As the two disciples came near the village to which they were going, Jesus walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “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?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem, and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. The eleven were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then the two told what had happened on the road and how Jesus had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. -Luke 24:28-35

Did you know that there’s a whole set of readings assigned for Easter Evening? Apparently the folks who established the Revised Common Lectionary were so confident that there would be Easter Evening services that those readings are unique to that lectionary. But have you ever gone to an Easter Evening service? Yeah, me neither.

The gospel for Easter Evening is one of my favorites, though, and I highly recommend you look up the whole passage, starting at Luke 24:13. The story goes that on the day of the Resurrection, two disciples left Jerusalem to go home to Emmaus, seven miles away from Jerusalem. (Remember that travel was prohibited on the Sabbath, so they couldn’t have left any earlier.) One of the disciples is named Cleopas, and the other isn’t named at all. (My favorite theory is that the other disciple is “Mary the wife of Clopas” named by John’s gospel as a woman who witnessed the crucifixion, but it’s possible that it’s just someone whose name is forgotten.)

While the disciples were walking, Jesus joined them, but they did not recognize him. They walked together for miles, with Jesus teaching them the whole way. They still didn’t recognize him. Finally, they reached the village, and Jesus sat down to eat with them. Then, sitting together at the table, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.

Now Jesus is plainly revealed, and the two were so moved that they got up and returned to Jerusalem, seven miles back again in the dark.

This story is a reminder to me that what is most important is not the content, or teaching, of faith. (Don’t get me wrong; what we believe is very important, but not most important!) The most important thing, the thing that reveals Jesus, is being included together at the table.

Throughout the 20th century, American Christianity adopted a pattern of “behave, believe, belong.” That is, any person who wanted to join a church had to first fit their behavior to the church standard. Sometimes that took the form of certain moral standards, and other times it meant conforming to a majority group sensibility about dressing and speaking in a way that was seen as respectable. Once the “behave” piece was in place, then came “believe,” or learn and be able to repeat all the teachings of the church. Finally, once “behave” and “believe” were taken care of, then a person could join the church and “belong.” 

The thing is– that’s not what happens when Jesus actually interacts with people in the gospels, nor when the early church gets its start in Acts. As soon as people are moved by hearing about or meeting Jesus, they’re welcomed into the community right away. And then they devote themselves to learning and faithful living in response to recognizing Jesus. They recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread, not in the lesson plan. They’ll know we are Christians by our love, after all.

For those of us who are already deeply connected to our church, this story is an important reminder: the most important thing we can do isn’t telling people how they should behave. It isn’t telling people what they must believe. It’s showing people that they belong. That there is a place at the table for them, so they can recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread.