The Royal Feast of Feasts – Sermon on Luke 24:13-35

The season of Easter comes on the heels of Lent. Of course, you know that. You also know that Lent is a time of penitence and fasting. This fasting is meant to prepare us for the Easter celebration—the celebration at the Feast of the Resurrection. And the time that follows Easter Sunday is the festival, or “feast”-ival season. Last week, in our opening hymn, we sang that Easter is “the royal feast of feasts.” This is a time for us to mark and celebrate what sets us apart from so many others the world over—God’s promise to us that life is stronger than death and love stronger than hate. We cling to this promise and we see its fulfilment, not only in abstract terms, but for us collectively and personally, in Jesus. And what’s more, Easter is the time that we celebrate God’s fulfilled promise in Jesus’ death and resurrection, and look with anticipation to that same fulfillment for ourselves when Christ returns again—a promise that is vividly detailed for us in St. John’s Revelation, where tGod makes a new heaven and a new earth, at the eternal marriage feast of the Lamb. That is the eternal Easter, the eternal victory of God, and we as Christians know this, and we celebrate it now each week, and in particular in these fifty days in the season of Easter. While today we sing at the Lamb’s high feast, we do so as a foretaste of still greater things to come.

Let us pray. May only God’s Word be spoken and may only God’s Word be heard; in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Here we are again, the third week of Easter, and we’re still looking at stories that happened the day of the resurrection. Today we’re looking at St. Luke’s account of what went on, in the late afternoon or early evening of the day of the resurrection. We’re on the road to Emmaus, a town outside of Jerusalem—a lot of Bethany, where Jesus raised Lazarus. Think of it like Brighton, or Cambridge, and Jerusalem like Boston.

So here we are, on the day of the resurrection, and some disciples are walking along and they encounter this man they don’t know. They speak with him, and are shocked and sad to learn that he doesn’t seem to know anything about all that’s gone in the past several days with Jesus of Nazareth. Then of course, the man tells them that they’re foolish, asking them, “Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” And then we’re told he goes over the whole history of the people of Israel, beginning with Moses, that is, the deliverance from Israel, down through the prophets, as it applies to the Messiah. That is, he interpreted the Scriptures for them in light of God’s creative and sustaining acts—mighty acts, we call them. Acts that keep life going, keep relationship with his people despite all obstacles and hindrances.

The disciples are so taken with him that as it’s getting later, they invite the man to share dinner. Now—sharing dinner is a big deal in this time, as it still is today, but not to the same degree today as then. “Breaking bread together,” as it was called, was a sign of hospitality, to be sure, but it also signified the oneness and harmony those around the table. In a world where the close-knit ties of family were paramount, to invite someone to share your family’s mealtime was tantamount to inviting them to be part of the family. And so these disciples invite this seeming stranger to their home, presumably because they were so moved by what he said that they were overcome with eagerness to keep the conversation going.

And as they were eating, Jesus takes bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. This is when we’re told “their eyes were opened,” and only then did they recognize that it was Jesus before them all this time. In that moment he vanishes, but the disciples remark that when they were with him as he unfolded the story of God’s love and faithfulness in the Scriptures, their hearts were burning within them. And they got up and shared the good news that they too had seen the Lord.

All this happened on the same day that Jesus rose from the dead, so Luke tells us. Jesus had a busy day!

The church has long looked at this story, the story of the Emmaus Road Encounter, as emblematic of communion. We recall that on the night in which he was betrayed, Jesus shared the Passover meal with his disciples and in that meal, he changed the nature of the Passover from one of mere remembrance of God’s deliverance from bondage in Egypt to an ongoing participation in God’s ongoing deliverance from sin, death, and hell—through the saving and loving obedience of Jesus on the cross.

So this story at Emmaus with the disciples is a bookend, if you will, to that one—deuxième partiex. It’s in communion that we come to more fully see who God is and what God is about, so Luke would say. Or perhaps another way to put it, having experienced everything Jesus foretold to them, the disciples only truly understand the fullness of it when they encounter communion with God himself in Jesus in the breaking of the bread. Recall the words of St. Paul—“For as often as you eat this bread and drink from this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” It’s in having experienced everything promised that the disciples can truly make sense of what all is happening around them. They’ve experienced the dejection, the tragedy, and heartbreak of suffering and death—as was foretold. Now they experience the happiness, joy, and the warmth of heart that comes with renewed life and vigor—as was also foretold.

