I’m telling the story of Easter in four paintings of the Emmaus story. Our second painting highlighted how Christ is known through his word. today our third painting highlights how Christ is known around the table.
Luke 24:30-31: ‘When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognised him.’ Christ is known around the table. Christ is known through the Christian community. That’s why church planting is so important.
Now this might be stretching a point where it not for the fact that meals feature so prominently in Luke’s Gospel. Someone has said that in Luke’s Gospel Jesus is always going to a meal, at a meal or coming from a meal! And meals the message of Jesus. As he eats with tax collectors and sinners – God’s enemies – he embodies God’s grace. Meals are the way Jesus enacts community and mission. So it’s entirely appropriate that he reveals himself through a meal.
Not only that. There are echoes here of the feeding of the 5,000. Both take place as the day is ending (9:12; 24:29). Both are preceded by other suggestions about the identity of Jesus, including that he might be a new Moses. Both involve the same sequence of Jesus taking bread, blessing it, breaking it, giving it. And the meal for the 5,000 was the means in Luke’s Gospel by which Jesus is known as the Messiah. Peter’s confession comes immediately after the feeding – this great meal that Jesus provides. Now the meal at Emmaus is the means by which Jesus is the known as the suffering Messiah.
Jesus is known at the breaking of bread, at the meal table, sharing food with friends and enemies. The first image of church that comes into my head is always a meal table with bread and wine. Christ is known in community.
We mustn’t separate Christ known around the table from Christ known through his word. We’re not talking about some kind of mystical knowledge, but the word embodied in a meal. The two disciples immediately connect the word and the meal. Look at verses 31-32. ‘Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked to us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”’ Their eyes were opened around the table because the Scriptures were opened to them on the road.
This is my experience. I have plenty of moments when Christian community wears me out, winds me up, drives me crazy. But I also have moments when I look at my brothers and sisters and know the presence of the risen Christ. There are moments when you see him incognito among the rag-tag people sat squeezed round the table. You see it in our diversity – a diversity that has no explanation except the work of God. You see it when someone ‘gets it’ or hearts are melted. You see in the love people show to one another.
Here’s Paulo Veronese’s version of the Emmaus story. It feels a bit lop-sided because on the left we have a space for the first part of the story – the initial encounter of the road to Emmaus. More significantly, it feels to me almost like two paintings, one on top of another – a painting of the Emmaus story super-imposed on a painting of a 16th-century Venetian family. At one point in his career Veronese got into trouble with the church for including too many features of daily life in a depiction of the Last Supper. The religious world and the domestic world were not supposed to overlap.
But that’s exactly the message of the resurrection. Christ is present in your gospel communities. This painting is in some ways too crowded. It’s chaotic. At the front the two girls are playing with their dog while a boy plays with a puppy. But here in the middle is Jesus. It’s as if Jesus has turned up in a Venetian family home.
And that is what happens each in your gospel communities. They can be crowded and chaotic. But the story of resurrection is being played out as you meet. Christ is hidden in our world. We don’t yet see his resurrection glory. But he’s present in your gospel communities. He’s revealed in your love for one another. Never under-estimate the power of the Christian community to communicate the gospel message.