Written Sermons & Bible Studies

Their Eyes Were Opened


Today we begin a series on Communion. Jesus instituted the celebration of communion on the Thursday before he was betrayed and crucified. Jesus and the disciples were celebrating the Passover meal. Jesus blessed the bread and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” Likewise, he took the cup of wine saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” He would give up his human body and blood on the cross on Good Friday, and enter a new relationship, a new covenant, with humanity when he rose from the dead Easter Sunday. Our Scripture reading today in the Gospel of Luke ends with a post-Resurrection communion celebration between Jesus and the disciples on the road to Emmaus. When the risen Jesus eats with his disciples, he establishes communion as an important part of worship for his followers.


Our reading today comes from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 24, verses 19-35.

He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us…. Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures…. “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”

 

In Luke’s Gospel, he tells the historical story of Jesus risen from the grave. At the same time, he writes to the believing community of Gentiles. He wants to instruct them in how to respond to the Gospel. He demonstrates how they should live as Christians and how they should order their worship, their instruction, and their community. When early Christian communities came together, they celebrated communion. In our reading today, communion opens the disciples’ eyes to the identity of the person walking with them. Only after they receive communion do they recognize Jesus as their risen Lord.

 

The story of the disciples’ encounter on the road to Emmaus includes a lesson given by the risen Jesus. The order of the story is interesting. First, Jesus appears to them. Second, the word or Gospel is shared. Third, the totality of Scripture is shared and explained. Finally, the communion meal is shared and at that moment, the disciples recognize the physical presence of Jesus.

Luke intentionally emphasizes the delay in the disciples’ recognition of Jesus. He wants to illustrate the path to the knowledge of Christ. The imagery of sight, at the time of the writing of the Gospel, indicated knowledge or understanding. To see someone was to understand or have a deep knowledge of them.


The early Christians that heard Luke’s Gospel were first, guided by the Holy Spirit to their Christian community. Once they became part of the Christian community, they heard the Gospel. As they heard the teaching of the community, they came to understand the Scripture. They grew in their knowledge of Christ and the grace and love of God.  Communion was the final step and the ritual by which their eyes were opened. Through communion, their knowledge of Christ became mature.


In our reading today, when the disciples took the bread from Christ, their eyes were opened. When the early Christians celebrated communion, it was the culmination of an intentional process to know Christ deeply. When we receive communion, do we expect to perceive the presence and love of Christ with us?


Communion is a regular practice in churches today, but how do we experience it? As with any ritual, communion can feel like a routine activity of remembrance with minimal spiritual value. It can feel mundane. We go through the motions. Communion celebration did not start out like that. It held great significance with the early followers of Christ. In the first century Christian communities, communion was the center of their worship. It was a Holy Spirit moment filled with transformation.


Likewise, today, communion is important to our worship of Christ. We celebrate the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Communion helps us remember that Jesus was the Son of Man, our brother here on earth. Communion helps us praise Jesus as the Son of God and our Lord and Savior. It is a time to experience the presence of Christ and to be open to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. Communion is a ritual that creates a spiritual moment of connection and reflection.


While communion is not the physical body and blood of Jesus, communion respects his human experience. We perform the physical act of eating a meal. Our faith isn’t separated from our physical reality. It is intimately connected to our physical nature. Communion is such an important way of connecting with Christ because it is important to how we connect with each other as people.   


Communion also connects us to the divine Christ and the Holy Spirit. How do we reclaim the moment of transformation experienced by the disciples on the road to Emmaus? How do we find the Holy Spirit in the celebration like the early Christians did?


We can start with expecting to have Christ use communion to transform us. We can take time to reflect on our own faith journey and where we have seen God at work in our life. We can meditate on God’s word to discover God’s truth and grace. We can pray that the Holy Spirit would be present as we take communion with our family. We can look around and feel the community we belong to all reaching for Christ together. Luke’s audience expected the Holy Spirit to show up. We will find what we seek. 


We call communion the Lord’s Supper. An important part of the human experience is the shared meal, and the Lord’s Supper is an important part of our spiritual experience. Human relationships deepen when we share meals together. Our relationship with Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit deepens during the Lord’s Supper. Our relationship as Christians deepens during our communion meal.


