While John’s version of this post-resurrection encounter between Christ and the disciples is perhaps the most well-known (featuring “doubting Thomas” and all the rest of it), I’ve found myself drawn to Luke’s version of the story this year—especially in light of our Lenten theme of gathering “around the table.”
As Luke tells it, the risen Christ mysteriously appears to two of the disciples as they’re walking to the town of Emmaus on the same day he was raised, though “their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” After a lengthy conversation about the events of the weekend, which this mysterious stranger connects to the arc of scripture, as evening draws near the disciples ask the stranger to stay with them for the night. He agrees, and when they all gather around a table, this stranger takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to them. At this, “their eyes were opened” and they recognize that it is Christ there around the table with them.
Before his death it was Jesus who invited the disciples to the table—not just that final literal table, but so many figurative tables throughout his ministry. His was a ministry of radical hospitality, constantly gathering around a table with friends and enemies alike, those on the inside and those on the margins. It was around the table that Jesus exposed the lines the separated people and offered them a way to see each other anew. This is one of the miraculous things about tables: they force us to see each other face to face.
Yet here after his resurrection it is not Christ who invites the disciples to the table, but the disciples who invite him—though at the time they believe him to be a stranger. In other words, it was the hospitality extended to the stranger in their midst that made this encounter with the risen Christ and first “Lord’s Supper” possible.
After a few rough days, it’s good to see the disciples had learned something. And I hope we have, too.
I hope as so many of us gathered around tables together during Lent, eating each other’s food, sharing in each others lives and our life together as a church, we’ve experienced something of what’s possible when we gather around a table as the body of Christ. I hope we’ve experienced community and embrace, warmth and intimacy. Most of all I hope we’ve experienced just a taste of the blessings possible in extending hospitality to strangers. We may be tempted to assume we’re the one extending Christ to them, when in fact they are revealed to be Christ to us.
In the story of this post-resurrection encounter, we’re reminded that generous, radical welcome is among the most powerful forces in the world. It can even raise someone from the dead.