The Reverend Kathleen Killian
Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17
1 Peter 1:17-23
April 23 2023
Heart to Heart
The renowned conservationist and naturalist John Muir is quoted as saying: I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown; for going out, I found, was really going in.
So true, I thought; and what better way to begin a sermon on our gospel from Luke, and the road to Emmaus, in which two of Jesus’ disciples go out for a walk; from the city of Jerusalum to the the village of Emmaus; walking about seven miles away from the crucifixion and confusing tales of the women about angels and an empty tomb; walking with their grief and shattered hopes. We know where they were going but not why - maybe they were walking home or to a friend’s house; or not knowing what to do, they simply go out to walk and talk.
As they were walking along 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; and asked: Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?
After Cleopas, and the other disciple explain to him all that had happened, Jesus gently chides them: Oh, how foolish and slow of heart you are to believe all that the prophets have declared! And then he went on to interpret to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
Now, seven miles is a good long distance to walk; about what it would be to walk from the city of Hudson to the village of Catskill, which would take about two/two and half hours. So think about it: this would have been two plus hours of scriptural exegesis and theology—by Jesus himself! Just the thought is enough to make my head spin, and like the disciples, my heart burn.
And yet we hear nothing more about what had to have been a profound conversation; no particulars from Moses, no quotes or passages or theology from the likes of Deuteronomy, Isaiah, Zechariah, or the Psalms. It would seem that Luke is less interested in the specifics of what said than he is in their fellowship; as once they reach Emmaus and sit down for a meal, this is the moment when their eyes are opened and they finally recognize Jesus.
It is when Jesus is at the table with them, takes bread, blesses and breaks it, and gives it to them—it is then, says Luke, then that their eyes were opened and they recognized him—the guest, the stranger—as the host.
As Luke would have it in our gospel this morning, “walking together” is more pertinent than biblical interpretation or parsing scriptural minutia to prove a point; walking together is the essential thing in our journey of communion with Christ; a communion of love and recognition that redeems.
I realize that this “walking together” that leads us into the depths of the heart isn’t as easily done as said. We love our opinions and convictions that we know are the right ones, right? I know too that my heart can be just as resistant to understanding some people and their beliefs and way of life, as theirs is resistant to me and understanding my beliefs and my way of life. Most of us are far more comfortable in our heads than we are in our hearts; more secure in the world of opinion and judgment and “my way of thinking” than we are in the mystery of the living God and the presence of Christ.
I used the following quote from Fr. Herbert McCabe in my Easter morning sermon, and it bears repeating: Our Easter Faith is that we really do encounter Jesus himself: not a message from him, or a doctrine inspired by him, or an ethic of love, or a new idea of human destiny, or a picture of him, but Jesus himself. It is in this that we rejoice.
And indeed, it is in the recognition of Jesus that Cleopas and the other disciple rejoice. No sooner, however, does he vanish from their sight, which always seems a bit unfair to me. Just when you got it, it’s gone! But as St. Augustine understood and writes: Jesus departs from our sight that we might return to our heart, and it is there we find Him. Behold, he is here [in the heart].
Jesus’ absence is as creative and initiatory as his presence; at once, both his presence and absence opens the disciples hearts and sets them out on the road again, to walk seven miles back to Jerusalem and share the wonder of the risen Christ with others. As we read from 1 Peter today: Your life is a journey you must travel with a deep consciousness of God . . . Now that you have you [have seen] and followed the truth . . . love one another deeply from the heart (translation from the Message and NRSV bible). But then from Acts, we read that the people were “cut to the heart” when faced with the truth.
In the multitude of our humanity, we are all so different and unique, and yet we all speak the same language of the heart. In love and joy, gratitude and awe, in loss and death, betrayal and tragedy, our hearts flutter and sing, yearn and long, they break and blacken. The heart feels and knows without words; and it is with the “eyes of the heart” that we discern the truth; as we prayed first thing this morning: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work.
I read in a commentary that perhaps by leaving the companion of Cleopas unnamed, Luke invites us into the scene, leaving the road to Emmaus forever open for us to walk, here and now. I really like this; that you and I, and any of Jesus’ followers in any age are walking the road to Emmaus, the road to Jerusalem, and the road to salvation together. Are our hearts leading the way? Do we know where we are going, and why? Are we walking away from or towards something? And, who is walking with us?
In the everyday steps of our lives, this is mostly when wisdom and vision arise; a conundrum unknots, the final piece of a puzzle falls into place, an aha surfaces; on a walk, an amble or meander; tending the garden, taking a shower, washing the dishes, sharing a meal—this is when insight slips in; and when God does what only God can do: open the eyes of the heart to the presence of Jesus and his sacred heart that is burning and ablaze with glorious love for each and all, and all of creation.
And so: I will walk in the presence of the Lord, in the land of the living (Psalm 116:9).