Beyond both Bible and Burning Hearts: Breaking the Bread

Supper at Emmaus. Oil, 65 x 68 cm
by Rembrandt van Rijn, 1648
Musée du Louvre, Paris, France

[Note: Perhaps the title of this post should instead read: “Along with Bible and Burning Hearts…” I didn’t intend to use the word “beyond” to mean getting past, leaving behind, or disregarding. But using “beyond” keeps both the alliteration and hint of provocation to catch your attention.]

Consider this wonderful story in Luke 24:13-35 (RSV):

That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him.

And he said to them, “What is this conversation which you are holding with each other as you walk?”

And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

They are lost and without hope. They do not understand that Christ had to suffer and die, and that he would then rise again. They do not recognize the Christ though he stands before them. The irony of their question is almost humorous. Nobody knows of the things which “happened there in these days” better than the man they do not recognize.

And he said to them, “What things?”

Jesus does not begin by telling them, but by asking them. He draws out their thoughts. He helps them consider the events that happened so that they might be prepared to believe all that the prophets have spoken.

And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since this happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body; and they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb, and found it just as the women had said; but him they did not see.”

And he said to them, “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.

Oh to have been present at that explanation! And yet, even though Jesus explains everything, and even though he gives them the right way to interpret the scriptures that foretold those events which troubled them so deeply, they still do not comprehend, and they still do not recognize Jesus, they still cannot see the Christ standing right before them.

So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He appeared to be going further, but they constrained him, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.”

They invite Jesus to stay. Was he actually going further, or just giving them an opportunity to be drawn in to something more personal, an opportunity to ask him to stay, thus preparing them for what was to come? To invite a person to stay is to commit oneself to that person at some important level. They were beginning to move beyond proofs from scripture to a covenant relationship of personal commitment. But they did not know what they were getting themselves into. And they were still lost.

So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight.

It is only when Jesus breaks the bread do they finally recognize him. What does this mean? What does this imply? What if they had not asked him to stay?

They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?”

While they had heard Jesus teach them their hearts burned within them. They loved what he was saying. They longed for the truth. It seems that they too loved the scriptures. Perhaps they even understood all that he taught, but they could not see the Christ standing before them until they got off the road, sat at table with him, and the bread was broken. Only in the breaking of the bread were their eyes opened. Their hearts had burned but they could not see until the bread was broken. When they had the scriptures and burning hearts they were still lost. Perhaps it takes more than knowledge of scriptures and burning hearts to see Christ. Perhaps we should be cautious in trusting our interpretations and our emotions when salvation is at stake. If the bread had not been broken they might still be lost. If they had not asked him to stay he could not have broken the bread.

And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven gathered together and those who were with them, who said, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.

They make the connection: He was known to them in the breaking of the bread.

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