"Cathedral Dining"    Luke 24:13-35      April 6, 2008

Consider this scenario: You're on the way home from the office, tired and stressed. You're hungry, but you know that the refrigerator at home is as empty as your stomach.

Like most Americans, where are you going to stop for food for the evening meal? It doesn't have to be McDs, BK, or Wendys anymore. Fast food is morphing into what the food industry calls HMRs, Home-Meal Replacements, a growing $100 billion-a-year phenomenon.

No longer do you have to settle for burgers and fries if you're short on time but want your supper and eat it, too. In one stop at certain gas stations, you can fill the tank with gas, run inside and grab some fresh panini, or chicken, and take off for home.
• Grocery stores offer ready-to-go foods from soup to dessert, from lasagna to pot roast.
• Restaurants have pick-up and delivery systems so we can pick up a ready-to-eat lunch or have pizza delivered.
• Of the $691 billion spent on food last year, 46 percent was for dishes bought outside the home.
We love eating at home; we just want someone else to do the cooking. That's what HMRs are all about.

How did all of this get started? As far back as 1879, Heinz produced the first bottle of catsup and marketed it with an ad that said: "For the blessed relief of mother and other women of the household."
In 1953, just a year before the first Golden Arches went up, a Swanson food dietician named Betty Cronin created the infamous "TV dinner." (This was at a time when meals took on average two hours to prepare.) TV dinners hit the shelves with the promise of providing relief to mothers "burdened with baby-boom offspring." What once took two hours, now has been "shrink-wrapped to a tidy 15 minutes." (For more, see Stacy Perman, "The joy of not cooking," Time, June 1, 1998.)

We may not have time to cook a full course dinner anymore, but there is a lot we miss when we skip eating together. What do you think the disciples walking the Emmaus road were thinking about that late afternoon?
Yes, they were discussing the phenomenal events of the past few days in Jerusalem, but when Jesus was about to leave them, there is no doubt that dinner was on their minds, and they wanted Jesus to share it with them.

"Cleopas and his companion are nobodies who have no idea what God might be doing. They could be any one of us. Their road to Emmaus is an ordinary road, the road each of us is on every day. This is what sets this story apart from other accounts of Jesus’ Easter appearances." ("Road Trip,"Amy B. Hunter, The Christian Century, 2002.)
They were sad and forlorn. Do you have a long and lonely walk that seems filled with sorrow and doubt?  Do you have a hurt that is difficult to bear?  Invite Jesus!  He is hungry to attend.  Invite Jesus!  He can make the deepest loneliness and the longest journey full of purpose and hope.  Invite Jesus!
Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses. /  If he is your Christian neighbor, he is holy in almost the same way, / for in him also, Christ ... is truly hidden. (C.S. Lewis, "The Weight of Glory," C.S. Lewis: Readings for Meditation and Reflection (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1992), 38.)
It was when they were eating with Jesus that these disciples realized who they were with. In the breaking of the bread, as Jesus had done so many times with his disciples, their eyes were opened.

Our Lord’s timing is impeccable.  He does not reveal Himself to us until the appropriate time.  It seems that God allows us to experience periods of questioning and confusion—not too weaken our faith—but to strengthen it.  Nothing re-prioritizes our lives as much as losing something of great value. 
It often takes a traumatic experience of loss before a person will stop and focus their lives on the true target.  But that is only half the story on the road to Emmaus: The confusion of loss and grief is exactly what led to the receptivity for Christ’s revelation.
Jesus didn't appear to these two at the empty tomb, or in the temple, or on a mountain peak, but at a spiritual gas station, a refueling place: a home-cooked meal. He came as a companion, which literally means "with bread." Jesus is someone who comes to us with bread, with a home-meal replacement.

Meals are important. Jesus still visits us at mealtime, often through the friends, family and strangers we entertain there.

The dinner table is the Lord's everyday cathedral. Christ is found in our companions, the ones we eat bread with. It is in the saying of table blessings and the breaking of bread with one another that a meal with Jesus is celebrated, and his resurrected presence is experienced. This is cathedral dining.

We can say that Emmaus is anywhere that Christian people gather for table fellowship. Emmaus can be here, or there, or anywhere, because Jesus will travel wherever his followers are going, and will appear wherever they break bread.
What do you really miss when you skip supper? Not just good cooking, but a great chance to encounter the resurrected Lord. As Christians, we encounter the resurrected Christ in each other. "When two or more are gathered, Christ is among us" in a special way that is different than when we are alone.

Like charity, communion begins at home. "The eat-in kitchen is a place of both nourishment and devotion," writes Leigh Schmidt of Princeton University; "food and family are blessed together through the common ritual of table graces."

You may have seen this plaque in someone's kitchen, which reads . . .

            Christ is the Head of this house,
            The unseen Guest at every meal,
            The silent Listener in every conversation.

A great reminder that our Lord is with us even in the ordinary, mundane things of life. It's good to be in church, but we don't have to go to church to be in
Christ's company.

 The Bible makes abundantly clear that Jesus loved to fellowship over food and drink.

• He enjoyed the wedding feast at Cana.
• He ate with tax collectors and sinners, and sat at table with his disciples.
• He spent some of his final hours eating with his disciples. We call it the Last Supper.
• Revelation refers not just to the marriage of the Lamb, but the marriage supper of the Lamb.

Like the first disciples, we can eat and drink with joy because our bridegroom is with us. The resurrected Lord is "The unseen Guest at every meal," offering us his peace and his guidance if we will only acknowledge his presence. The challenge for us is to slow down enough to make a connection with Christ, and with one another.

- We can do this by scheduling a meal that we can consistently enjoy together, whether it is breakfast or supper.

- We can do it by resisting the lure of fast food, and taking the time to enjoy some slow food; food that is not prepackaged in individual servings, but comes from a common platter or bowl, and must be served to a group that is sitting down together.

To eat and drink with joy, and feel the presence of Jesus, we must make our family meals a kind of wedding reception for the bridegroom - not fancy, but well-planned, well-served and well-paced. Cathedral dining. We honor the guest/host.
Mary & Martha in Bethany fussed over Jesus. It was a special occasion for them to join them. In a sense, this is what we do Family Night and our other times of sharing food and fellowship among our members.

It is, of course, a fact of postmodern life that schedules conflict and meals must be skipped. Activities run through the dinner hour, family members run in different directions, and food must be wolfed down on the run.

But there is a cost to this frenetic pace, one that is often forgotten as people dash from one important event to another: When we skip a meal with each other, we are skipping a meal with Jesus. When we dash away from the table, we are dashing away from the presence of Christ and his fellowship with our companions.

The questions that we should always be asking ourselves as we race wildly from place to place are these:

• Is this next activity more important than the nourishment that comes from breaking bread together?
• Is this event more valuable than the guidance I might receive from conversation over dinner?
• Is this schedule making me feel more at peace with myself and others?

 Unless you can answer "yes" to these questions, you would do well to find a way to spend more time at the table with Jesus.

So what is the point of all this? Remember that eating is not just devouring food. Our bodies must be nourished and fed, but our spirits also need to be nourished and fed. Because of our hectic lifestyles, sharing meals together is one of the best ways to not only keep in touch with each other's daily schedules, but to deepen our relationships with each other and with Jesus.
One way to work into this mindset is to just say, "Whatever."

"Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him" (Colossians 3:17).

Whatever ... whatever you do ... at the dinner table, on the road, at work, at school or in the yard ... do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus. Plan your day in such a way that Christ is always your companion, and in such a way that you can find him in the people you eat bread with.

On the Emmaus Road, Jesus acted as if he were going farther, but the disciples were quick to ask him to stay. And stay He did, and they received a new revelation of Christ's magnificent plan for humankind.
Will it be fast food? Or cathedral dining, with Jesus as your guest?

Ask him to stay with you, to eat with you, to walk with you.  Ask him to reveal himself to you!  Ask Jesus to come into your dining room—into your most intimate life—and break bread with you.  Don’t do Jesus from a distance!  Be with Jesus in the most intimate setting of your family life.  Invite him home to dinner!

Rev. Rosemary Stelz
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