To be sure, this is one of the biblical accounts of communion, but unlike some of the others, unlike the first account in Luke, or Paul’s account to the Corinthians, the Emmaus Road communion story lays out for us, when we look at all that is going on, what communion means. Not simply what it is, but what it means—what it means for us.

And so today, we have a good opportunity to consider again why communion matters.

First, though, what is communion? Ask this question of many a person, and you’ll get many answers. Simply, unambiguously put, communion is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, made real for us in bread and wine and handed down to us by Christ himself, meant for us to eat and drink. Some would say it’s a symbol. Some would say it’s a remembrance. Some would say that something has happened to the bread and wine to make it blood and body while still looking like bread and wine—but it’s really bread and wine. No—our Lord is straightforward here. “This is my body,” he says. “This is my blood.” There are few things that Jesus has said more clearly than this. This is not some Clintonian mind exercise making us say to ourselves, “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” It is what Jesus says it is, and what’s more, Paul, again to the Corinthians, writes, “the cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ?” Make no doubt about it, this communion that we share is what God, what Jesus says it is—his body and blood shed and given for us. St. Mark writes of it. St. Matthew writes of it. St. Luke writes of it. St. John writes of it. St. Paul writes of it. Countless down through the ages have affirmed this.

Having settled that, now we can ask ourselves, what good is communion? What difference does it make? The whole thrust, what makes communion significant, is that this is Jesus’ body and blood, God’s very self “for you.” The words “given for you” and “shed for you for the forgiveness of sins” show us that forgiveness of sin, life, and salvation are given to us through these words. It’s not merely enough to eat Jesus’ body or drink his blood, but faith is nourished when we receive it—receive the body and blood with the promise attached. “For faith comes through hearing,” writes St. Paul, “and by hearing the Word of God.” This is why having heard the arc of God’s salvation story for his people, the disciples’ eyes were opened when Jesus broke bread with them. The Word and the action together revealed, once again, what God is about. This is the forgiveness of sin, the restoration of life, the overcoming of division and separation from God. And this is at the heart of communion—God coming to us, in real, physical ways, despite everything that separates us from him.

We might be tempted to ask ourselves how simply eating and drinking can do all this. Certainly eating and drinking aren’t what’s at stake here, but rather the bread and the wine with words, in communion, if you will, in togetherness. “This is the body of Christ, given for you.” “This is the blood of Christ, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” These words, when accompanied by the physical eating and drinking, are the essential thing in the sacrament, not because it’s some sort of magic or other ritualism, but because just as Jesus reminds us in our sinfulness that we don’t live by bread alone, he knows that our though our spirit is willing, our humanity is weak, and so lovingly and mercifully provides us physical means of grace to come to believe this promise indeed is not only for those disciples who shared that Passover meal some two thousand years ago, but is also the ongoing Passover of God for us, for you—today, in this place. And whoever believes these very words has what they declare and state, namely, “forgiveness of sins,” that is, reconciliation with God through Jesus.

As we continue through this Easter season, we will continue to encounter the risen Christ. He will reveal himself to us in ways that we have come to expect, and in ways that shock us and open our eyes to a new and radiant vision of what God is doing. How is the God who is timeless, who has no beginning or ending, the Ancient of Days, how is this God making all things new, bringing to life again what once was dead? How is the God who is our Rock and our Salvation, an ever constant, unshakable help in the face of all life’s calamities, how is this God shaking things up, rousing us from placidness, and calling us to embrace change for the good? These, and things we haven’t even thought to ask ourselves, are revealed to us when we wrestle with God’s Word, the story of his unfolding relationship with creation, with us, and when we participate in life with God, understanding he is always with us, as close as wine on our lips and bread in our tummies, we come to understand more fully just how much God loves us. These, and things we haven’t even though to ask ourselves, are revealed to us when we commune with God through, in, and with Jesus,. Truly, the royal feast of feasts.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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