The two disciples heading from Jerusalem to Emmaus provide for us an incredible interaction with our risen Lord. No doubt you have heard about this journey before. After all, their conversation with our Lord, while they were not allowed to recognize who he really was, is legendary. But throughout the whole scene they are going through what amounts to an emotional roller coaster. There are ups and downs, twists and turns that we can all relate to. They go from having just watched Jesus be crucified and buried, to hearing some news from the women about Him being raised from the dead, to heading home wondering what all these things mean. On that journey they recount the events not only to themselves but to this one who seems a stranger and then opens to them the Word of God and tells them how all this had to happen, all this must happen this way. He illustrates from the Word that the Christ must suffer, be betrayed, and rise again on the third day. While they are speaking with him their hearts burn with eagerness, assurance, and hope. As they draw near to their village a new fear dawns on them, they do not want to be parted from this man. They cry out, “Stay with us.”
In many ways this powerful journey on the road toward Emmaus acts like a parable of sorts for our own journey, our own rollercoaster ride as we struggle with the faith. For many of us the journey began when we were young. Before we could take ourselves to church, we were brought there by our parents or grandparents. We sat in a Sunday School room and learned the grammar of our faith. We learned about Jesus and His miraculous love, compassion, and protection for His sheep, for He is the Good Shepherd. We are his sheep. He knows us, calls us by name, and embraces us as His own. We sing out loud and long with full conviction, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine!” We learn about His gifts to us, about His sacrifice and we are in awe of the wonderful love of God.
But as time rolls on, that simple grammar of the faith is tested and tried as it collides with the experiences of the rest of our life. For some, it is the growing awareness of their own sin which shakes their confidence. Love seemed easy when sin was just making a mistake, and one much regretted, but it gets much more difficult when the sin is a longing desire within our own heart, when it comes as a blindness to the whole counsel of God. Is there still forgiveness for us? Is Christ still enough for the wickedness of adult sinners? For others, the challenge comes through suffering and hardship. Faith seemed easy when it was simple songs full of joy and innocent expectation. But things get much more difficult when we are faced with suffering and loss, when you have your heart broken, when you cry out to God in fervent prayer, but it does not seem to do any good. Then you are in for a real war, a real crisis in your faith.
As we grow older, our faith is challenged over and again, and we can often feel like we are barely hanging on. In the midst of it all, it can seem that despair and doubt are your only allies. Yet, when we gather around the Word of God, when we come again to hear the Good News, we can be like those disciples on the road to Emmaus. It has been one wild ride and things are unsure, but all we really know, all we really desire is that He stays with us. “Stay with us,” we cry out. “Stay with us for it is getting late, and we cannot do this on our own. Stay with us, O Lord, for without You we would be lost, without Your presence we would be overcome by the twist and turns, the unpredictable ups and downs of this life.” The haunting truth is our faith is not only dependent on what Christ has done, but also on what He continues to do, here and now. If Christ does not stay with you, if He does not continue to abide with you, your journey along this path will not end well.
Now, just a few chapters before, in Luke 22, we read about the institution of the Lord’s Supper. In the upper room Jesus celebrates the Passover meal with His disciples. In that text we read Jesus “took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is My body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.’” Then, these disciples, having arrived in Emmaus and convinced our Lord to stay with them, experience the same things. According to our text, “When He was at table with them, He took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized Him.” As they will later say to the rest of the disciples, “He was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” In the context of Jesus taking, breaking, and giving, He is made known. He is found here in the breaking of the bread.
In this gift the cry of, “Stay with us,” is answered. The body and blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ are given, in, with, and under the bread and wine. Take, eat, this is My body. Take, drink, this is My blood. These gifts locate the Lord in your midst. Like the disciples on the road of Emmaus, we come through the twists and turns of life, through the roller coaster of emotions as our life experiences try and test our faith. In the end, you just want Him to remain. You want Him to stay with you, stay in your life, stay with His love, compassion, forgiveness, and assurance. And He does. He stays here. He stays in the Word and Sacrament, in the body and blood, given and shed for you. He stays where He can be found. So, like those ancient disciples, we too know Him in the breaking of the bread, in a gift which delivers forgiveness and life everlasting.
We cry out, “Stay with us.” So, Jesus invites you to His table, to His promises. They are promises which are not just spoken into the ether, but promises attached to material things, promises you actually taste. In the catechism we ask the important question, “How can bodily eating and drinking do such great things?” And the answer given is, “Certainly not just eating and drinking do these things, but the words written here: ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’ These words, along with the bodily eating and drinking, are the main thing in the Sacrament. Whoever believes these words has exactly what they say: ‘forgiveness of sins.’” Therefore, our faith and the physical world in which we live are bound together in this gift. Your Lord graciously gives you something for your faith to hold on to, something outside of yourselves, something tangible, so you might know you are not alone, you are not cast aside. Rather, He still comes to you. He still abides with you, for He continues to love you.
When my children were much younger, I used to sing to them at night when I put them to bed. I did not do it all the time, but often enough that I am sure they remember it. Now, I do not pretend to have some great singing voice, but I do love to sing, and what I would usually sing to them was the hymn, “Abide with Me.” I think I can still sing it by heart. But there are a few stanzas which really get to the heart of what we are talking about: Our need not only for what Christ has done for us, but what He continues to do for us even now. The hymn is a plea for our Lord to stay with us.
“Abide with me, fast falls the eventide. The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide. When other helpers fail and comforts flee, Help of the helpless, O abide with me.”
“I need Thy presence ev’ry passing hour; What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s pow’r? Who like Thyself my guide and stay can be? Through cloud and sunshine, O abide with me.”
“I fear no foe with Thee at hand to bless; Ills have no weight and tears no bitterness. Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory? I triumph still if Thou abide with me!”
So, Jesus says, “Take, eat, this is My body, given for you.”