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the Breaking of the Bread"
One of our common notions of what "revelation" is all about comes from the book of the same name, the Revelation to John, a book, like Daniel in the Hebrew scriptures, of apocalyptic literature.
And in the Book of Revelation we find visions, visions of the future, visions of prophecy. It's all forward-looking. But that's not the only way of thinking about revelation. After all, the word means, quite literally, that which is "revealed."
And what is "revealed" may have little or nothing to do with the future. In fact, it may more often have only to do with the past.
Now, that doesn't mean that revelation dealing with the past is not significant, not powerful. Quite the contrary. It CAN be a life-changing experience. And this morning I would like to explore with you one such life-changing experience that some of Jesus disciples went through.
In the twenty-fourth chapter of the gospel according to Luke, the author tells of the first Easter, and beginning with the thirteenth verse,
"Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened."
And it has been a busy, confusing time. Not only has there been the crucifixion, but there have also been stories circulating about strange goings-on at the tomb. About women finding the tomb empty and about angels talking to them.
And these disciples don't know quite what to make of it all.
But, "While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him." Now, that's an intriguing verse. I can't resist the temptation to ask, "HOW were they kept from recognition?"
"WHY were they kept from recognition?" "What POWER or FORCE prevented this recognition?" And anyone who has ever been a teacher should have a sense of what is going on here.
How frequently in my teaching experience did I present that which to me was abundantly clear, but which to my students seemed impossible to understand. Somehow, "their eyes were kept from recognizing."
Yet, we can't really pin down WHAT it is that causes that recognition gap; we just know it's there. And the complexity of the human mind being what it is, for each of us that gap will be different.
"And Jesus said to them, "What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?" They stood still, looking sad."
And I believe that Jesus WANTED to be recognized, but that he did NOT want to beat the disciples over their heads with a grand announcement of who he was. Rather, he wanted to join with them in their conversation. Indeed, I believe that Christ enters into our prayers in much the same way. Jesus does not shove at us answers to life's problems; instead, Jesus asks the question, "What's on your mind?" and enters into conversation with us.
"Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, "Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?"
Cleopas can't believe that anyone could be so uninformed! Yet, sometimes we behave in prayer like that. We wonder if God does not know what is going on in our lives.
And, like Cleopas, we may get a bit impatient, maybe even upset that God should seem so distant from us.
"Jesus asked them, "What things?" They replied, "The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people."
So Jesus continues to play the role of one ignorant of what is going on, but he succeeds in drawing out the disciples to express what is on their minds. But it is more than a simple report: It is also a confession, a statement of their belief in who Jesus was for them.
And the disciples continue to tell, "...how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him."
But here the confession turns to grief, to the anguished pain experienced from the loss of one in whom they believed.
And if Jesus had been a visitor, a stranger listening to this account, he might well have asked at this point how it was that a prophet mighty in deed had come to deserve being condemned to death, for the disciples do not explain this.
Yet, in their next words there is a hint of what provoked that condemnation:
"But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place.
And in those words we can hear what the chief priests and leaders feared, that Jesus WAS the redemption of Israel. They charged blasphemy against his proclaiming himself the Son of God. And the sign on the cross mockingly proclaimed him King of the Jews. And now it is the third day, the day he proclaimed that he would be resurrected.
Although the disciples aren't too sure of what's going on, they've heard some strange reports.
"Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive."
So in spite of their loss, they are telling this stranger that apparently the story of Jesus did not end with the crucifixion. The tomb is empty, and the word is out that Jesus is alive! But still, these disciples are frustrated, because THEY were not there; and if Jesus IS alive, they don't know that, because they have not seen him. For them, it is still hearsay--but they want to believe.
But if this WERE a stranger to whom they were speaking, one who had not known Jesus or anything about him, what would he have made of this story? Empty tombs? Visions of angels? But no living body to show for it? And these two were not even witnesses?
They're just passing along somebody else's story!
Of course, the two disciples go on to say, "Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him."
But to a stranger, that is still really a rather preposterous story. To one unfamiliar with the story of Jesus, they might as well have been talking of UFO sightings. Except this is not any stranger. It is a sympathetic listener.
"Then Jesus said to them, "Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!"
And he's telling them, you two really aren't getting the big picture. You're not putting it all together. All you can focus on are the events of the last three days, and you've lost the vision of the prophets who were before you.
And the only way you can fully understand these past three days is to put them into perspective. But then, in grief and mourning we frequently have difficulty with maintaining any kind of perspective.
And Jesus becomes very specific: "Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?"
Don't you understand that this is the way it was supposed to happen? That this was truly the only course of events possible? And the downhearted disciples are probably thinking to themselves, "Well, maybe."
And they may even be half-listening to this stranger who must be some kind of Rabbi who was also a follower of Jesus.
"Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, Jesus interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures."
Now, I doubt that this is all new to them. The had probably heard much of it from Jesus during his ministry, and the Jewish people had been speaking of the coming Messiah for years and years. But they needed to be reminded. For in the stress of the moment of the past three days, in the pain of loss, they have doubtless overlooked much of what they knew and believed.
"As they came near the village to which they were going, Jesus walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, "Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over." So Jesus went in to stay with them"
So the two disciples and the stranger appear to have developed a congenial relationship. We know what Jesus has told them, but we don't know how they've responded to it all. Yet, I would suggest that this encounter has moved them out of the moment into which they had been frozen. They are no longer stuck in only the last three days, but they have gained--or regained--a broader perspective from which to view the present events. They have a new means of making sense of what is going on in their lives. And for me, that is part of what prayer is about.
For me, prayer is not only please and thank you, but it is also a seeking after an understanding of the will of God. But there is one more move that the disciples will make in their relationship with this stranger.
"When Jesus was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them."
And the moment of revelation has arrived. That moment when the last piece of the puzzle is found which makes all of the other pieces fit. That moment when so much which has made so little sense before, suddenly makes sense.
It is the one ingredient in the recipe without which all the other ingredients are useless.
"Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight."
Now we can ask, "how can the simple act of breaking bread make that much difference?" And there is no simple, rational explanation. It just did.
If I were to ask a million Christians, "In what special way does Christ make a difference in your life," I would get a million different answers, because each of us finds a unique ingredient that pulls it all together 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?"
And I have no doubt that that did happen. But it took that moment of revelation for them to be aware of it. The act of the breaking of the bread pulled it all together for them.
Now although we are speaking here of spiritual revelation, I have found that the same kind of thing happens in other aspects of our lives.
I have had students tell me that mid-way through a course something would happen, something would be learned, that would suddently make sense of material that they had previously been unable to grasp.
"That same hour the disciples got up and returned to Jerusalem; and 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."
When Jesus broke bread, it is likely that the disciples re-experienced the events of the last supper, and that's a powerful image. But it need not be the only image for revelation in our lives.
And I am sure that each of us could relate moments of revelation we have experienced. Yet I am also sure that in our futures there is a seeming stranger on the road, waiting to enlighten us to prepare us for revelations yet to come.
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