As they came near the village to which they were going,
he walked ahead as if he were going on.
But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us,
because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’
So he went in to stay with them.
When he was at the table with them,
he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.
Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him;
and he vanished from their sight.
He took the bread…. he blessed the bread…… he broke the bread…. and gave it to them. These words continue to echo with significance across centuries to Christians across denominations, binding us to Christ and one another. On the day of his resurrection, Jesus is on the move engaging strangers on the road to Emmaus. As night draws near and he is invited to the table, Jesus accepts their hospitality. And in that gracious act of both their offering and his accepting hospitality—when they are together at table—they experience the resurrected Christ.
As a people of resurrection hope, we are invited to consider the power and significance of the table—both metaphorically and literally. As I have often said, the ‘table’ in our culture often defines and determines who is welcomed, accepted, and valued. Conversely, it determines who is not. But the table that we claim as an Easter people is one that radically embraces the stranger and ‘the other’ we meet on the roads we travel.
This ‘embracing’ of the stranger regularly happens in communities of faith when we are at our most faithful. I continue to be amazed by how individuals who come from different walks of life, who are not related biologically, who didn’t know each other before, come together as a community of faith. We are not unlike the earliest disciples—they are considered by many as a ‘motley crew”—not the MVPs or elite of their time. A disparate group of individuals become a transformed and transforming community—bearing the light and hope of the resurrection into a world that is hurting. Because of this gift, we have been blessed with relationships we would not have otherwise known or, perhaps, even chosen.
Notwithstanding this truth of the table, there are times when we fail—when we forget to greet and receive the stranger who walks through our church doors. There are times when we fall short—when we judge another before we engage them. There are times when we use the table as a place that makes us feel comfortable and even, powerful—as we keep others away.
But this Lukan scene at the table, between Jesus and the strangers who offer hospitality, reminds us of just how powerful the theology of the table is for us as believers. Throughout his life, Jesus models for us the importance of gathering around the table. He demonstrates his willingness to stay at the table even when confronted with betrayal, denial, and flight on the part of his earliest followers. He is willing to offer his life rather than abandon the very community that abandoned him. Even on the day of his resurrection, he again embraces strangers who, when gathered with him at table, are able to recognize who he is—the Christ, the Messiah, the one about whom the Scriptures have spoken.
Two-thousand years later we are again reminded to boldly invite and receive the stranger at our tables as part of our ‘gospel proclamation.’ It is at the table where, with open hearts, we might experience the grace of the resurrected Christ through one another. Theologian and preacher Fred Craddock offers a wonderful image to what happens when we gather with Christ at the table – “His presence at the table makes all believers first generation Christians.” May our hearts and tables be open so that—no longer blind—we might see the living Christ among us and experience the transforming power of his resurrection.