Could you imagine marrying your spouse without sharing a meal?


In my life, Jan and I were good friends long before we started dating. When we started our romantic relationship, we talked on the phone and went on casual dates. Many of you here probably remember the days of landlines and charges by the minute. For those who only remember mobile phones, there was an ancient day when the only phone was attached to the wall, and you were charged by the minute and by the distance of your calls. Calling someone and talking for a long time was expensive and showed the other person how important they were to you. Looking at my phone bill, I was clearly interested in Jan! But we did not get serious until I took her on a real date.


A Happy Meal at McDonalds wouldn’t do it. I needed to invite her to an expensive date at a real restaurant that I paid for.


Our first “real” date took place at a quaint, upscale fondue restaurant. She drove to Chicago from Kalamazoo, Michigan. I got dressed up. She bought a new dress. I made reservations. It was a big deal. At the center of the big deal was a meal. During that meal we talked about our lives, our dreams, our values, and our aspirations. After the dinner, we walked around and continued to talk. It was that date that made our courtship official. It happened over a meal.


In life, a shared meal is extremely important. Our closest relationships are made and sustained by meals. A family get together is not official without a huge—more than anyone should eat—meal. Many business deals begin with a shared meal. My relationship with my dog centers on the treats I give her.


As human beings, our most significant relationships are formed around the breaking of bread together. Christ used communion as a time of connecting with us because that is how people connect—over a shared meal. A shared meal deepens our human relationships. Jesus chooses a shared meal to bond with his body, the church, because he was human and because we humans connect through a meal. Other spiritual practices may help us pray and seek Christ. Take fasting, it can help us focus our prayer and intensify our need for Christ. However, it is not natural to starve ourselves. And fasting is not done in community. A meal is natural. A meal is done in community. Jesus, who was so sensitive to our human needs and who was deeply drawn to outcasts, would naturally choose a meal to be with us.


When we gather around the Lord’s supper, we celebrate many aspects of our life with Christ and each other. We celebrate the incarnation—that God’s son became a person and lived among us. Jesus understands and values our personhood. A meal acknowledges that our God needed to eat like us. The Lord’s Supper affirms the life and death of Jesus. It celebrates that he gave his life for us. We now have a new life filled with the grace of God. We have a new covenant in Christ’s blood. Communion celebrates that covenant. Last week we talked about how, because Christ walked out of the grave, we can walk out of the grave. Communion celebrates our freedom from the grave. We have an eternal communion with Christ.


Protestantism prioritized the preaching of the word over the ritual sacraments of the church. The preaching that I am doing now became the center of our Sunday worship. It wasn’t always that way. It wasn’t that way in the first century. When I read Scripture, communion was a big deal. Scripture’s description of communion indicates that it played a central role in worship by Christian communities throughout the Roman world. Church of God Anderson follows the tradition of John Wesley, and we came later than the Protestant Reformation. The Wesley tradition tried to keep church simple and to focus on only Biblical practices. That is why we emphasize Baptism, Communion and foot washing. These practices are Biblical.


When we take ritual out of our practices, our worship can become more authentic. However, just because we keep it simple does not mean that the practices that remain are less important. The word is important, but Christ Jesus created communion.  


In our passage today, communion was the moment in the day when the disciples on the road to Emmaus realized that they had been travelling with the risen Lord.  It wasn’t until they received communion with its spiritual significance that their eyes were opened. Luke told the Christian communities who read his Gospel that communion was the time in the gathering when the presence of the Holy Spirit was supposed to be realized and acknowledged.


Next week we will celebrate communion. Do we take the Lord’s Supper expectantly knowing that the Holy Spirit can’t wait to transform our life, to draw us closer to Christ and to share God’s love with us?


From the story today, prepare by following the path of the disciples of Emmaus. First, spend time focused on the Gospel of Christ. Second, take time to reflect on your own faith journey and God’s work in your life. Third, it is a holy moment. Be fully present to the moment and to the shared meal with your church family and your Savior.


About Pastor Tim

Tim Holmes

Senior Pastor

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