Thoughts on the sacrament, part I: The road to Emmaus

Within the Gospel of Luke Jesus repeatedly takes bread, breaks it, blesses it, and then gives it to those who are with him. This food-centred act recalls both Jewish meal blessings and foreshadows the Last Supper. This sacramental theme culminates with Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance to his disciples.

Food is incredibly important as a symbol of social position and hierarchy in many societies. As John Dominic Crossan explains: ‘In all societies, both simple and complex, eating is the primary way of initiating and maintaining human relationships’.[1] When Jesus is criticized for eating with publicans and sinners it is because sharing a meal with these people alters ideas about who is clean and who is not, who is worthy of fellowship and who is not (see Luke 7.36). But Jesus’ ‘eating-with’ does something more than reconfigure in-groups and out-groups, it signifies ‘the blessings of the kingdom of God’[2]. Thus in Luke 14.15-24 Jesus gives the Parable of the Great Dinner in which the maimed, the lame, and the blind come to feast in the ‘kingdom of God’.

So when Luke describes Jesus feeding the 5,000 he writes: “Then he took the five loaves and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed them, and brake, and gave to the disciples to set before the multitude. And they did eat, and were all filled” (Luke 9.16-7). This act is not merely a willingness to fellowship with anyone who will follow him and hear what he has to say, but it is a symbolic enactment of blessings of the kingdom of God.

When, Luke uses this same motif to describe the Last Supper he is doing the same thing: “And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22.19) This sacramental act is both reforming Jewish (and, by implication, every) society at the same time as it makes a ritual declaration that anyone who will eat this bread and drink this wine in rememberance of Christ shall share in the blessings of the kingdom of God.

But, according to Luke, Jesus, after his resurrection, returns to two disciples on the road to Emmaus and sits down with them to eat. Luke once again uses this same motif: ‘When [Jesus] was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them’ (Luke 24.30). Once again Jesus shares this meal with his disciples as means of affirming the blessings of the kingdom, but then Luke adds a unique detail: ‘Then their eyes were opened, and they recognize him’ (Luke 24.41). Walking and talking with Jesus was not sufficient to reveal Jesus to these disciples. It was only after he had shared this ritual meal with them that they could see him for who he really was.

Brad & Ronan have already written about how this story captures the way in which Jesus is ‘everyman’, that is, he can be anyone of us. Further they suggest that one way we know if we have become what Jesus wants us to be is if we can see Jesus in everyone. This ‘take, brake, blessed, give’ motif captures the reconfiguration of society and the blessings of the kingdom, but it also shows us how we can learn to experience this change of heart which enables us to see Jesus in ‘everyman’.

Each Sunday as we take the bread, break it, bless it, and share it with each other, God will reveal himself in the small, rambunctious child sitting behind us, in the snoring gentleman a few rows in front, in the teacher struggling to control his youth Sunday school class, and in the ecclesiastical leader whose politics are different from yours. God wants to reveal himself to us in everyone and he will do this, in part,  through the sacrament.

Notes:
1. Crossan J.C., Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, p. 77.
2. Dodd C.H., The Founder of Christianity, p. 141.

Comments

  1. J. Stapley says:

    Really, really good stuff, Aaron. Thank you.

  2. Thanks, Aaron. Great thoughts.

  3. Aaron, in a “desert Island Scriptures” setting I would put the road to Emmaus in my seven selections. Every Easter Sunday we read this account in Luke 24 after dinner. We often have guests and our family and guests take turns as we pass the Holy Bible around the table. I love it so much because it offers the hope of testifying of Christ to Christ unawares. Thanks for putting the link to Ronan’s thoughts on this – very inspiring.

  4. Thanks guys.

    Peter V., what a wonderful tradition! I may just steal it. You’re right that this is just a very important passage.

  5. “Walking and talking with Jesus was not sufficient to reveal Jesus to these disciples. It was only after he had shared this ritual meal with them that they could see him for who he really was.”

    Love this. You’re all about the ritual meals, aren’t you Aaron? You long ago persuaded me to rethink my misanthropy about “munch and mingles.”

  6. Just in case there is one more munch-and-mingle misanthrope I have another post next week that has some relevance to these themes. One-trick pony and all that!

  7. Peter V. What a great notion. I may steal this as well.

  8. Wonderful thoughts, Aaron.

    “Walking and talking with Jesus was not sufficient to reveal Jesus to these disciples. It was only after he had shared this ritual meal with them that they could see him for who he really was.”

    I have had that same thought in the past, but I had forgotten it completely. Thanks for the reminder. I needed it today.

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