It was the third month since we'd last spoken or seen each other, leaving the most recent wounds to fester and scar. I was on the road, heading towards Richmond. And as I drove with the radio low, I tried to work out just what had happened, why things had gone the way they did, how this was neither what we'd hoped for nor every expected. I talked all of it out aloud, as though there were someone alongside next to me in the car.
I stopped on the way even though there was no need. I just sat there, still, working over every slight like something stuck in the teeth. I'd only been given an address, no name or destination. "It's just off 95," she'd typed, "so it will be convenient for us both." The slightly nagging voice in my GPS told me to get off at Exit 89 in one mile, and after announcing my obedience every few hundred yards, she told me my destination would be on the left.
Even in the most litigious, operatic of families, there comes a point where the juice is no longer worth the squeeze and you stop arguing. But since fighting is all you know how to do, you stop talking altogether. That's the place my mon and I were at.
It was going on the third month when she sent me a message, "Let's meet for dinner somewhere." I know I'm the "reverend." I'm the professional Christian. I'm the one with the Bible Knowledge in my head and the Holy Spirit in my heart. But the meal wasn't my initiative. The invitation came from her, not me. I replied back to her, "Sure" and I suggested a couple dates and asked for a destination. She sent back only an address, A seemingly random place along the road. I didn't even try to find it on a map. I replied, "Okay." And then with much sarcasm and equal parts cynicism, I entered the date in my iPhone Calendar along with the title: "Reconciliation Dinner."
The day of, I typed the address into Google Maps and 100 miles later it announced that my destination was on my left. I slowed the car and stared to the side and concluded that my mom must be punking me. Because there on my left was the Bass Pro Shop. It's a manure-colored structure that stretches as far as the eye can see. In case you're unfamiliar, Brass Pro Shop is a shopping mall exclusively for hunting and fishing. Imagine if Costco sold only those blueberry muffins and you have an idea of the scale and specificity that is Bass Pro Shop.
Now, you don't really know me, so let me just clarify by saying that I'm not really a Bass Pro Shop kind of guy. Not exactly in my element at the Bass Pro Shop.
I double-checked the address my mom had sent me. I was afraid that to call and question the choice of meeting places would only provoke another argument between us. So, I got out of the car and walked the 2 miles through the parking lot to the store, all the while feeling like a contestant in the Hunger Games headed towards the Cornucopia.
Like a lumberjack of yore, I walked through the heavy, fake-timbered front doors and then pushed my waist through a turnstile. If Virginia is a red-leaning state, then I think it fair to say that the Bass Pro Shop in Richmond is like that spot on the planet Jupiter.
For example, after I walked through the turnstile, to my left, where you might expect a coat check at a swankier establishment, customers were checking their concealed handguns. "Did you bring a weapon with you, sir?" the Walmart Greeter asked me. "Weapon? Uh, just these," I said, holding up my 2 hands. He kinked his eyebrow as though he was thinking there's no way you could stand your ground with hands as unimpressive as mine.
I stood there, staring back over at the gun check. "Are you looking for something, sir?" the Walmart Greeter asked. "Um, I'm just wondering where I can tie up my horse," I joked. He didn't laugh. You could tell it struck him like a good idea.
I'd gotten there early. I had time to kill, and I still had birthday shopping to do for my son Gabriel, so I wandered the store. After a while, another employee asked me if she could help me. "Yeah, do you sell fishing poles here?" (at the Bass Pro Shop). She looked at me with the sort of empathy one reserves for stroke patients and pointed in the direction behind her.
I walked past ladies camouflage lingerie in the women's section, Duck Dynasty onesies in the kids' section and "Gun Control Means Using Two Hands" outdoor thermostats in the home and garden section.
Finally, I happened upon not simply a fishing section but an entire forest of fishing poles. And behind it, hidden like a high stakes baccarat table, was an entire fly fishing section. I browsed, and every now and then I would let out a many grunt like I knew what I was looking at. Eventually, I let myself get taken advantage of and I bought Gabriel, my son, a boy's fly rod and reel and then, checking the time, I hiked back to the front of the store to meet my mom.
I stood outside next to a steel deer-hunting stand and waited for her. We said, "Hi," and waked inside and stepped through the turnstile. "Do you have any weapons with you?" the same Walmart Greeter asked her. "Just these two," I said again and held up my hands. He rolled his eyes at me. It turns out that in addition to a two-story waterfall and a day care center for your gun dogs, the Bass Pro Shop also has a full-service restaurant and bar in it. Because - why would it not? And we all know nothing goes better with hunting than alcohol.
The restaurant was decorated like Applebees' but with a swampy alligator theme. Captain Sig Hanson from Deadliest Catch was catching something on the flat screen over the bar. The hostess sat us awkwardly in the middle of the dining room where we were surrounded by a busload of elderly ladies and a high school cheerleading squad. At first, we tested the temperature before we tiptoed too far into conversation: nice to see, how are you, what's new with you, how are the boys? That sort of thing.
We must've looked like we were deep in conversation, because when the waitress came over to take our drink order, she apologized for interrupting us. As the waitress walked away, my mom said, "I'm sorry - for everything." "Me, too," I said. And then we got down to the brass tacks of what each of us was sorry for. After a while, the waitress brought us the glasses of wine we'd ordered along with a loaf of bread on a wooden cutting board.
Probably because it gave us something else to say, something safely rote and memorized, we said grace. We didn't hold hands or make a show of it or anything. We just quietly said grace. And having blessed the bread, I took it. And because the waitress forgot to leave us a knife, I broke the bread - into two pieces. And I gave the bread to my mom.
If you read straight through Luke's Gospel, from beginning to end, one of the things you notice is how Jesus is always eating at someone's house. In fact, some of Jesus' most critical teachings come around a dinner table. I've come not for good, righteous, religious people but for sinners." Jesus says that after he's poured another round at Levi's house. Levi, the tax collector.
