This is a summary of my homily from Grace Anglican Church’s Easter Wednesday evening Eucharist. I have included verse numbers in parentheses () for reference.
This is how I would summarize the story from Luke 24:13-35: “Without God there’s confusion and faith is incomplete; preaching & teaching help draw us to him, but God’s grace opens our eyes; only then are we able to go and serve him.”
Without God there’s confusion and faith is incomplete… (v13-24)
Two men, Cleopas and Luke, are wandering away from Jerusalem (13, 18). They had been disciples of Christ, but upon his death they were despondent and were giving up. When the risen Lord joined them on the road, they were unable to recognize him because of their unbelief (16). They told Jesus about what had happened in Jerusalem, how they thought Jesus was a prophet come to bring redemption to Israel, but the way they tell the story it comes off pretty clear that they expected merely a political redeemer, not a redeemer from sin (19-21). They had the right idea, but their scale was just a bit off. They even report the initial resurrection accounts from Mary Magdelene, but don’t believe it (22-24)!
…preaching & teaching help draw us to him… (25-29)
Now Jesus speaks to them. First he convicts them, rebuking their foolish error (25). Then he preaches the Gospel, giving the basic summary that it requires both suffering and glory (26). Then he follows up with teaching, opening the Scriptures to them to see how the Old Testament points to the Messiah (27). Cleopas and Luke were not only impressed, but wanted to hear more, so they invited Jesus to stay with them for dinner, and later reflected on how their hearts burned while he taught (28-29, 32).
…but God’s grace opens our eyes… (30-33)
The teaching and preaching was great, it drew them to Jesus, but it didn’t click until Jesus blessed, broke, and gave bread (30). The reference to Holy Communion is pretty clear – the exact same description is given of the Lord’s Supper. Thus, Communion is appropriately known as a sacrament – a “means of grace” – and we see that quite clearly and literally the case here: these disciples receive the grace to recognize Jesus when they receive the blessed bread. And that, I think, also explains why Jesus immediately left at the point: now that they had the faith to see the risen Jesus from the Sacrament, they would no longer need him around in the same form. Jesus did, after all, have plans to return to his Father in heaven and send the Holy Spirit to the Church in his place. So he was preparing his disciples to see him present sacramentally, rather than face to face.
This little episode illustrates a couple things. First of all it shows us an example of the depth of Jesus’ words, “do this as oft as ye shall drink it.” They were probably at an inn or something; they certainly weren’t at a church building or synagogue. Yet they had Holy Communion together. The centrality of this act of worship is demonstrated here! Secondly, we see illustrated in this story the reality that Jesus is the host in worship. It is not the priest, pastor, deacon, or any other minister that calls us in to worship, but it is Jesus who hosts us. (Thus the value of beginning worship with a Call to Worship from Scripture – it highlights that it is God who call us to himself, not we who decide to get together and hang out with Him.)
Thirdly, if we zoom out a bit more, we see the pattern for all Christian worship being set here: Word and Sacrament. The disciples hear Jesus’ preaching and teaching on the Scriptures first, and then they go to break bread together. These two key ingredients of worship belong together, and in that order! The ministry of the Word is powerful and can make our hearts burn within us in a good way, but leaves us hanging if we do not follow it up with the ministry of the Sacrament, for it is in the Sacrament that we receive the Word in a tangible and efficacious way. On the other hand, it is equally absurd to have the ministry of the Sacrament without the Word first, because without biblical preparation and grounding, the Sacrament is reduced to a set of magical formulas that communicate a gospel of cheap grace and clericalism. The ministries of Word and Sacrament belong together.
…only then can we go and serve him. (33-35)
After Jesus opened the eyes of their faith, Cleopas and Luke immediately hurried back to Jerusalem to share what had happened. This is significant, for it was already evening when they began dinner – the seven-mile journey back to the city must have taken them long into the night! But that’s how excited they were to share the good news of the risen Lord, and that’s precisely what our worship should do to us also. One of the most popular dismissals in the Anglican Eucharistic liturgy is: “Let us go forth into the world, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit!” This isn’t just a nice sentiment, it’s a serious call to heed and obey. Go forth and rejoice and proclaim the good news of Christ that you have heard and seen.
O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work; through the same your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen!