Recognizing Jesus

When Jesus was at the table with the two of them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.

-Luke 24:30-31


I am always grateful for name tags at big events. That way, if I’ve forgotten someone’s name I really should remember, I can sneak a peek at their name tag and remind myself, “Oh, of course, that’s Amy!” This is especially true when it’s someone I know I met somewhere else, and I’m having trouble placing them in a different context. Somehow, my brain simply refuses to make the connection between face and name when someone is in a place I didn’t expect to find them.

The above verses from Luke tell of a similar situation on the afternoon of the first Easter. Two disciples left Jerusalem, probably eager to put some distance between themselves and any lingering zeal from the chief priests or Roman police. They had heard from the women that Jesus was risen from the dead, but who’d be gullible enough to believe that? So the two set out for Emmaus. (You can read the whole thing in Luke 24:13-35.)

As they walk, however, Jesus joins them. Only… they can’t tell it’s Jesus. They do not recognize him. After all, he’s supposed to be dead, not out for a Sunday afternoon stroll. When Jesus engages them in conversation, they still do not recognize him. When Jesus teaches them, they still do not recognize him. 

It’s only when Jesus blesses and breaks bread that the disciples finally recognize him.

Breaking bread together is at the core of Christian worship for many reasons. In the early church, it guaranteed that even the poorest among the believers would receive a good meal once a week. In the centuries since then, even as the meal has become less of a feast and more of a snack, the Lord’s Table remained a place where all believers gathered as equals, no matter their age or station in life.

Most importantly of all, breaking bread is a sure and certain means to recognize Jesus. Despite pressure from both Catholic and Anabaptist theologians of his time, Martin Luther steadfastly insisted that Jesus meant what he said: “this is my body.” In bread and cup, by the promise of Jesus and the mystery of faith, we find Jesus.

More than that, though, we find a Jesus who is for us. Jesus’ words at the Last Supper were, “this is my body given for you…my blood shed for you.” We do not need to wonder if the God we recognize in broken bread is for us or against us. He tells us himself: given for you, shed for you. We can expect to find the Jesus who loves us and gave himself for us every time we come to the table. If you’re looking for Jesus, you know just where to find him.

Jesus, bread of life from heaven, you have given your very self to us and for us, so that we might recognize you in the meal we share. Gather us at your table, that we might feast on every good thing you give to us. Amen.