The new table we bought for our house is now ours. We were using it long before it was ours. Don’t tell Dave Ramsey. He might want to interrogate us.
We had made a visit to The Dump. Not the one where your trash is piled up. The furniture one. For some reason it sounds less pretentious to buy our furniture at The Dump. We had stopped in to get ideas on the kind of table we might want. Karen said we would just go “looking.”
When will I learn that sometimes “looking” actually means “buying”? We found the one we wanted and chairs to match. Since they were letting you take it that day and giving you eighteen months zero interest to pay, we had use of our table in the time it took them to deliver it our house.
That’s why we had it before it was really ours. We made monthly payments based on the cost divided by the number of months we had before the interest would kick in. In other words, instead of saving up first and then buying the table we got to have it and use while we were paying it off.
When the last payment came due we sent in the last payment. The table was then redeemed.
“Redeemed” is probably not the word you would use. It means “to liberate by payment of ransom.” Ransom? Yes. Our table was held hostage by The Dump until we liberated it by the last payment. At that point we were not captive to them anymore. We owed them nothing. Our table was liberated. Redeemed.
Redemption and tables go together. They did when two men were walking on a road to Emmaus. They had been in Jerusalem for all the events surrounding the death and burial of Jesus. They are walking on a road that will take them the seven miles to their hometown of Emmaus.
They are “discussing and arguing.” It wasn’t as heated as it may sound. The words mean they were “trying to figure out” the meaning of what all had happened. They were trying to “put two and two together” we might say.
They are trudging down the path, remembering events with each step, piecing together the puzzle of the week where at one end Jesus entered Jerusalem to voices crying “Hosanna!” and the other where the crowd was crying “Crucify him!”
Just then Jesus joined the in the walk. He just showed up. He had a way of doing that after the resurrection (see Acts 1:3). They probably were so intent on their discussion that they would not have heard him coming up behind them. However he got there, he was there.
Jesus asked them, “What is this dispute that you’re having with each other as you are walking?” The word for “dispute” means to “throw in turn.” They were playing a game of catch with their words, tossing them back and forth.
But they dropped the ball when Jesus asked his question. “And they stopped walking and looked discouraged” (Luke 24:17). His question literally stopped them in their tracks. They stood there with long faces.
They can’t believe the stranger didn’t seem to know what had happened in Jerusalem: “Are you the only visitor in Jerusalem who doesn’t know the things that happened there in these days?” “What things?” he asked them (Luke 24:18-19).
They begin to tell him in great detail all the things that had happened. Imagine that scene. They tell Jesus what had happened to Jesus: how he had been handed over and had been crucified. They did not recognize him. Either his post-resurrection appearance was different or they were too teary and bleary-eyed to see. And Jesus must have kept his nail-scarred hands hidden from view as he listened.
He listened as they recounted how the one they thought would be the Messiah had died. Then they say, “But we were hoping that he was the one who was about to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). “…we were hoping…”
You’ve probably uttered that phrase yourself:
“We were hoping to have another healthy baby.”
“I had hoped to get the job after that interview.”
“We had hoped the doctors caught the tumor in time.”
“I had hoped to be able to retire by now.”
You’ve taken long walks. You’ve tried to understand past events. You’ve been discouraged. You’ve hoped. What you thought would happen didn’t. What you expected turned into the unexpected.
You know your hopes. And we know what these two had hoped for: “that he was the one who was about to redeem Israel.” There’s that word: redeem. Israel had been taken hostage by the Romans and they had hoped their Messiah would liberate them. Instead, he died on a Roman cross.
Jesus may have disappointed you too. You thought that when he came into your life your life would become easy. Money problems would disappear. Relationships would sparkle. Health would be excellent. When it did not happen you became discouraged.
Then let Jesus do for you what he did for these two. When the disciples needed hope Jesus told them a story. When their world was turned upside down and they could not see straight, Jesus focused their eyes on the word. He began with “Moses and all the Prophets” and got them walking again through the Scriptures. He helped them see how the Scriptures about himself fit what had happened in Jerusalem. We can guess he said something about:
How the rulers in Jerusalem thought they could eliminate Jesus by killing him.
How instead the result was Jesus’ exaltation and honor.
How he had to battle Satan instead of Pilate.
How he had to save us from our sins rather than from our situations.
We have to guess because perhaps the teaching we’d most like to hear from Jesus is summarized by Luke in one verse. You’d probably like me to do that with my teaching, right?
By the time Jesus had explained these things to them they were near Emmaus. Still they had not recognized him. So Jesus acts as if he is going to continue on his journey. We aren’t told how he did this. Maybe he talked about how he had other places to go. Maybe he mentioned an appointment in the next town.
We do know that Jesus does not presume an invitation. He waits for one. And these two give him one. “Stay with us, because it’s almost evening, and now the day is almost over.” Jesus accepts their invitation and “went in to stay with them.”
The next line is important. Don’t miss it. “It was as he reclined at the table with them that he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them” (Luke 24:30).
Jesus is at the table with them. Cleopas—the only one of the two that is identified—may have stopped off at the market to grab a loaf of bread on the way in to town. He grabbed a wineskin full of wine and set the table. But then it became Jesus’ table. He “took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.” “Took,” “blessed,” “broke,” and “gave” are words that recall the feeding of the five thousand (Luke 9:16) and the Last Supper (22:19).
At that point “… their eyes were opened, and they recognized him” (Luke 24:31). Earlier we were told “…they were prevented from recognizing him” (Luke 24:16). Literally “their eyes were bound.” Now they are “opened.”
It may have been seeing Jesus do what he had done before in meals with his disciples that opened their eyes. It may be that when he reached out to take the bread they saw his wounds. Or maybe everything just came together in that moment. They saw Jesus was a different kind of Messiah than the kind that exists to do what we want him to do. He does what needs to be done. What we can say for sure is that it is at the table when the bread was broken that they saw Jesus.
It was the same for the early church community. The phrase “the breaking of the bread” is used at the end of this story. The two men recognize Jesus, Jesus disappears, and they get up and run back to Jerusalem to tell the Eleven and others who were gathered with them what they had experienced. Then we read: “Then they began to describe what had happened on the road and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:35).
That phrase will be seen throughout the book of Acts, Luke’s second volume that follows the beginning and spread of the church (Acts 2:42, 46; 20:7, 11; 27:35). What we find there is a continuation of what we find here. The meal fellowship at table was an important part of the life of the church because it was an important part of the life of Jesus.
It’s an important part of our life today. It is at the table that we have an expectation that the risen Christ will be present. It is there our eyes will be opened and we will see him.
Tables are places where redemption can be found. Jesus said the bread is his body, the cup is his blood. You may have trouble seeing that. If so, you might need the preparation these two men had.
Before their eyes were opened, Jesus was opening the Scripture to them. Hearing the word taught and preached is the way Jesus opens our eyes. You might prefer something a little more exciting. And maybe that’s why we find this story right after the Resurrection. It is more mundane. It is smaller.
We think we will see Jesus more easily in the big things: Easter Sundays, big numbers, big events, mountaintop experiences. But he consistently shows up in the small. A small voice (1 Kings 19:12). A mustard seed (Matthew 17:20; Luke 13:19). Prayers of a few words (Matthew 6:7-8). In secret places (Matthew 6:1-18). A cup of cold water (Matthew 10:42).
When you can’t find him in some big production and find yourself discouraged, read the story. “…faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the message about Christ” (Romans 10:17).
Then share the story around a table as you break bread. Those disciples had hoped for the redemption of Israel. What they came to see is the redemption of all mankind. Their problem was not that God had not given them what they hoped for. They had not hoped big enough.
Take your hopes to Jesus’ table. He will redeem them. There you will see him in the breaking of the bread.
And take your friends to Jesus’ table. The two on the road to Emmaus didn’t wait. They ran to Jerusalem to tell their friends all that had happened to them.
You can do the same. You might share your table, share your stories and break bread with someone who needs some hope today. They may not recognize him at first. But after you’ve broken bread a number of times they might.
Together you can find table redemption.