Toorak Uniting Church

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Known in the breaking of bread

Luke 24: 13 – 35
Rev. Alasdair Pratt
8:00am, 4 June 2006

‘The two explained what happened on the road, and how they had recognised the Lord when he broke the bread.’

It is a common part of human experience that we understand events we’ve been caught up in only when they are over. Sometimes we have to remember and re-tell the story many times so that in the telling the meaning becomes clearer and often richer. While we are caught up in the moment we are too close to see what is going on.

This is how I believe it may well have been for Cleopas and his companion as they walked to Emmaus on the third day after Jesus’ crucifixion.

It is a magnificent account, not least because it seems to me to illustrate exactly the point about meaning being discovered after the event.

This is a resurrection story. We are seeing how the small number of friends and followers of Jesus came to realise that after the appalling events of Calvary Jesus had been raised and was with them in a new way. Is Luke’s account a literal description of what happened on that road? Was Jesus actually there? We can’t know, but the experience described has the ring of truth, for it certainly felt as if he was.

Here you have two people talking over the traumatic events in which they had been involved. The story says a ‘stranger’ joined them. Perhaps, perhaps not. It makes more sense to me that when they talked about the events after their encounter they realised that, at some level, they had known he was ‘with them’ even though at the time they did not recognise the fact.

One problem was that not only were they in grief, but their grief was confused by unbelievable reports that some of his friends were actually saying they had seen him again.

You know how we cope when we can’t make sense of something. We speculate. We wonder. We shake our heads. We say ‘Yes, but……’ and so it goes on. As I think of this scene I see the conversation developing….. ‘but remember how he used to forecast these things. Remember how he showed us from the scriptures what was going to happen, and – to be honest – we didn’t know what he was talking about’.

Later, they’d look back on this journey and all they’d discussed and they’d say ‘What fools we were. He’d given us the knowledge. He’d tried to prepare us for all this. Why couldn’t we understand?’

When they stopped for a meal they broke bread, almost automatically. It was something normal, familiar that they had done with Jesus so many times. Yet as they did so on this occasion they must have realised what they had done, looked at each other, jaws dropping open as, amazed, they realised ‘He’s here. He is alive’. And they raced back to Jerusalem to add their experience to that of the other disciples. Jesus had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Now I may be quite wrong. The risen Christ did perhaps appear physically to his friends, later leaving them as mysteriously as he had come. In a sense it doesn’t matter. The way it actually happened doesn’t affect the experience. What does matter is the fact that in the breaking of the bread Jesus came alive for them again. Then, as they looked back on their previous conversation, they realised there had been a ‘presence’ with them as they had walked and talked.

It remains perfectly true that when people share deep experience, talk about their feelings, even their ignorance about profound events, they can be taken to new levels of meeting and understanding. It is when we share our faith and doubts and questions, our hopes and fears – then we actually encounter ‘meaning’ at a deeper level than we have known before. Then, and usually unexpectedly, a familiar but symbolic action makes us realise that there was a whole new dimension at work just waiting to be recognised – a revelation waiting to be seen.

We here, now, are repeating an act that has nourished Christians for 2000 years. Sometimes it will stir us; sometimes it may be a bit of a formality. Whatever, it is always a sign of the presence of Christ with his people. In the simple, familiar act of breaking bread eyes may be opened. For, as the story is told again, as experiences are remembered and shared, we too can become aware of the mystery and the revelation at the heart of this service. And when that happens, we may see some things more clearly, be touched more deeply and we will be blessed.’

© Rev. Alasdair Pratt, 2006

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