April 23, 2023 – Third Sunday of Easter – Luke 24:13-35
As you hear the Gospel today, listen with one question in mind: At the table with Cleopas and the other disciple, is Jesus the guest or the host?
So what do you say: at the table, is Jesus the guest or the host? Let’s review the story. It’s Easter evening and two of Jesus’ disciples are walking along the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Jesus comes alongside them, but they don’t recognize him. Why they don’t recognize him we can only imagine. Did he somehow look different in his resurrection body? Or were they so blinded by their grief over his death and the “disappearance” of his body that they couldn’t see him? Whatever the reason, they don’t recognize him, and they go on to retell the whole story to this “stranger,” pouring out all their sadness and disappointment. Even when Jesus reframes the story from the perspective of scripture, they don’t get it. As they draw near to Emmaus, they see that night is falling. And knowing that it is not safe for the stranger to be out on the road alone at night, they offer him hospitality. They invite him to stay with them and they offer him the evening meal. At this point, Jesus is clearly the guest.
But while he is at table with them, he picks up bread, blesses, breaks, and gives it to them – and a light bulb goes off in their heads. Immediately, they recall him doing the same thing in their last supper together, and they realize who he is. In that moment, he becomes the host – not only because it would be the role of the host to give thanks for the food and distribute it, but also because any time we remember Jesus blessing and breaking and giving bread in this way, whether in a Bible story or when we celebrate the eucharist at this table, Jesus is the host.
So in this story, at the dinner table in Emmaus, is Jesus the guest or the host? The answer is yes! He is both guest and host. How can he be both? It’s a matter of perspective.
It’s a little like this. (I read about this team-building exercise online this week.) Can you, with one hand, draw a circle in a clockwise and a counterclockwise direction at the same time? You can. With your index finger, point at the ceiling, and pretend to draw a circle on the ceiling above your head in a clockwise direction. Now keep your finger moving, but slowly spiral your hand down until you’re drawing your imaginary circle in front of your face. Now keep your finger moving, and spiral your hand down to in front of your chest. Look down at your finger. Is it still moving in a clockwise direction? No! It’s counterclockwise. How can this be? It’s a matter of perspective.
Whether Jesus was the guest or the host at the meal with the two disciples was a matter of perspective. Before they recognized him, he was their guest. But once their eyes were opened, from the perspective of faith, he became the host. Same person. Same resurrected Lord. Both guest and host. And he is still both guest and host in our lives today. We pray in the common mealtime prayer: “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let this food to us be blessed.” We invite Jesus’ presence in our hearts, in our homes, and in our worship; and at the same time, he is always the host – always in charge, always the one breaking the bread and distributing his many gifts to his children.
I’ve thought a lot about this host/guest combination this week in relation to Earth Day because it seems to me that we are both host and guest on this planet. We are hosts from the perspective of the book of Genesis in which God has clearly put us in charge. In the first creation story, God says to the humans God had created: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” It would be an irresponsible reading of this passage, I believe, to say that it means that God has given us license to do whatever damaging thing that we want to our planet. But God did make us stewards– responsible caretakers – of the world. And there’s no denying that we have great power and ability to affect the earth – for good and for ill.
But then there’s the other side of the host/guest duality – the guest side – the idea that we are but guests on the earth. This, too, is biblically based. Psalm 24 says “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world and those who live in it; for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers.” From this faith perspective, we are God’s creatures, no greater or lesser than the tallest tree or the tiniest insect. We are all but guests.
So are we the hosts, the lords of all creation; or are we here at the invitation and through the generosity of our Creator God? The answer is yes: both! But clearly, from the crisis our planet now faces, we humans have gravitated more to the role of host than of guest. At the risk of being overly simplistic about solutions to the problems God’s good creation faces, I wonder if an attitude adjustment might be in order. I wonder how much good could be accomplished if we leaned more into our role as guests on the earth.
Think about the last time you were a guest in someone’s home. Knowing what decent human beings you are, my guess is that you were very respectful of your host’s home. You were probably careful not to disrupt your host’s normal routine. You were probably cautious about not taking too long a shower and using up all the household’s hot water; conscious of the portions of food that you took; conscientious about leaving things in at least as good a condition as you found them. That’s what it means to be a good guest in someone’s home. And it’s also what it means to be a good guest on the earth: respectful of all living things, not disruptive to habitats, cautious about waste, conscious about greed, conscientious about leaving things better than we found them. That is creation care.
Friends, here is an amazing thing: we were created in the image of God. That means we are both host and guest in God’s house, both host and guest in this world. May God empower us to be ever more responsible hosts and ever more gracious guests for the sake of the world – the whole world – that God loves.