Pastoral Series

Church Matters: He was revealed to them

I love Caravaggio’s magnificent painting, “The Supper at Emmaus.” You can feel the energy, the dawning of recognition, the disciple on the left virtually springing up from his chair, Jesus’ outreach, calm, engaging, marvelous.

Read Luke 24:13-35. The disciples don’t recognize Jesus at first. Are they looking down? Too devastated, their eyes clouded by tears of disappointment? Their inability to see him fades when a few things fall into place. Their openness, and then their hospitality are pivotal: they invite a stranger to join them. We talk a lot about seeing Christ in the stranger – and if they had not spoken with and had a meal with this stranger, they would have missed out on the best gift ever.

“Did not our hearts burn within us when he opened to us the scriptures?” (Luke 24:32). We don’t just see Jesus in a blinking light in the sky, or in the ponderings of our inner selves. God arranged things so that as we immerse ourselves in Bible reading – not just one quick read, but over days, weeks, months and years of reading – we come face to face with our Lord.

Bible reading isn’t looking for material to buttress our preconceived notions. It is getting into God’s world, and listening, ready to be surprised, and changed. Robert Caro, the great biographer, moved for three years to the town in Texas where Lyndon Johnson grew up so he could understand his life and world. The key to his art? Listening. The notebooks containing his interviews frequently have SU in the margins: Shut Up! Just stay quiet. The person you’re interviewing will eventually tell you what you need to know.

He once took Lyndon’s younger brother, Sam Houston Johnson, to their childhood home, and asked him to sit at the dinner table in his usual spot. Caro waited and waited in the silence. Finally, the little brother opened up and told of Lyndon’s toxic relationship with his dad, and much more. Jesus welcomes us to his table, and waits. We might wait on him, too.

When they sat down to eat together, “their eyes were opened and they recognized him” (Luke 24:31); “He was known to them in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:35). Two things about these two verses: the Lord’s supper isn’t a nice activity or some pious moment. When we approach the Lord’s table, and receive the bread and cup, we come face to face with the reality of Jesus. He gives himself, tangibly, to us.

But if the meal at the Lord’s table gets this done, we might ask if our other meals might accomplish the same. Sometimes you say a quick prayer before eating, and God is then checked off. But when if we lingered over our meals, if we conversed about the things of God, if we continued, through the courses and dessert, to look for the presence of Jesus among us, sitting right there with us? He is, after all.

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