This is a story of two apostles who saw the risen Jesus… but almost didn’t.
They’re on the road to a town called Emmaus – a long walk from Jerusalem. They’re upset and the walking isn’t distracting them from their worries. When I’m upset, I want to talk and talk and talk about it, as though the talking might eventually fix something. It seems that’s what these guys are doing – talking and talking and talking about how Jesus was unfairly killed.
Someone overhears their conversation.
It’s someone they don’t know – or better said, someone they know but don’t recognize. He asks, “Hey, whatcha talking about?”
This is like when something has been all over the news – 9/11, a new president elected, Taylor Swift has a new boyfriend – and there’s that one friend who is somehow oblivious. Imagine the apostles’ reaction to the stranger like your reaction to that friend:
“‘Whatcha talking about?’ Are you kidding? Are you the only person who doesn’t know? It’s all anyone has been talking about!”
“What?” the stranger asks, sounding innocent but perhaps with a mischievous raise of his eyebrow.
With an impatient sigh the apostles launch into the story: Jesus, a mighty prophet (wasn’t he a little more than that?), hopeful savior of Israel, killed by the religious leaders, but whose tomb has been found suspiciously empty. That’s what everyone has been talking about.
Then the stranger sighs in a patient way and starts at the beginning, with Moses. He works his way to the present day, breaking it all down for them, explaining that the Christ’s death and suffering wasn’t a promising career cut short; it was a divine plan fully realized.
The two apostles and the stranger arrive at the town of Emmaus. The stranger looks as if he’ll keep going. “No,” they insist. “Stay with us.” So he does.
When they sit down to eat the stranger takes the bread from the table,
and gives it to them.
And then it happens.
Their literal eyes are opened. The eyes of their soul are opened. They see who’s in front of them, who has been in front of them all along.
You know who it is, don’t you?
Yes, you know.
I’ve been curious this week about why this moment is the moment when they recognize Jesus. Why now? Why not earlier on the road, when he was showing all sorts of Scripture-interpreting savvy about an issue of which he was theoretically ignorant?
There is something here in the breaking of the bread.
It’s a reminder, isn’t it? We can’t hear about Jesus blessing, breaking, and giving and not think about communion. On the first Sunday of every month (here at Andrews UMC, at least) we bless and break and give the bread. We do that because Jesus did it at the last supper:
“Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me’” (Luke 22:19).
When these apostles saw Jesus break the bread, did their minds go immediately to the first communion? Did that connect the dots for them in order to see the real identity of the stranger?
But these two “apostles” are not from the inner circle. One is named Cleopas. If you’re rusty on naming your twelve disciples, let me help you out: he’s not on the list. That means they wouldn’t have been there to see what Jesus did at the last supper just a few days earlier. Had the story spread that fast?
But the institution of the Lord’s supper wasn’t the only time Jesus blessed, broke, and gave bread. Maybe the minds of these two apostles went to another moment, the feeding of the five thousand. In that scene Jesus took the meager supplies they had…
“And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd” (Luke 9:16).
Bless. Break. Give.
So it’s possible that when Jesus breaks the bread over their Emmaus meal in this very specific way, the apostles remember how he did it before and realize his real identity. Kind of like if you come across an old friend you haven’t seen in a really, really long time – she’s changed her hair color, lost some weight, and you don’t recognize her at first. And then she starts telling that inside joke and – without her having to say her name – you know exactly who she is.
But I think there’s more. I think there’s a reason that Jesus asked us to remember him through the breaking of bread. I think there’s a reason he did it at the feeding of the five thousand, a reason he did it at communion, and a reason he does it in this moment at Emmaus.
It’s because Jesus’ story is told through the broken bread.
Jesus is blessed. He is no ordinary man. He is the very Son of God, the Messiah, the third person of the Trinity.
Jesus was broken. Broken by a religious establishment that did not accept his teaching. Broken by a Roman government that administered power through violence. Broken by even his own faithful followers who couldn’t keep the courage to stand by him. In other words: Jesus allowed himself to be broken by all of humanity.
Jesus is given. His death was not accidental. His brokenness was not without purpose. He was given for us. He was broken so that we could be made whole.
Think about the last time you wanted to share food with someone else. There’s a very particular way we do it. Maybe you have a big cookie, and you break smaller pieces off to give to your friends. Just yesterday a friend took a sandwich and broke it in half to share with me. In these moments, we destroy the whole in order to give to others.
What Jesus did is like that – except Jesus is no mere cookie or piece of bread.
“Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty’” (John 6:35).
The perfect one, blessed and broken and given for the many.
I think, when the apostles understood that they could recognize Jesus. In the same way, when we understand that Jesus is blessed and broken and given, our eyes are opened to see him, too.
If you’re anywhere near a piece of bread – or any kind of food – pick it up. Hold it in your hands. Give thanks to God for all God provides. Then break it, and in its brokenness imagine Jesus on the cross. Given for you, but not just for you – for all.
May your eyes be opened.
May you see Jesus.
May you run and tell.