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Burning Hearts

Burning Hearts

Old Mystic, April 12, 2009
Luke 24:13-35

Summary

The event of the resurrection is a powerful fact that opens the way for us to engage in a relationship with God through the Living Christ. As the God who walks with us, who is with us and within us, speaks to our hearts, let us actively listen to him; let us invite him to our table, and let us go and join him in his mission in the world.

Sermon

It would be appropriate to say, perhaps, that this is the most wonderful time of the year in spite of the fact that we still are a few months away from Christmas. No lights, no holiday, not many decorations, no gifts, and if there is any excitement, it is only among those who are not walking away from the miracle of life. For a rational world, for a-matter-of-fact people, even a huge segment of Christianity bound by rules of “scientific historical inquiry,” the resurrection is a story hard to believe. But the challenge is precisely that: it is a revelation given to us to be believed. It is a revelation about life; about the continuity of life; about life that in some sort of significant way is an unending stream. Not a stream that we need to jump into and we are reluctant to; it is a stream in the middle of which we are found and that is drawing us into eternity.

Today’s story of the disciples’ walk to Emmaus is a piece of God’s revelation about life and about the resurrection. It is a story of two men going to a village about seven miles away from Jerusalem—quite a distance in those days—as if they were trying to escape the harsh reality of Jesus’ horrendous death, or the fear that his prediction of the resurrection would never take place, or perhaps the dread of being persecuted. It seems that they were trying to flee from God. Like us, of course, they were bound by human understanding and they had a difficult time to grasp the immensity of what was happening around them. So the two men were walking with urgency, swiftly, and leaving behind things that they were trying to process, yet they were not able to grapple.

This walk was not an easy walk for the two disciples. They were sad, they were tense, they were vigorously discussing, like trying to solve the puzzle of Jesus. Who was he? If he was the son of God, the incarnate God, how was it that he could be put to death by execution like a criminal? The two men were so concentrated in their anxious talk that when a stranger joined them they failed to recognize him. They responded to his questioning like anyone who needs to talk would do: they told their story. “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” And as the story unfolded we can sense their sadness and disappointment. But Jesus, the stranger, talked to them and, as they later realized, their hearts began to burn inside. They heard Jesus quoting the Prophets and explaining them how things were and why things had to happen the way they happened. They heard Jesus, but were they listening?

It is so difficult to listen and it becomes particularly difficult when we relate it with our sense of hearing. We expect sounds; and the more familiar, the better. We want to hear what we choose to hear and therefore when what we hear pleases our ears—like many of the sound bytes we hear from the media, labels, and slogans—we don’t need to listen actively. We do not need to pay attention because we already know it. We are convinced that we know what we need to know. But what about listening? That is to take heed, to pay attention, to “turn toward the other” (Martin Buber). God wants our attention. And believe it or not, in this day and age God is bringing us back to the basics. In His talk, if we want to listen, and there is no margin or error in this talk—only our lack of attention, God may be reminding us of simple things like the “mandatum” of Maundy Thursday when Jesus said: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” If our hearts are burning, like the disciples’ on the road to Emmaus, more than ever it is time to listen.

Seven miles is not such a long walk even for our own standards. But if we think of the uneven roads and paths of the first century, at the end of the day our travelers had to be quite tired. Emotionally, it was a long journey. The tragic event of the cross was still looming and beyond the weariness of the long walk there was the existential dread. What was next? What lay ahead of our two disciples the day after? A question that perhaps many ask after a major catastrophe. What is life going to be like now when we feel that a huge part of it was almost obliterated in one moment? And the most confusing thing of all was that “some of the women” came up saying that they had seen Jesus alive. Imagine that! Why would anyone play with the feelings of others in such a way? Yet, he had said so. Our friends are tired, yet their hearts are burning as they hear the stranger. And when they arrived to their destination, they wanted more of and from him. “Stay with us,” they said. And they invited him to their table to share a meal with him.

What a powerful and symbolic moment! Inviting Jesus to the table. Not many things in life are as meaningful as sharing a meal with others. Eating and drinking together is an opportunity to commune, to build face to face relationships, to talk, to laugh, to share our joys and our victories, and also our failures and sadness. When we sit at the table, we “turn toward one another” in a powerful identification where we become one and we carry each other’s burdens. To invite Jesus to our table means to be open to his work without conditions; it means to surrender—leaving behind presuppositions—and to open to new unprecedented, unforeseen, and unexpected possibilities; the possibilities of life, the quality of life offered by the Risen Christ!

But the best was yet to come. Jesus was sitting at the table and the moment to break the bread and share the cup came. Their eyes were then watching him; their ears were attentive; their hearts were still burning, then, perhaps, more that ever before. At that moment, when Jesus broke the bread, their eyes were opened. It was he! Jesus himself! But before they were able to recover from their surprise and their joyful moments of exultation, Jesus vanished from their sight. And then their hearts were burning to the maximum! Then they knew why they were burning and they felt the urgency to go back to Jerusalem. They wanted to undo the seven miles as quickly as possible; they wanted to go back on their steps and to flee no more.

God wants to have a relationship with us and it is difficult to keep up with God. Our hearts are burning, we have the pleasant feeling of sitting at the table with him, and we want to stay that way. We are in some sort of perennial banquet—hopefully— or in some sort of “incomplete bliss” where we are happy with a piece of the blessing. Not to mention that very often the table talk is mostly about our needs, our wants, our pains, and us. The risk of such a scenario—typical of many congregations in the 21st century—is that God vanishes. We are all gathered for the meal, but where is God? God is in the world.

As the disciples reacted when Jesus disappeared from their eyes, we are urged to go out and follow God where God is, lest he vanishes from our lives. And He is in the world! God the Father, the Living Christ, and the Holy Spirit are there where people are suffering, where there is no water or food, where there is sickness, or despair, or violence, where there seems that there is no hope. And as the disciples on the Road to Emmaus hastily left everything behind to follow Jesus, we are offered the opportunity to go and join God in what God wants to do in the world.

Christ is alive and that is something that is beyond a remembrance that we once a year recall as one more of our Christian celebrations. Christ is alive and walking by our side all the days of our lives. Christ is still speaking in the 21st century and he is doing so in a God-revealing creativity far beyond our comprehension, yet directing us not to forsake his most elemental teachings. Christ wants to sit with us at our tables, but he also wants us to follow him. Therefore, if our hearts are burning at the sound of statement that He is Risen, Let us embrace our Savior, let us have that face to face relationship with God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

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