April 8, 2007 – Easter
As I said, we read two passages today from Luke’s Gospel. And actually it was kind of a “sneaky” way of reading both these stories without violating the “20 verse rule of thumb.” I don’t think I was fooling anyone! But I did that for a reason. (There’s a Methodist to my madness!)
You see, on Easter morning, we usually concentrate on those stories that took place – on Easter morning! We usually talk about the scenes immediately following the Resurrection. We read the passages, like our first one today, that describe the amazement and wonder of the empty tomb, and the visions of angels telling that Jesus is alive.! And that’s all great!
However, this second reading is also an Easter story! And it’s one that has it’s own version of wonder and amazement! Maybe even more! This is the story of the “Road to Emmaus,” which Luke tells us happened “later that same day.” He is also the only one of the Gospel writers who tells this story! And since we have been using this “Road” theme throughout Lent, it seems fitting to talk about this story today!
Before we do, though, I want us to keep in mind our first reading. I want us to remember the astonishment of those who went to the tomb of Jesus and who saw the two men, the two angels, who told them that Jesus was alive again. I want us to remember how, in Luke’s version of the story, the angels actually reminded the women how Jesus told them it was all going to happen exactly this way! And I’d like us to remember this last verse, where they went and told the apostles, “But their words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”
I want you to keep all that in mind, because that story leads directly to this Road to Emmaus account. And I think it’s clear that Luke saw this as further evidence of the resurrection that those apostles needed to hear. I think he saw this as a contrast to their disbelief. And I want us to see that the heart of this Emmaus story is that “Now it all made sense!” Now, these two disciples got it! They saw how it all fit together.
As I said about Palm Sunday, it all seemed to make sense to the people in Jerusalem that day. It all seemed to point to what they wanted to happen. They wanted Jesus to be their new king, and it looked like he was going to be. But as we know, it didn’t happen that way. Now it all made sense as these two men had it explained to them by Jesus himself, as they walked along the road. Then later, when they actually recognized Jesus, their amazement and excitement might even have surpassed that of the women at the tomb! And of course they went back and told those same apostles! Can you imagine what it was like for them hearing yet another story about Jesus coming back to life?
Now it made sense! But as we go along here, I want you to notice where it made sense. Jesus explained it all, and I’m sure he did so very methodically. I’m sure his logic was impeccable! He was God, after all! I’m sure he laid it all out for them in the best possible way, and he gave them the greatest understanding of the whole Messianic tradition. So, in their minds, in their thinking and understanding, it made sense. But I want us to see today that that’s wasn’t the most important thing! It made sense to them in their minds, but where it made a difference to them was in their hearts!! That’s where it has to make a difference for us, too!
That’s all very clear in this passage. Jesus proved to these men who he was. He did so through this conversation on the road, through his supernatural revealing of himself in the breaking of the bread, and then through his miraculous “vanishing from their sight.” And when it all came clear they said to each other in verse 32, “Did not our hearts burn within us when he talked to us on the road?!” That’s where it made a difference to them! Yes, they were convinced in their minds! But it was their hearts that burned within them through all of that! And that is what stirred them to action!
Luke tells us that they rose that same hour! And they returned to Jerusalem. And I think it’s pretty clear from this story that, by this point, it was already well after nightfall. And we have to remember that traveling at night was not a very safe thing to do! But reason didn’t matter to them any more. Their hearts were on fire!!!
As I said, that’s where the story of Easter makes all the difference for us, too. You know, I could stand up here and, if it were within my abilities, I could explain the details of Easter morning in the most perfect way ever. Just imagine for a moment that I could do that. Just imagine that I could stand here and give you the most flawless reasoning, and the most methodical, historical understanding of all this that was ever given. But if it didn’t get into your hearts, it wouldn’t make a difference for you. Oh, I might turn you into a good student or even a good teacher. But I doubt I would turn you into a good disciple! In our hearts – That’s where Easter makes all the difference!
I didn’t learn that until later in my life. I’ve always been a very “head oriented” person. “Reason” was very important to me. Understanding things was a fascinating pursuit for me. I’ve always loved taking things apart, and learning how they work! But I learned later that it’s the heart that really matters in this life. That’s where we find the realm of inspiration and it’s by-product – motivation. And that’s where the story of Easter makes all the difference! “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road?” That’s what the disciples asked each other. Even though Jesus talked all the way along the road to Emmaus about the scriptures and prophecies and events of the past few weeks – probably in the best way ever. Still, it was more than just their “believing” what he was saying. In the midst of all that “head knowledge,” it was in their hearts that they were being touched!
My friends, let that be your experience this Easter day. Let this story get into your hearts! Let that be the place within you where God’s Spirit can ignite the flame! The important thing is not just that we “believe” this story. Most of us do. Most people do! The difference is what we do with that belief. Do we keep it up here in our heads? Or do we get it down in our hearts? And we need to see if perhaps it has slipped out of there. We need to see if that knowledge of Easter has retreated back into our heads only, where we may find ourselves thinking it’s just not that big a deal. If that’s the case, then we need to get it back into our hearts, don’t we?!
That’s one of the most important reasons we celebrate this event every year. In the early days of the Church they celebrated Easter every week! That’s one of the main reasons Christians moved their Sabbath day from Saturday to Sunday. They were celebrating the Resurrection every week! Later they developed the liturgical year so that we could commemorate all the various parts of the life of Jesus on Earth. Easter then became a once a year celebration. Well, the reason we celebrate is not just to remember the story. It’s not just to learn more about the story. Those things are fine. But the reason we do this ever year is to get it into our hearts – and to keep it there! That’s where our faith becomes meaningful to us. That’s where we are inspired and motivated and empowered! That’s where the Joy comes from!
So, I ask you. How does this story touch you this Easter day? Do you believe it? And if so, where do you believe it? Do you believe it only in your head, where you acknowledge the truth of it? Or do you believe it in your heart? And in believing in your heart, do you allow the Holy Spirit to light that fire within you?
I hope you will be thinking about these stories throughout this entire day – at the very least. I hope you will continually ponder them as you celebrate today with your families and your friends. And I hope you will be like these two disciples on the road. I hope your hearts will burn within you as you remember all of what happened so long ago. That’s my hope and prayer this Easter day!
Eternal God, kindle within us the fire of your Holy Spirit, that our hearts might burn within us, like the disciples on the road. Help us to feel and to know the power of your presence this Easter day. Show us the joy of your salvation and the wonder of your kingdom. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.