One of the most difficult parts of our current situation is the lack of physical community. Online community is fine and needed and welcomed. But this is a short term fix. In the long term, we crave community, the time together to fellowship, socialize and just enjoy the company of others. It is built into us, even for those of us that are introverts. To work alongside of others, to strive together, to build together, to serve together is crucial. We are stronger together. One of the most essential parts of community is fellowship around the table. Sitting at the table with friends, neighbors and strangers helps to develop bonds that far outlast any meal. The ease at which we share, the peace at which we feast, and the joy of the blessings of the meal are priceless. There is nothing that really replaces that need. It is something that our bodies were built for. We are missing it, but it will return. I can only hope that it returns with such expectant joy that we spend many valuable hours around the table with others. May our homes be filled with new friends, may we build relationships with those we have not gotten to know, and may we feast with our community in such joy that our lives are forever changed.
Now, that may sound a bit idealistic. It may feel like I am asking a lot of a meal and maybe I am expecting too much. How would a simple meal actually change anything? Why would this activity of which we can participate at any point becomes so pivotal? Meals really can change things when God is present. And I think that is most evident in the scripture for today.
13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles[f] from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad.[g] 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth,[h] who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.[i] Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah[j] should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. 28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 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. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us[k] while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”
These two people were forever changed. Their hearts burned and it was not from indigestion. Their lives had been renewed as their hope was refueled. They had a reason to keep moving forward. They had a joy that was unmistakable. They were different and it happened around a table. It all happened at a meal, that one unforgettable meal…not because the dish was the most outstanding dish they had ever tasted, but because of the presence of those around the table. Table fellowship changed them and it changes us.
They have traveled with this man, this man that didn’t seem to have a clue about what had been going on in Jerusalem. He actually had missed the chaos of Passover and all that had occurred. But then he began to speak. He opened up the scriptures as they had never heard before. He explained Moses, the Exodus, the prophets…the mysteries were not so mysterious any longer. He helped them to understand what had been so challenging. This Messiah wasn’t so hidden – all they needed was right there in the Scriptures. If they were just willing to listen, to hear, to allow the words to fill them…then they could find what they needed for life, for hope, for a future. This was fascinating and motivational. But this was not the pivotal point that they experienced. This was important – the Scriptures helped them to realize the works of the Messiah, they were guided by the word in faith and action, they were given hope where they had lost all hope. But their pivotal moment came around the table. The man was planning to move right on, but being hospitable, they encouraged him to come and sit at the table.
They did not have to invite him. They had spent all day with him. They could have just let him continue on his journey. But if they had not invited him, they would have missed the experience. If they had hesitated to have him around the table, they would have missed the one that loved them more than they could imagine. They would have had a lesson, they would have gone through life understanding more, they would have had the Scripture explained…but they would have missed the personal fellowship with the man if they had not welcomed him to the table.
When it was that they sat at the table with him, enjoying the meal and the fellowship, their eyes were opened. They realized that the man they had traveled with was actually Jesus. They were given the privilege to see, to truly see for the first time ever, that Jesus was right there before them. And they saw him at a meal.
I wonder what we might see if we spent time with people around the table? What might we miss when we decide who is worthy to sit at the table and who is not? Could it be that we miss seeing Jesus when our table is reserved for those that are like us? Jesus shows up in the most unexpected ways at the most unexpected times. It just might be that he shows up for us when we welcome others to the table.
When this stay at home order ends, when we begin to gather, may our tables be full of joy and laughter. May our meals be with those we don’t know and those we can’t wait to know better. May our stomachs fill with good things and our hearts burn from the experience of being with other children of God. And may God fill our experiences with glimpses of him. May it happen around the table.