‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us?’
The Venerable David Stanton Canon in Residence
Sunday, 28th April 2019 at 3:00 PM
St. Luke approaches the end of his gospel with one of the most beautiful incidents in all the New Testament (Luke 24. 13-35).
The story of what happened on the road to Emmaus has been celebrated in art and literature, but above all it touches us through an evocative portrayal of anticipation, suspense, new life and faith.
As those disciples walked along that dusty road, they said ‘were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us’. That sense of ‘hearts burning within us’ is often our response too as we hear the Gospel proclaimed afresh.
This special reading holds four particular themes that are worth pondering over: Journey, Recognition, Eucharist and Togetherness.
Firstly, the road to Emmaus is in many ways a metaphor for our own spiritual journey.
Just like those first disciples on the road, we may possibly remain unmoved by the mysteries recently celebrated during Holy Week. In our journey through life the presence of Christ can frequently be hidden.
Here in church, Christ presents himself to us as he presented himself to the disciples on the Road to Emmaus. In many ways our liturgy this afternoon, is a dialogue in which the risen Lord calls us to himself.
Let us pray that the work of Christ’s Resurrection may be completed in us, as it was completed in those disciples on their journey to Emmaus.
Indeed whenever we celebrate the Eucharist, as we do here every day of the year (apart from Good Friday) Christ makes us whole through his sacrifice, and with holy food our souls are fed and we are led to the Father.
The second word is recognition. Those who first encountered the Lord did not recognise him at once.
Mary Magdalen encountering him in the garden only recognized him when she heard her name called, ‘Mary’, ‘Rabbouni”. Cleopas and his companion did not recognize him even though their hearts were burning.
Perhaps there is a lesson for us too. How often do we fail to recognize Jesus in our lives? How often is our faith weak so that we cannot see the Lord? How often do we neglect the pain that the Church is suffering in many parts of the world?
The third word that is the key to this journey to Emmaus is Eucharist. It is only in being nourished with Jesus’ life-giving body and blood, with the gift of his Spirit, that our eyes are opened to the new reality of the resurrection.
We encounter Christ every time we celebrate the Eucharist just as the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. The Scriptures are proclaimed and explained in the light of Christ. Our eyes are opened to a new way of looking at reality by the Word of God.
We recognize Christ in the breaking of bread, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The Real Presence means Christ is present in the fullest sense in the Eucharist.
Finally, there is the fourth (and crucially important) word of togetherness. The two disciples are so invigorated by this Eucharistic encounter with the Lord that they must act.
They cannot just remain where they are, and so even though it is nightfall, they rush back to Jerusalem to bring the ‘good news’ to the other disciples who are still locked up and afraid. ‘Then they told what had happened on the road and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.’
The recent atrocities in Sri Lanka have brought all this into sharp focus. We too are charged with helping others not just through words but through real acts of generosity and solidarity.
The body of Christ broken, his suffering church, is a very real presence around us. The barbarous acts of violence (that took place on Easter day) remind us what a heart-breaking time this Easter season is for Christians in that country.
But not just there; the persecution of Christians is getting worse. Five years ago only one country, North Korea, was ranked in the ‘extreme’ category for its level of persecution of Christians. This year, 11 countries score enough to fit that category.
China has risen 16 places in the list after new regulations for religious affairs came into force in February 2018.
In Myanmar tens of thousands of members of the Karen tribe a majority-Christian ethnic tribe have been killed and least 120,000 displaced.
India has entered the top ten for the first time. The BJP-led government continues to promote an extremist militant Hindu agenda.
As radical Islam has been forced out of the Middle East, it has spread into sub-Saharan Africa.
Almost 30 violent Islamic extremist groups are known to be active in the region. Islamic militants also have also gained strength in failed states like Somalia, Libya and Yemen. The two places where Christians suffer the most violence are Nigeria and Pakistan.
However all this shows that the church is active and alive around the world. Persecution is rising, but that only happens where the church is actively sharing the Gospel and living it out.
Our Emmaus challenge is to stand in solidarity with our fellow Christians. Journey, recognition, Eucharist and togetherness these are the fundamentals that bind us together and make the Christian faith so attractive.
The sense of hearts burning within us is not one we keep to ourselves and remarkably there is no shortage of good news around our scarred world. In the midst of intense persecution, the church is growing.
Over recent years there has been significant growth around the world, especially amongst those who have encountered extreme Islam, and who are now turning to Christianity instead.
All around the world, persecuted Christians are continuing to discover a depth, a strength, and a brightness to their faith that can only be found in the darkest times. May all our hearts continue to burn with the holy fire of God’s love.