April 8, 2017 (Combined Service)
We’re still on that first Easter day. That’s when this story takes place. Luke tells us that. “Later that same day…” he says. If we go to the end of Mark’s gospel, we find a very brief telling of this story. I mentioned that last week. But, here in Luke’s Gospel, we get the whole story. And this is a great story, isn’t it? As I’ve said before, God has a great “flair for the dramatic!”
Think about it. God allowed Pharaoh’s heart to be hardened in the Exodus story. And because of that, when he did rescue the Hebrew people, it was that much more “spectacular.” And that’s been a special event to the Jewish people for thousands of years now! God knocked Saul off of his donkey on the way to Damascus, blinded him, and then allowed his sight to return. Again, those are wildly dramatic events!
So here we have these two travelers walking along the road to Emmaus. And it’s Easter day! It’s a day of wonder and disbelief! (Actually, there are a number of words I could have used!) And as these men walked along that road they meet Jesus. But Jesus is “incognito.” We’re told they were “kept from recognizing him.”
Now different people have thought about that in different ways over the years. Some have said these men were so “grief stricken” they didn’t notice who it was walking with them. But I believe this was a “supernatural” thing. God kept them from recognizing. And it’s part of the drama! Because later, Jesus is “revealed” to them in a mostdramatic way. He breaks the bread for them – Just like he did four days earlier in the upper room – and “their eyes were opened and they recognized him.”
If you recall, I often use those wordswhen we celebrate Communion. I say, “When our risen Lord was at table with his disciples, he broke the bread and gave it to them and their eyes were opened and they recognized him.” That’s thisstory. And then I like to say, “May the same be said of us, that we recognize the presence of Christ in the breaking of the bread.” That recalls this dramatic moment, this moment of recognition! And then, to add to the drama, Jesus vanishes into thin air!
God indeed has a great “flair for the dramatic!” And notice that the drama was building throughout this story. That’s important, because that helps these men get to the “heart” of the matter! Along the road Jesus was telling them how it all really didmake sense! The Messiah was supposedto suffer and die, and be resurrected. He was helping them to understand all that, in their state of devastation and sorrow. And they were“grief stricken!” That istrue. They, and all Jerusalem, were devastatedby what had happened three days earlier. I have to think it was like the days after the Kennedy assassination. Maybe you can remember what it was like then. Maybe you can remember that horrible sense of loss we all felt!
So Jesus was helping these men make sense of all that had happened. Like us, and like all the people down through the ages, they needed to learn what it all meant. They needed to learn “the doctrine” surrounding the Atonement of the Messiah. And that’s all well and good. But there was morehere! And we can’t miss this part of it! This is the “heart” of the matter, I was just talking about. The “heart” of the matter is… the heart!
You see, as Jesus explained things to these men along the road, he did more than teachtheir minds. This story, this whole storyof the death and resurrection of Jesus, as well as this story of the Emmaus road, all of it touchedtheir hearts! Looking back, they asked, “Did our hearts not burn withinus as he talked to us on the road?” Jesus gave them morethan just information. He gave theinspiration. He gave them morethan just instruction. He gave them redemption!
This story is so important, because it shows us the importance of the heart. Some people think that all we need do is instruct people’s mindsabout Jesus. They think all we need do is simply tell people the plan of salvation, and that’s all it takes. Some think you can just give someone a pamphlet. They think you can “copy” someone an email or a Facebook post, and they’ll “reason it out” in their minds, and they’ll become a believer.
But that’s not how it works! Because this is about belief, salvation, atonement, repentance, and redemption! And those thingsare matters of the heart!
Yes, the mind, the learning, the understanding are important! Don’t get me wrong here! But, justthe information didn’t do it that day! Wonder, and disbelief. Fear and astonishment. Thosewere the order of the day. And none of those are words associated with “thinking” or “learning” or “reason” or empirical facts. The empirical facts didn’t cut it. They were there, for sure! Jesus is alive! But! What was important was how the heartsof these men were touched. “Did not our hearts burn within us as he spoke to us along the road!” And the story of Jesus has touched our hearts ever since.
That’s where belief lies! It lies in our hearts! In Romans 10:9, Saint Paul said, “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your mindthat God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Did you ever hear that? No, you didn’t! Because that’s not what he said! He said, “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord, and believe (where?) in your heartthat God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
What matters in our own lives of faith is what’s in our hearts. Our lives are a testimony to that. Or that’s what they were created to be! And that’s what others will see. Our words, our understanding of the faith, are important to God’s kingdom. But remember that people in our world can get religious teaching from many places! What will matter to them is what’s in our hearts. Don’t just tell them your understanding, show them your hearts!
As the old song says, “And they’ll know we are Christians bywhat we believe?” No, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.” Although it isimportant, to tell people what we know about Jesus, it’s moreimportant that we show them what’s in our hearts! Looking back, these men asked, “Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road?” May our hearts burn within us with the story of Jesus and how he has touched us!
Eternal God, we pray that you would touch our hearts even today. We ask for a sure and certain sense of your spirit filling us, and molding us, making us more like the Jesus we follow. May our hearts be filled with your love, your mercy, your grace, and your joy! We give you thanks and praise for Jesus Christ, our risen Lord! And we pray in his name, Amen!