13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles[a] from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognising him.
28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.
30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
Luke 24:13-16, 28-32
The Danish story of Babette’s feast was published in 1958, and the film adaptation won an Oscar. Babette, a French refugee, becomes the cook to a puritanical household in Jutland. Their diet is simple, even boring, but she begins to liven it up, causing a mixture of delight and disapproval. In due course, she wins the lottery and, with their begrudging permission, persuades the community to let her prepare a sumptuous feast. Unbeknown to them, she spends the whole of her winnings on food and wine imported from France, which she prepares with love and skill. Guests are invited and, as the evening progresses, wonderful dishes emerge from the kitchen and cold hearts are surprised by the joy of good food, wine and company. When the guests have departed and the washing-up is done, it is clear that something indescribably amazing has happened. Scales have fallen from hearts, reconciliation has occurred and a new future beckons.
Many have seen in this film overtones of the gospel. Babette’s diners become a new body of Christ, changed by the love and sacrifice that she has expended without regard to cost or effort. The meal she prepares is a selfless act; she cannot enjoy the meal itself but takes a greater, providential pleasure in the delight she brings to others through her cooking.
The disciples on the road to Emmaus invited Jesus to share a meal that was no doubt provided by some other unseen host, whom they paid. In this story, therefore, both guest and host are in a sense unseen. A popular inscription often found in the home describes Christ as ‘the unseen guest at every meal’, but he is also the host of every meal. Although unseen now, he is with us now by his Spirit, and he invites us to dine with him, one day, at the most lavish banquet ever offered in heaven or earth.
Christ, the unseen guest at our table, use in the service of your kingdom, so that we may meet you in those whom we meet on our road, and always thank you for your goodness. Amen