welcomed with joy the newly elected and called elders joining Session—elders who commit fully to that calling before you today; elders who shared some deeply moving and heart-felt stories about their faith journey.

Lunch Atop A Skyscraper, Charles C. Ebbets, 1932, Rockefeller Center, NYC

The meal when your child first uses his fork correctly or discovers the yumminess of avocados with tortilla chips.

The Thursday evening family meal  where you eat breakfast (eggs, bacon, waffles) and then play board games like Monopoly or Scrabble. 

 The supper in the college cafeteria when you accidentally hit a visiting student’s mom in the head with a roll you were intending to throw at another friend, causing an uproar of laughter from you and your table mates. [2]

 The lunch visit to a country-kitchen type restaurant—a place everyone enjoys except for one colleague who still goes along and reluctantly eats but then tells a little white lie when the owner asks if their meal was great.[3]

In each of these meals and so many more, we are not just eating food and staring at one another’s odd eating habits.  There is something much deeper happening, something sacred taking place.

In the breaking of bread with other human beings, we are discovering what it means to be human, what it means to be children of God, what it means to be connected to others and God through stories of joy, pain, laughter, discernment, struggle, and celebration.

In the breaking of the bread, we are seeing how God is present in our living and doing. In the breaking of the bread, we are embodying the Easter reality: The Lord is risen and he meets us wherever we are. Our hearts burn within as we recognize Jesus’ love and grace spread out before us in table fellowship.

 As one notable pastor and author puts it:

 “Our destiny, our future, and our joy are in the Eucharist, using whatever blessings we’ve received, whatever resources, talents, skills, and passions God has given us, to make the world a better place…The Eucharist is an invitation to be the new humanity. To suffer, to bleed, to open the heart, to roll up the sleeves, to have hope that God has a plan to put the world back together, and it’s called the church. In the Eucharist, there’s always hope. Hope for the poor, and hope for the rich. Hope for the bored and hope for the restless.”[4]

In the Eucharist, there’s always hope because there’s always Christ. Always Christ’s peace, always Christ’s mercy, always Christ’s love.

In the Eucharist (and every meal that comes after) we can say with great delight, Guess who’s coming to dinner? and immediately know and see that Christ is already there, and will remain—from one table moment to the next. Always, always, always and forever.


Supper at Emmaus (After Caravaggio) • Joe Forkan 2006-2009 oil on linen 96"x 38"

[1] The New Interpreter’s Bible: The Gospel of Luke by R. Alan Culpepper. 1995.

[2] Elizabeth Solieau Acton 🙂 🙂

[3] Holly Tickle 🙂 🙂

[4] Jesus Wants to Save Christians: A Manifesto for the Church in Exile by Rob Bell. 2008.


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