Rev. Teri Peterson
If This Table Could Talk…
Luke 24.13-48 (CEB)
2 September 2012
On that same day, two disciples were traveling to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking to each other about everything that had happened. While they were discussing these things, Jesus himself arrived and joined them on their journey. They were prevented from recognizing him.
He said to them, “What are you talking about as you walk along?” They stopped, their faces downcast.
The one named Cleopas replied, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who is unaware of the things that have taken place there over the last few days?”
He said to them, “What things?”
They said to him, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth. Because of his powerful deeds and words, he was recognized by God and all the people as a prophet. But our chief priests and our leaders handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him. We had hoped he was the one who would redeem Israel. All these things happened three days ago. But there’s more: Some women from our group have left us stunned. They went to the tomb early this morning and didn’t find his body. They came to us saying that they had even seen a vision of angels who told them he is alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women said. They didn’t see him.”
Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! Your dull minds keep you from believing all that the prophets talked about. Wasn’t it necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then he interpreted for them the things written about himself in all the scriptures, starting with Moses and going through all the Prophets.
When they came to Emmaus, he acted as if he was going on ahead. But they urged him, saying, “Stay with us. It’s nearly evening, and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. After he took his seat at the table with them, he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight. They said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us along the road and when he explained the scriptures for us?”
They got up right then and returned to Jerusalem.
They found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying to each other, “The Lord really has risen! He appeared to Simon!”
Then the two disciples described what had happened along the road and how Jesus was made known to them as he broke the bread.
While they were saying these things, Jesus himself stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” They were terrified and afraid. They thought they were seeing a ghost.
He said to them, “Why are you startled? Why are doubts arising in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet. It’s really me! Touch me and see, for a ghost doesn’t have flesh and bones like you see I have.” As he said this, he showed them his hands and feet. Because they were wondering and questioning in the midst of their happiness, he said to them, “Do you have anything to eat?” They gave him a piece of baked fish. Taking it, he ate it in front of them.
Jesus said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the Law from Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures. He said to them, “This is what is written: the Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and a change of heart and life for the forgiveness of sins must be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”
When I was a teenager, my family regularly made road trips to see my grandparents. Whether it was a two-and-a-half or a five-and-a-half hour drive, we always spent the time the same way: playing games and making up stories as we went. Sometimes we would play the alphabet game, and as my brother got older we would make up more and more outlandish rules—sometimes license plates didn’t count, or a word only counted if you could use it in a sentence—or worse, a sentence that made sense coming after the last sentence either you or someone else had said. Sometimes we would just play road sign bingo. But no matter what we played, whether simple or complicated, no matter where we were going on our journey, we talked to each other. We were in the loop on what other members of the family were thinking, feeling, doing at school or work, wondering about, planning. We are story people, and those car trips were the perfect place to listen and to tell, to figure out who we are and what it means to be a part of this family in the world.
There is long-standing wisdom among pastors that trips are often the mountaintop experiences in our faith journeys—both for young and older. Whether the trip is for mission work or pilgrimage or fun or retreat almost doesn’t matter, because it’s the bus ride that makes all the difference—as long as we’re willing to leave the iPod and the DVD player turned off, anyway. It’s on the bus that we get to know each other, that together we traverse unfamiliar landscapes—both outside the windows and inside ourselves. It’s on the bus that we hear one another’s stories and tell our own, weaving in and out until we are a tapestry of community. We may play games or sing songs or learn about what we’re passing, we may nap or snack or just chatter away. On that journey, we listen and tell, and we figure out who we are and what it means to be a part of this family in the world.
I think that wisdom may have originated in a story we heard a few minutes ago. Compared to how far most of us travel every day, it doesn’t sound like a long journey—just seven miles. But that’s a few hours of walking at a pretty decent pace. If you’re walking and talking, caught up in your grief and uncertainty, it might take even longer. In any case, it’s a road trip of sorts, and like every good road trip it includes good stories, good food, and an unexpected twist.
It had been a wild ride—from listening to him teach to seeing him heal to being a part of the mystery. Every day their hopes were raised, their expectations soared, their minds and hearts overflowed. But then it all came crashing down, in ways so horrible they couldn’t even have imagined it. For the one who was to redeem to become the one on the cross was inconceivable. And yet, there it was. For the body to be missing, for women to know what they are talking about, for the horror to continue rather than to be able to put this sad ending to rest—all inconceivable. No wonder that when the stranger fell into step with them, they couldn’t see clearly.
One of the things that made crucifixion work as a method of torture and control was not just the awful physical reality, but the shame. It was so great that when someone was crucified, they were erased. Bodies were usually left on the cross until they disintegrated or were picked over by animals, and then the person was never spoken of again. They disappeared from history. Family and friends were so shamed by the association, so afraid they’d be next, that they’d never mention the name or the incident. Crucifixion wasn’t just death, it was annihilation. For this story to go on, the friends of Jesus risked everything. This wasn’t just silly choose-your-own adventure storytelling on a road trip, not just make-up-the-next-sentence-using-the-next-letter-of-the-alphabet. This was a life-or-death story, and they chose to continue to tell it, even to a stranger.
We rarely think of stories this way. The word “story” has come to mean something that’s frivolous or not true or unimportant. But the reality is that stories may be the only thing that matters—if we lose our story, we lose ourselves. It’s one of the ways culture works—we have shared stories that tell us who we are. But even behind that, we have a God who is a master storyteller, and the day we lose sight of the narrative is the day we descend into hell, just as the crucified one did the day he was erased from the earth. But his is a story that won’t stop, that can’t be held back, that shows through even when we do our darnedest to erase or white out, and the disciples were still telling the story, even at risk of their own lives.
That story carried them through a whole road trip. Sometimes they told it, sometimes the stranger did. It was comfort, it was hope, it was healing, but it was also learning who they were and what it meant to be a part of this family. No wonder their hearts were burning within them—they were finally coming to understand how this whole community thing works. They offered each other their shattered dreams, their grief, their hopes, their fears, their reality…and found themselves truly heard and known like never before. This is what it means to be the community of Jesus’ friends—to share our reality and to hold those stories, to really know one another, as we walk along the road.
It’s no wonder they asked him in for dinner, of course. The only place stories fit even better than a road trip is around a table. If our tables could talk, they would tell of laughter and tears, bad jokes and bad days, celebrations and sorrows. Next to water marks and spaghetti stains and bread crumbs they hold memories of homework, of dinner disasters and family feasts, of shouting matches and romance, of love and war and everything in between. The table is where we are fed with more than just food. We listen and we tell, and we learn who we are, our place in the family and the world.
And this table—this table is where it all comes together. This table’s story is the basis for all others. It’s at this table that the stranger became the host. It’s at this table that joy and disbelief and proof and wonder all mix together. It’s at this table that the breathless story of two disciples mingles with the hope of many others, and passes through the ages. If this table could talk, it would tell of feast overcoming famine. It would tell of doubt and faith joining with wheat and grape to make something unbelievable. This is the table where eyes are opened. This is the table where God’s big story meets our story, and we are strengthened to live in a world where nothing will ever be the same. This is the table where we listen and tell and learn who we are and what it means to be part of this family in this world.
And what does this table teach us?
It teaches us who is invited—everyone, faithful and faithless, broken and healed. It teaches us who is loved—for God so loved the whole world. It teaches us what true abundance looks like—enough for everyone. It teaches us to taste and see that God is good. It teaches us how to accept hospitality, and how to offer it. It teaches us that stories endure for a reason, and that the word and the bread together feed us as the people of God.
At this table, we see that it is possible for a simple meal to be a feast. We see that God is not far away waiting for us to get it right, but traveling our road trips and sitting at our tables, giving us new eyes and new hearts and new stories and new recipes. We see our brothers and sisters as God does—beloved, worthy, beautiful—rather than as different, old or young, troublemaker or saint. We see that we are part of something bigger than our imaginations, spanning time and geography with a story and a loaf of bread.
This feast is our practice room. Here we receive so that we can learn how to give. We come to be changed, so we can see that the table of God’s community, the communion of story and bread, is every table—starting here. So come, join your story to God’s story, your body to Christ’s body, and let your heart burn with the Spirit that all may see.