THE PERFECT STRANGER

LUKE 24:13-35
ST. AUGUSTINE’S EPISCOPAL CHURCH
MORROW, GEORGIA
THE REVEREND BARRY GRIFFIN

I’ll begin today’s sermon with the same prayer I pray with the Ministers of Worship in the Gathering Room before we begin the procession: Lord Jesus Christ our great high priest, be present with us as you were present with your disciples, and be known to us in the breaking of bread.  Amen.

It’s a funny thing about human nature: given the right circumstances, the right setting, the right mood, many of us are willing to share the secrets of our soul with a perfect stranger.

It can happen on airplanes.  We’re traveling alone.  We engage in casual conversation with the stranger seated next to us.  By chance, we discover we share something in common.  One thing leads to another, and when we finally say goodbye we realize we’ve revealed some aspect of our secret self.  We’ve shared things, important things: things we’d never tell our friends.

It happens on airplanes, at summer camp, in bars; just about anywhere strangers meet and realize their time together is limited.

When it’s over we may feel sad.  “I wish I had more time with that person,” we think.  “I wish that person could be a part of my life.”

Sometimes some of us share our hearts with perfect strangers.  That’s what happened to Cleopas and his companion as they traveled the road to Emmaus.  They shared their hearts with Jesus, the perfect stranger.

Jesus, the stranger, joined up with Cleopas and his companion: two regular people, small town people walking home from the big city.  It’s just like Jesus to keep his identity secret until the right moment.  It’s like Jesus to be curious, to ask questions, to get us to talk: “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?”  “What things happened in Jerusalem?”  (As if he didn’t know!)  And, “Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?”

And then Jesus taught them.  It’s just like Jesus to teach.  “Beginning with Moses and the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.”

But all good things must come to an end.  The plane lands, summer camp ends, the bartender yells, “Last call.”

All too soon, they arrived at Emmaus.  Then Jesus walked ahead, as if he were going on.  That’s just like Jesus.  He never assumes.  He always waits for an invitation.

He got one.  They urged him strongly: “Stay with us.  It’s almost evening and the day is now nearly over.”

That’s all it took: a simple invitation.  When he sat at the table with them, Jesus became the host.  He served.  That’s the way he is.  Jesus serves.  Luke says, he took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them to eat.  He took, blessed, broke and gave.

At that moment their eyes were opened.  They recognized the Lord.  And then, (wouldn’t you know it?), Jesus vanished.  He knew when to make an exit.  He knew how to make a point.

Do you get the point?  Cleopas and his companion got the point.  Immediately they made a report to the disciples in Jerusalem: They said, “Jesus was made known to us in the breaking of bread.”

That’s the point.  The Road to Emmaus is about eucharist: eucharist enacted, played out, explained in narrative form.  Holy Eucharist has two parts.  The first part is The Word.  The second part is The Table.  Jesus shared the Word on the road to Emmaus.  Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.  We do the same thing on Sunday morning.  In the lessons, the sermon, the hymns, the creed, we hear the Word of God.  We call it the Liturgy of the Word.

Then Jesus shared their table.  Luke is careful to relate that Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them to eat.  Taking, blessing, breaking, giving: those are the four actions of Eucharist, and we do them every Sunday.  We take. We bless.  We break.  We give.

At the Offertory we take things.  We take offerings of bread, wine, money and food for hungry people. 

In the Eucharistic prayer we bless things.  We bless the bread and wine and they become the body and blood of Christ.

At the end of the Eucharistic prayer we break something.  We break the consecrated bread, and we say: Alleluia.  Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.  Therefore let us keep the feast.  Alleluia.

Then we give something.  The consecrated bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ, are given to all believers.

Every Sunday we perform the four actions of the Eucharistic formula. We take, we bless, we break, and we give.  That’s exactly what Jesus did at Emmaus.  It’s exactly what he did at table in the Upper Room on the night before he suffered.  It’s exactly what he did when he fed the five thousand.

Don’t believe me?  Look it up.  You’ll find the exact same words: He took, he blessed, he broke, he gave. 

But there’s more.  Like at Emmaus, when we receive the bread and wine our eyes are opened.  We recognize Jesus.  How does this happen?  For most of us it happens slowly.  As we grow, as we hear the scriptures, as we are nurtured regularly at the table, our spiritual vision improves. We see Jesus more clearly.

Slowly but surely we discover something quite profound.  Jesus has been with us all along.  He’s been there from the day we were born.  He’s walked with us.  He’s taught us.  He’s been patient, waiting for us to learn.  He’s shared with us from the table, just as he did with Cleopas and his companion. That’s just like Jesus, isn’t it?

In today’s gospel Luke tells us a fascinating story.  At the same time he teaches us important lessons of faith.  As Cleopas and his companion talked about Jesus, Jesus showed up and joined the conversation.  That’s how that works.  When we talk about Jesus, Jesus shows up.

If you’ve ever been a member of a small group Bible study you probably know what I mean.  If you haven’t, you may not know.  You may want to find out.

In this morning’s gospel Luke teaches us to welcome the stranger.  In today’s terminology, we are called to seek and serve Christ in all people.  That’s one of our baptismal vows, remember?  Will you seek and serve Christ in all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

In today’s gospel, Luke teaches us that whenever we celebrate Holy Eucharist we do exactly what Jesus did: we take, we bless, we break, we give.  We follow the Eucharistic formula given by Jesus when he walked among us.  And then our eyes are opened to recognize him

Let us pray: O, God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work: who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Alleluia.  Christ is risen.

The Lord is risen indeed.  Alleluia.

Amen.

If you would like to respond to this sermon or receive future sermons by email, contact me at barryqgriffin@earthlink.net

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