The Walk to EmmausLuke 24:13-32 (NRSV)
Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”
I wonder, have you ever experienced heartburn? Now wait a minute, let me be clear. I don’t mean the kind of heartburn that you get when you eat something spicy or fatty that makes you feel uncomfortable and sick. I’m talking about a different kind of “heartburn,” when you sense deep inside that something amazing is happening, that something sacred or something special is happening, and that you’re just lucky or blessed to be a part of it.
There’s a story in the New Testament just after Jesus’ resurrection about some disciples walking along the road. They meet someone and start talking to him. As they walk and talk, their hearts begin to burn within them, and they know that something amazing is happening, but they are not quite sure what. Well, because they don’t quite understand, they go on walking and talking as usual. But later in the evening, their eyes are opened, and they realize that they had been walking the path with Jesus, that he had appeared to them after his resurrection.
I know, to many people, that sounds like an unbelievable story. Walking with someone on the road after they’ve died and not realizing it? But to be honest, there are a lot of things that happen in our world that we can’t explain. There are a lot of things that happen to us, as people of faith, that are a mystery.
I hear stories all the time about dragonflies, cardinals, and butterflies, and songs coming on the radio at just the right moment–things that make our hearts burn within us, with a sense of sacredness and connection to something bigger. Sometimes the connection is to those who have gone before and sometimes to a simple yet unexplained joy that we feel deep within. Who knows? Maybe we are looking for signs, so we see them. Maybe we’re hoping for a deeper connection, and in so doing we think we feel it. But the truth is my friends, sometimes love is vaster than the limits of our understanding.
Sometimes sacred experiences are more amazing than we can ever imagine and more mysterious than we can ever understand. Sometimes we simply need to be in those moments and allow ourselves to experience what we will, not trying to understand them or explain them away, but simply being grateful and appreciating the gift that we’ve been given.
I’ve always loved the story of the road to Emmaus when the disciples see Jesus again because it’s one of those stories that is unbelievable, and yet so believable sometimes. It happens in the middle of a regular day. It happens when the disciples least expect it. And it comes not with crowds and parades and fancy fireworks, but in the humbleness of meeting a friend on the road and sharing the journey with them.
Friends, my faith tells me that God comes to us in many different ways, and shapes, and forms–not with blaring trumpets and grand announcements, but in simple everyday moments, moments that to be honest, we sometimes miss altogether. But other times, those moments stop us in our tracks and make our hearts burn within us, not fully understanding what’s happening but knowing that something sacred is there.
The story on road to Emmaus reminds us that Jesus is not only found in church sanctuaries, and Jesus doesn’t stay at the communion table and wait for the first Sunday of the month to meet us. Jesus walks with us on our journey through life, listening and sharing with us in our stories from the road. He stands in line with us at the bank and at the grocery store. He sits in the stands with us at a baseball game, and I think I have even seen him on a few Zoom meetings recently! But unfortunately, we often miss him, because we don’t expect him to be there.
In the week ahead, notice when your heart burns within you. And though you may not understand or be able to explain why, may you take a moment to smile and appreciate with gratitude the sacred moment that made your heart burn from within.