"If you can't admit that you have much to be forgive for, you can't possibly show very much love." Jesus serves that up before the appetizers are served at Simon the Pharisee's house.
"You do plenty of Bible studies but seldom do you do the Bible," Jesus says that as soon as he sits down at another Pharisee's house when they notice he hasn't washed for supper.
"Make yourself low so as to raise someone else up. Like, when you have a dinner, treat your guest as if they were host," Jesus says when he's a guest at the leader of the Pharisees' house. "And whenever you have a dinner, don't just invite your friends, that's not what my Kingdom's like. Invite the poor and the lame. Invite the stranger and the estranged."
"The Kingdom of God is about actively seeking out the lost not waiting around for the lost to find their way to you," Jesus says on the way to Zaccheus' house.
When you read Luke's Gospel straight through, one of the things you notice is how Jesus practically eats his way to the Cross. Luke records six meals Jesus shares in the course of his ministry. A seventh comes the night Jesus is betrayed, when Jesus deviates from the ancient script and, taking bread and wine, says, "I'm the only way for you to pass-over from despair to new life, from sorrow to celebration, from bondage to freedom."
"And just so you don't forget that - Whenever you break bread or pour out wine, do it in remembrance of me."
Luke tells you that Jesus celebrates 7 suppers on the way to the Cross. 7 - the Hebrew number for perfection, completion, for the sum total of creation. 7 Suppers. Which makes this meal at Emmaus the 8th Supper.
The Resurrection is on the 8th Day. In a 7-day week, the 8th Day is just the 1st Day all over again. The Old Creation began on the 1st Day, and the New Creation begins on the 8th Day.
The first meal of the Old Creation was when Adam and Eve broke God's only command and, scripture says, "they ate and their eyes were opened" and they were ashamed of themselves and blamed each other and hid from God.
The first meal of the New Creation is when Cleopas and another - who's probably his wife - they break bread and, scripture says, "they ate and their eyes were opened and they recognized" and they ran back reconciled and rejoicing about resurrection."
The numbers aren't accidental. Luke wants you to see that this 8th Meal at Emmaus is the 1st Meal of the New Creation. It's Luke's way of saying that this meal at Emmaus is the summation of all the ones that came before it, that everything Jesus said and did at those 7 other supper tables can be found here in this 8th one, the first one of the New Creation.
Which is why, I think, before they sit down for this 8th Meal, Luke points out how these two disciples - they know their Bibles. They know everything there is to know about Jesus.
- They know the Christmas story, that Jesus is from Nazareth.
- They know he preached like and performed deeds like the prophets of old.
- They know he was righteous in a way like none else but Moses was.
- They know the Apostles Creed, how Jesus "was crucified under Pontius Pilate."
- They know he was to be the Messiah who would save his People from sin.
- They even know that the tomb is empty and that women have seen him raised from the dead.
They know everything there is to know, except what any of it could possibly mean for them. In their lives. Before this 8th Meal, when Luke shows you how much they know but how little grasp, Luke wants you to recall those other meals.
Like the one at Simons house where Jesus praises a sinner over a Pharisee and makes the point that it's not how much Bible you know, it's how much Bible you do. Luke wants you to see in this 8th Meal the other seven before it.
That's why, before this meal at Emmaus, Luke points out how even when this stranger opens up the disciples' minds to the scriptures and their hearts are burning inside with them for the spiritual high, they still don't recognize Jesus right there in front of them.
When Luke shows you how their spiritual high in their hearts doesn't do anything to open their eyes, Luke wants you to remember those other meals. Like the one at the Pharisee's house, where Jesus says his Kingdom is not about your high. It's about your low. It's about humbling and lowering yourself for another.
Before this 1st Meal of the New Creation, these two disciples have everything there is to know about Jesus in their heads and they have spiritual fire in their hearts. But Jesus is not made visible at this 8th Meal until they actually DO what Jesus said at those other 7 Meals.
Jesus is not made visible until they refuse to let this stranger remain a stranger. They don't let him slip away to the next town, they don't let a possible relationship go lost because the Kingdom is about seeking after people.
They invite not just their friends to this meal but stranger to dinner. And these two disciples - they humble themselves. They turn convention upside down and they treat this guest as though he were the host. That's why he's the one who blesses and breaks the bread.
And don't forget the biggest thing of all. For all they know this scripture-quoting rabbi on the road, who's playing dumb about the crucifixion, for all they know he's a Pharisee. The stranger certainly sounds like Pharisee. He talks like a Pharisee talks. For all they know, he's an enemy who killed Jesus. And so, their invitation to dinner is itself a gesture of forgiveness and reconciliation. These two disciples have everything there is to know about Jesus in their heads and they have spiritual fire in their hearts. But Jesus is not made visible at this 8th Meal until they actually DO what Jesus said at those other 7 Meals.
The waitress at the Bass Pro Shop brought us our glasses of wine along with a loaf of bread on a wooden cutting board. We offered a blessing. And then I took it, the bread. And I broke it. And I gave it. And then suddenly right before our eyes...
No. It doesn't work that way. It's not like our eyes were suddenly opened or that Jesus appeared to us in front of the paper Mache alligator on the wall. I think that misses what Luke's trying to show us.
It's not that Jesus was suddenly made visible to us. It's that everyone around us - the elderly ladies on their bus trip and the high school cheerleaders and the bartender in front of the flat screen and the waitress with the flair on her apron - if they knew our story and heard us seeking after what had been lost, refusing to let our estrangement make us strangers - if they knew our story and heard us offering forgiveness and saw us breaking bread - in remembrance - then they just might see Jesus.