Have you ever felt your heart burning within you… and I’m not talking about what is commonly known as heart-burn.
Today we explore the resurrection passage set for the third Sunday of Easter. It is the story of the walk to Emmaus.
The story is set on the day of Resurrection. Two disciples of Jesus are walking away from Jerusalem the place of Jesus’ recent crucifixion, to the village of Emmaus 7 miles away.
They are broken, dejected and filled with grief. As they walk, the Risen Christ draws up beside them, but they think he is a stranger. He notes that their faces are downcast and asks what they are talking about. They share with him the events of the past few days, the events leading up to Jesus death and also the claims from some women that Jesus was Risen and how all the hopes they had in Jesus had been dashed.
Then Jesus, the stranger begins to share with them words of Scriptures. As he speaks to them they find their hearts burning within them.
At the end of the journey, they invite Jesus to dine with them, as the bread is broken and blessed by him, their eyes are opened and they see it is Jesus. In that moment Jesus disappears.
What could this passage mean for us today?
In preparing for today, the phrase that I was chewing on was the phrase: Were not our hearts burning within us on the road? I asked Wendy if she can remember a time when her heart burned within her. After a brief moment of thought she replied: when she fell in love with me! Which warmed my heart!
The phrase is such an expressive one. It speaks of hearts that might be stirring with hope, expanding with a sense of love, a sense of positivity, a sense that everything is right with the world and that everything is going to be ok.
When I was chatting with Wendy about it, she reminded me of a few pages from a book written by the author, Rob Bell, who refers to a number of such experiences in his own life and the lives of close friends, some seemingly very ordinary experiences and other more serious or weighty moments.
He remembers of the first time he was truly in awe of God. He said he felt like he was being caught up in something massive, loving and transcendent and true. Something he was sure could be trusted and that in-spite of all the horrible, tragic things in the world, the universe was somehow safe. He remembers feeling that underneath it all, life is somehow good and true. This all happened at the age of 16 at a U2 music concert. He says that when they started to sing the song: “Where the streets have no names” he thought he was going to spontaneously combust with joy. He writes: This was real. This mattered. Whatever it was. And he wanted more. He had never felt that way before.
He then tells of an experience surfing. He paddled out on a gorgeous day and as he sat there on his board, a couple of hundred feet off shore, surrounded by blue and green and sunlight and quiet, a dolphin jumped in the water next to him. He writes that he thought his heart was never going to start beating again. It was not because it gave him a fright, but because he was overwhelmed by the crushing beauty of what he had just seen and experienced.
He speaks too of the day that his first son was born and he couldn’t speak. He writes that he will never forget standing there by the bed and hearing the doctor ask him what his son’s name was and simply being unable to answer. He just couldn’t get the words out.
He writes: What I find fascinating is how many of us have had moments like these when we were so overwhelmed with the presence of something or somebody, and the moment feels so good, so right, so true and so safe. Warmth, comfort and terror he says. But the good kind of terror. Maybe it is “awe”. Others might have their own way of describing such moments.
But it isn’t just the extraordinary experiences when this happens. It also happens sometimes in the day to day ordinary moments. For example, he describes being with his friends at one of their favourite restaurants. They had been there for at least 3 hours when he noticed they were the last ones left and the employees were starting to stack chairs and sweep the floors. In that moment he looked at his wife who he adores; Shauna who he describes as one of the best storytellers on the planet; Tom for whom he would be willing to take a bullet for and Cecilia who he describes as one of the most loving, authentic people he has ever met. And in that moment as he was soaking it all in, he was overwhelmed with the sacredness of the moment. The sense that in-spite of everything awful that he had ever seen they were going to make it, as though the moment was suddenly infused with something else, with meaning, significance and hope.
And then the experience of watching his boys one evening playing with his neighbours kids in September with their plastic sleds, trying to see who could sled down the hill in front of their yard. He says cars were slowing down as they drove by, filled with people wondering if these kids were actually sledding on grass. And he was standing in the front yard laughing and pushing the kids down the hill. The trees overhead were just starting to turn colour and the neighbour Tim was telling a bizarre story about what had happened to him that day, and the kids were laughing and in that moment he says, everything felt like it was in its right place.
These are moments when one is caught up in something so much bigger than oneself that one can’t put it into words. He asks,: What is it about certain things that ignite something within! And he adds, And is that something actually a Someone?
He writes that whatever those things are that make you feel fully alive and like the universe is ultimately good and you are not alone, he needs a faith that is able to embrace these moments and that doesn’t deny them. He needs a spiritual understanding that celebrates these transcendent moments instead of avoiding them. He needs a faith and a spirituality that is able to affirm that these moments are expressions of what it means to be in God’s world.
And they don’t only have to happen in the best of times. Sometimes they can come to us even in the worst of times as well. Moments, when even in the midst of pain and sorrow one can feel as though one is walking on sacred ground, like there is something else, something more going on.
He describes going to a funeral, and walking into the entrance way thinking that he was the first one there. Then he realised he wasn’t. The husband of the woman who had died was already there, standing over the open casket. He walked over to him as he stood over her body, put his arm around him and didn’t say anything. Just the two of them in that big open room looking down at his wife’s body. And the husband just kept saying over and over: “She was such a good woman; she was such a good woman” And as they stood there together with his arm around his shoulder he had the sense that the ground they were standing on was holy.
He concludes by saying that it isn’t just the concerts and the surfing and the high points, and it isn’t just those beautiful moments in the midst of the everyday and mundane; it is also the tragic and the gut-wrenching moments when we cannot escape the simple fact that there is something far more going on around us than we realise. Moments when it feels like our hearts are burning within us.
And that brings us back to the story of those two disciples walking dejected and broken on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Is it possible that the story that we have in Luke’s Gospel is an attempt to put into words and experience that is difficult to describe?
Was it Jesus in physical form who walked up beside them? Or was it perhaps and experience beyond words or description, that as they walked and talked and reflected together that they became aware of a sense of living Presence with them, the Presence of an overwhelming goodness and love that was speaking to them in their hearts? The presence of the Living Christ that they felt like a burning within their hearts, a sense of hope rising out of seemingly nowhere?
And when they sat down to eat together at the end of their journey, as they gave thanks, blessing and breaking the bread, was it the physical Jesus that they suddenly became aware of in their midst, or was there an opening of the eyes of their hearts becoming aware of the sacred presence of the one who is always with us and who will never leave us and forsake us. Maybe for them it was literally the physical Jesus? For most of us maybe it is more likely to be a growing sense of presence, like we are standing on holy ground. Like our hearts expanding with a sense of love and wonder at the goodness of life with the feeling deep inside that life is ultimately good, that everything is going to be okay and the inescapable feeling that there is something far bigger going on around us than we realise.
May God bless you, and in those moments when it feels like your heart is expanding with love and hope and there is a burning within at the sheer beauty or sacredness of life, may your own faith allow you to embrace those moments as experiences of the Divine, when it has felt like the Risen Christ has visited you and been with you. Amen.
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