Other disciples saw Jesus, but wondered if it was really him, or just somebody who looked a lot like him? Or were they just having a dream? Or were they seeing a ghost.
Today's Gospel reading immediately follows the story of Jesus appearing to two disciples on the road to Emmaus. As Luke tells the story, these two disciples, Cleopas and (probably Cleopas' wife), were heading home after witnessing the crucifixion of Jesus. Jesus joined them and talked with them for quite a while. But they didn't recognize him, even though they saw him and heard him.
As they approached their house, they invited Jesus to come and stay with them. And as they were sitting at table together, Jesus took bread, broke it and gave it to them. And in that moment, Luke says, they recognized him! But he vanished from their sight.
And so they got up and ran back to Jerusalem and found the other disciples, and they told them what had happened. And it's just as they've finished the story that Jesus appears in the room with all of them. But this time, they all recognize him immediately.
And yet, Luke says, in their joy they were still "disbelieving and still wondering." And it's not hard to wonder why. As Cleopas and his wife told the story, Jesus wasn't immediately recognizable. He vanished like a ghost. And he didn't actually eat the bread with them.
So maybe, they were just seeing a ghost. Knowing this, Jesus says, "OK guys, touch me and see that I'm not a ghost." But even that wasn't enough. Seeing wasn't believing. Even touching wasn't believing.
So almost in exasperation, Jesus says, "Look, give me something to eat." And they gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in in front of them.
Eating. That was what did it. Eating was believing. Eating was what finally convinced at least some of those disciples that Jesus really was alive. It made the resurrection real. It made them certain that God's love and presence had actually returned to their real, everyday lives.
So that raises the question for us: What makes the Resurrection real for us? What is it that helps us experience Jesus as a living reality in our lives, and not just a story others have told us?
And maybe we also shouldn't pass over eating too quickly, as if eating were an unimportant detail of the story. It's tempting to do, especially in our busy lives. Sometimes we're tempted to dismiss eating as one of those basic necessities that we do before getting on to the "important" things God wants us to focus on. We eat quickly before we run to work. Or we grab something to eat on a way to a game. Or maybe we even skip eating altogether because our schedules are so full of important things to get done.
But eating - and eating together, is often the way things become real for us, too. Eating, and eating together, is often what makes:
- our relationships real - building and strengthening relationships - making relationships real and meaningful in our lives - almost always involves some kind of eating together ... (whether it's family bonding; having coffee together; or gathering for a wedding feast ...)
- our relationship with God real - it was finally eating and drinking with the Risen Jesus that often convinced the first disciples that Jesus really was alive again (and that's often how the NT describes knowing it was really Jesus - "we ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead...); and it's interesting that Jesus could have told his disciples to do anything to re-experience his presence with them, but what he told them to do was to eat together - and it's in that eating and drinking that Jesus promises to make his presence real in our lives ...
- God's love real in the lives of others - it's one thing to tell people that God loves them and cares about them when they're down. But if you want to show them, what do you do? Often, the most important thing is giving them something to eat ... (maybe that's why the feeding of the 5000 is the only miracle remembered in all 4 Gospels - eating made God's love real to ordinary, non-religious people!)
Often, God makes his presence real through basic, everyday events like eating. And sometimes those basic things are the point of the story. Eating was what made the living presence of Jesus real for the first disciples. And sometimes, eating is how God makes his love real to us, too.
Next weekend, we're beginning First Communion instruction for a group of our 3rd graders. There's a lot of deep theology you can get into when you study what communion is all about. But at the root of it all is this: Jesus wanted his disciples throughout time to know that his living presence was with them even when they couldn't see him or touch him. And the way he gave us to remember and re-experience his risen presence is through eating.
Jesus didn't explain why. He didn't neatly explain how it happens. He just says come and eat. Pay attention to the eating and drinking, and let God make the risen presence of Jesus real to you in that way.
Eating in the Bible isn't just eating. It's about making things real.
Jesus ate in the presence of his disciples, and the resurrection became real to them. And Jesus calls us to eat with him and with others in such a way that his risen and living presence becomes real in our lives and in the lives of others we meet.