The Emmaus Road narrative is not as well-known as other Luke texts, like the Good Samaritan or the Prodigal Son, but it is as artfully presented and actually holds more significance.
It isn’t a moralistic story; rather, it is story about where and how we see our resurrected Savior. It starts with hospitality, becoming then a challenge for modern day ears, and then morphs into unexpected blessings.
Years ago I officiated a funeral for a woman who had died in her late nineties. I sat with the family to craft the service, and they shared a striking story of their family history.
They said, “Our home was close to some railroad tracks and Hobos were always asking for handouts. Mom would always feed them. We would sit on the porch with them and listen to their wonderful stories of all the places they had been, and the fortunes they were seeking.”
This story is a fascinating reminder of a by gone age, emphasized by the phrase, “the fortunes they were seeking.” They were seeking something better, and along the way, someone helped them by giving them a place to rest, and something to eat.
This is what Cleopas and his compassion did. “…he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us.’ So he went in to stay with them.” The entire passage revolves around those three little words. Stay with us. If they hadn’t offered a place at their table and in their home, if they hadn’t said, “stay with us”, the story wouldn’t be a story. But they did.
And as foreign as the idea is today, it would have been unthinkable for Cleopas not to say them.
First century hospitality was deeply rooted in biblical tradition with the mandate to welcome strangers within a community.
Every Jew knew the Deuteronomic command, a law they were required to obey: “Do not mistreat a stranger.” “You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
Additionally, this “stay with us” language was familiar as it came from the story of Abraham who said to three strangers, “stay with us.” After having done so, Abraham discovered the three whom he broke bread with were angels bearing the message of Sarah’s pregnancy.
Hospitality was, and is, a biblical mandate and in a culture without Holiday Inns and Super 8’s, it was, and is, essential. Jewish travelers in the first century depended on the words “stay with us.”
Cleopas and his companion however, aren’t just Jews. They are followers of Jesus. And a core element of Jesus’ ministry was a radical display of hospitality.
Jesus was criticized for eating with sinners and tax collectors. He invited children to come to him. He openly engaged the “unclean” of society. It didn’t matter who it was, Jesus was willing to break bread with them.
With their invitation of “stay with us” Cleopas and his companion aren’t just living out their Hebrew tradition—they are living like Jesus.
We don’t know who said, “Stay with us”, but we do know what happened. When they invited Jesus in they went to the table and Jesus “…took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.”
Jesus is not just eating with them. He’s reenacting his last supper where he took bread, blessed, broke and gave it to them saying, “This is my body, broken for you.” The stranger doesn’t just stay with them. The stranger has communion with them, and suddenly, “Their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.” The Risen Savior is revealed in the breaking of bread, but it was first made possible through hospitality.
That’s what this story is about. It’s not just about how to love, or how to care for, one another. It’s about where we see our resurrected Savior in our lives… and how we respond.
Throughout my career, I’ve had the conversation over and over again. I’ve had it with a few of you. I’ve had it with others who are not here. It is a conversation about seeing. “I don’t see Jesus. I’m not seeing him in my life or in the world. So, I’m stepping away from church.” And I get it. Sometimes we see Jesus, and sometimes we don’t. But the possibility of seeing Christ in the world, or even in your life, is much more problematic when you aren’t looking—when you aren’t seeking. It is difficult to see Jesus if you aren’t participating in the hospitality of the table where he is made known in breaking bread.
Yes, sometimes you see him and sometimes you don’t. But this is the way of faith. There are so many distractions and demands, there are even, as the disciple Thomas reminds us, so many doubts. But this story reminds me that seeing is not Jesus’ issue—it’s my issue. I may want to blame it on him but it’s not right or fair.
The Emmaus Road story reminds me, proves to me, that sometimes my eyes are looking in the wrong places, or my heart isn’t burning with the Word or I’m not breaking bread at his table in a way that allows for the possibility that I might catch a glimpse of my resurrected Savior.
This story reminds me that the reason for the times when I don’t see Jesus is because I am focusing on everything but Jesus.
But I also know this… When I have those wonderful moments when Christ is revealed to me, I suddenly begin to see him in all kinds of places and faces. I see him welcoming people, families, and children into this house. I see him at the bedside of a family saying goodbye to a loved one. I see him in your lives, expressing compassion and love to those you encounter each day.
When I have invited Jesus to “stay with us”, really invited him in, seriously studied his Word, and honestly broken his bread—then my focus, and my faith, become sharper and I can see him all around me.
One of the world’s finest preachers tells a story about how the risen Savior was revealed to him. Instead of it being at a dinner, it was at a breakfast.
Fred Craddock was stuck in Winnipeg, Canada when a snowstorm paralyzed the city, making it impossible for his host to pick him up for breakfast.
So for breakfast Craddock found himself at a crowded bus depot café near his hotel. As he entered somebody scooted over and let him get in a booth. A big man with a greasy apron came over to the table and asked him what he wanted. Craddock asked to see a menu.
The man said, “We have soup.”
“Then I’ll have soup,” Craddock said, noting he really didn’t want soup for breakfast.
The man brought the soup and Craddock tells how it was unusual soup, grey, the color of a mouse. He didn’t know what was in it, but he took the spoon and tasted. It was awful! “I can’t eat this,” Craddock thought. So he sat in that crowded café warming his hands around the bowl, railing against the world in his mind, stuck in Winnipeg.
Then, the door opened and a middle-aged woman came in, wearing a coat, but nothing covering her head. Someone scooted over and let her in a booth. The big man with the greasy apron came over and the whole café heard this conversation:
“What’d ya want?”
“A glass of water, please,” she said.
The man brought the water, took out his tablet and repeated the question. “What’d ya want?”
“Just the water.”
“Lady, you gotta order something.”
“Just the water, please.”
The man’s voice rising, “Lady, I’ve got paying customers waiting for a seat, now order!”
“Just the water, please.”
“You order something or you get out!”
“Can I stay and get warm?”
“Order or get out.”
So she got up, and started to leave.
Then the people at the table where she was seated also got up, people around got up, the folks who let Craddock sit got up, Fred himself got up, and they all started moving towards the door. It was as if someone said, “If she can’t stay, none of us will stay.”
The big man with the greasy apron said, “Ok, ok. She can stay.” And everybody sat down. He even brought her a bowl of that soup.
Craddock asked the man sitting next to him, “Who is she?”
“Never saw her before,” the man said, “but if she ain’t welcome, ain’t nobody welcome.”
Craddock shares how all you could then hear was the sound of people eating that soup, and he thought, “Well, if they can eat it, I can eat it.”
Craddock finishes his story saying, “It was good soup. I ate all of that soup. It was strange soup. I don’t remember ever having it, but as I left I remembered eating something that tasted like it before. That soup, that day, tasted like bread and wine.”
We are no different than Cleopas and his companion. We are no different than Fred Craddock, the woman who would have just water, or the greasy apron man. We are no different than the “Hobos” asking for a little help as they were seeking something better.
Jesus is right there with them and they can’t see him. But when they extended the Biblically mandated hospitality—and broke bread—they saw him. They had to reflect on their experience in scripture to realize the heartburn they were experiencing wasn’t dinner or breakfast—it was Christ’s presence in their lives.
The Emmaus Road story is a model for how we find the resurrected Savior.
When we gather together, when we invite others in and sit with them, when we break bread, when we study scripture, Jesus is revealed to us.
Sometimes we will see him readily; other times, like the disciples, our eyes are unable to recognizing him because we haven’t invited him, and others, to “stay with us.”
So may our eyes be opened… May our hearts burn… May we seek something better… And may we do so by being willing to say, “Stay with us.” Amen.