portraits of a Table

Scripture Reading: Luke 24:13-35

A communion meditation to close our recent All Wyoming Roundup where we considered what it means to welcome and love the stranger through the lens of our own histories. I highly recommend you visit https://www.ruralracedialogue.org for more information.

Emmaus_JanetBrooks-Gerloff.jpgWe were hot and tired and just a bit more than a little cranky after a long journey… hundreds of miles on a plane, dozens and dozens of miles on a rickety bus without air conditioning, and not a short walk either to get to this village. We were hot and tired and more than a little cranky and, oh yes, hungry too. And I felt so out of place sitting in this village with people whose lives, look, and language were so different from mine.

Then, suddenly, Jesus walked in with a sacred feast in hand and began serving us all. Well, our host didn’t look like Jesus. Our host looked like a 70-year old woman from the Dominican Republic (for that is where we were) bringing a basket of hand-made tortillas, fruits and vegetables, and more chicken than her family ate in a month… all for us.  No, she didn’t look like Jesus, but I wasn’t fooled. None of us were fooled for we could all feel the sacred crackle in the air. And I’ve never been able to come to this Table again without thinking of that day for that’s sometimes what can happen when strangers meet on a road.

When you come to Eucharist’s Table, what is the image that pops into your mind? We each may have our special, sacramental, moments.  If we think long enough, our imaginations might take us to an Upper Room… and 12, maybe more, gathered with Jesus. It’s a powerful image, captured by so many gifted artists.  After all, that moment is, for some of us, the act that forms the Church. We are one body because we partake of the one broken loaf.  Powerful stuff.  Lent has begun and I am already anticipating Holy Week – especially now that I’m not the one responsible for planning all those services.  I’m longing for the Great Three Days of our faith that starts with this holy meal.

Here’s the problem though: If that is the only image that comes to mind when you gather in your churches to break bread and share cup, then as powerful as the image of the Upper Room is, it is incomplete. You see, here’s the thing, that dinner in the Upper Room was kind of an “invitation only” event. Drop-ins weren’t really encouraged, and certainly not strangers. And rightfully so. Jesus had to share some serious insider conversations with those closest to him on that night.  It is what it had to be in that moment, but it was still incomplete.

Thankfully, we have another image to add to our portrait hall related to this holy meal. A chance meeting on a road… a long, deep, fruitful conversation with a stranger… an invitation to a meal… an unexpected guest that became the even more unexpected host. Jesus revealed once again in the blessing and breaking of bread.  All because those two disciples running away from Jerusalem took the risk to reach out to a stranger on the road.  We don’t really know why they did it. Perhaps they remembered Jesus’ teaching and decided to follow one last time. Perhaps they felt sorry for their new companion. Perhaps they longed for something in their heart they sensed this stranger might provide. We don’t know why, but I’m sure glad they did, because the picture of what happens when we come to this table is now more complete.

All day we have been using our imaginations to step into the lives of families from the past, of our past.[1] Will you allow me one more imaginative exercise? Close your eyes. Who do you see when I say ‘church.’ Look around: are there family members? Sure. Some friends I hope. Generations past and generations to come. Look, there is someone with your eyes, and someone with your brother’s chin. Who do you see? Look around. How many are there? Can you count?

Look close now and tell me: does your portrait have room for the stranger? The one whose life, look, and language, are different than yours. The one that makes you uncomfortable. Do you see the stranger? Yes? Let me introduce you…

That’s Jesus.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1]Recently, United Methodist pastors and laity gathered in Lander, WY, for our All Wyoming Roundup where we were led by A J Bush and Samantha Gupta in a wonder journey they call the Rural Race Dialog. In part of this experience, we imagined we were European immigrants of years past having to face prejudices and give up part of our identity. That was the imaginative exercise I mentioned in this devotion.

Image: “Emmaus” by Janet Brooks-Gerloff