© 2021 Evan D. Garner
Gathering as the church on Easter evening is an ancient tradition. As you can tell, our worship tonight has its own lessons. We hear not the story of Mary Magdalene and the other women discovering that the stone had been rolled away. We are not told of the moment when the angels met the women and told them that Jesus had been raised and instructed them to go and tell the disciples what had happened. No, tonight we’re on the road to Emmaus with two of those disciples, who had heard the women’s testimony but didn’t know what to believe.
Some of you are here because there wasn’t enough room in church this morning. Covid-19 has forced us to limit attendance in the building. Normally, we’d have 700 or 800 people in church on Easter Day, but this year we’re only able to accommodate less than a third of that. Others of you are here because this is an outdoor service. Covid-19 is still a threat to those with vulnerable immune systems, and some would argue that any indoor gathering is irresponsible. Whatever reason you’re here, I’m glad you’re here, and I’m particularly glad that we are here together because, in a very real way, we cannot finish our celebration of Easter without this service.
You’ve heard me say how much I love the journey we make each year through the Paschal Triduum. From Maundy Thursday through Good Friday into Holy Saturday and the Easter Vigil and on to Easter Morning—it’s a wonderful, magnificent mystery than unfolds for us. But that great unfolding isn’t finished—the story isn’t complete—until we hear and celebrate Jesus appearing to his disciples at the supper table in Emmaus.
When is the risen Jesus known to his disciples? When is he revealed to them? Not outside the tomb but in the breaking of the bread. Luke tells us that, after the women ran to find the disciples, the men dismissed their words as mere nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb to see it for himself, but all he found was the linen cloth still lying on the floor of the tomb. After that, he went back home, wondering what had happened, but he didn’t see Jesus.
Then, these two disciples—one named Cleopas and the other left unnamed—walk the road from Jerusalem down to Emmaus, bearing the messy grief of having lost the one they thought had come to redeem God’s people and yet having heard the women say that he may still be alive. As much as they wanted to believe it, the women’s testimony made no sense. They had seen Jesus nailed to the cross. So thick was their grief that they didn’t even recognize Jesus when he came to walk with them, nor could they understand what he was trying to explain to them about the scriptures.
But they didn’t want to let that stranger keep walking down the road at night, so they invited him in. “Come! It is late. Stay the night with us.” And then, at the table, the stranger took a loaf of bread, said the blessing, broke it apart, and gave it to them, and their eyes were opened! This was Jesus! This was the risen Lord! He had come to them and revealed himself to them in the breaking of the bread! And then he vanished from their sight.
What does the full Paschal mystery tell us? What do we learn about God and God’s salvation this evening that we cannot grasp as fully at any other time? We learn that the risen Christ reveals himself to us when we break bread in his name. Those two disciples weren’t looking for Jesus. They were going in the opposite direction. They had given up. They were moving on. And still Jesus came and found them and made himself known to them when the sat down and broke bread together.
When we share Communion with each other, we meet the risen Christ, or, more accurately, he comes to meet us. Christ sits with us and shares himself with us and reveals himself to us in ways that transcend what we hear with our ears and see with our eyes and understand with our minds. There is no amount of testimony nor heap of explaining that can win our hearts to the resurrection. As was true for the disciples, Christ must come and meet us and bring us into the truth of Easter. For the church, that truth isn’t complete at the empty tomb. It finds its completion at the table.