3rd Sunday After Easter Rev. Ralph A. Boyer IV
April 10, 2005
A young man looking to learn about holiness came to the desert to the small hut of an aged holy man.
The young man asked, “Why is it that some who seek God are faithful in prayer for a while but then stop, while you have been faithful for a lifetime?”
The holy man answered that one day he and his dog were sitting in front of the hut when a rabbit ran in front of them. The dog barked and took off after the rabbit. He barked and barked as he chased the rabbit until soon several other dogs joined in the chase.
The rabbit was very fast and got far ahead of the holy man’s dog and the other dogs were trailing the first one. Up and down through the thickets and thorns, the dogs chased that rabbit until one by one, the other dogs dropped out of the chase leaving only the holy man’s dog running after the rabbit.
“That’s the answer to your question,” said the holy man.
“But I don’t understand,” said the young man, “How does that chase relate to the quest for holiness?”
The holy man replied, “You fail to ask the essential questions. Why did the other dogs give up the chase? Because they themselves had not seen the rabbit.”
The two disciples on the road to Emmaus are like the dogs who gave up the chase. Cleopas and his friend had heard the reports that Jesus was alive but they hadn’t seen Jesus themselves and didn’t yet believe that He was risen and so they were walking dejectedly from Jerusalem to Emmaus.
But Jesus came and walked with them. Unrecognized by Cleopas and his friend, Jesus taught them, explained the scriptures to them and then broke bread with them. And it was in that action as He took the bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to them that they recognized that it was Jesus. And they hurried back the 7 miles to Jerusalem to share the news that Jesus had been with them.
For Cleopas and his friend, for the 11 disciples and all the others who saw Jesus risen from the dead, it changed everything. From then on, they would not give up the chase of spreading His word.
Throughout history and certainly today, there are people who try to explain away Jesus’ resurrection – it was just their imagination, it was just their grief overwhelming them, it wasn’t really Jesus, it was all in their minds. People don’t rise from the dead, they say.
But this was not an imaginary Jesus. He showed them the nail prints in His hand, the wound in His side. He broke bread with them. He ate a meal of fish with them on the beach at the Sea of Galilee.
And to my mind, the only plausible explanation of how a cowering, despairing, leaderless group like the followers of Jesus after his death, could so suddenly be on fire, courageous, and ready to give their lives to tell the world about Jesus, is that they had truly encountered Jesus alive and well.
The numerous encounters with Jesus after His resurrection were not just of a Spiritual sort. They were encounters with a physical Christ who had conquered death and changed the world.
As Cleopas and his friend walked toward Emmaus they didn’t yet believe that Jesus was alive. When Jesus started to walk with them, he was a stranger to their eyes. We wonder, why they didn’t recognize him?
Were they overcome with grief? Were they too wrapped up in their despair? Was Jesus’ appearance different in some way?
But when they shared a meal with Jesus, when He broke the bread, they recognized Him. Maybe it was in seeing those hands that had broken bread with them before, but this time – hands with nail prints.
What was their reaction? Their hearts were burning!
At first their hearts had been broken. As they walked with Jesus and told Him what had been happening, they said, “We had hoped that Jesus was the one to redeem Israel.” We had hoped. Words of despair. Words of dreams crushed. Words of hearts broken.
But then Jesus filled their hearts. In the midst of their despair, Jesus began to teach them what the Old Testament had said all along about the Messiah – that He would have to suffer before He would be glorified. Jesus filled their hearts and then afterward they said their hearts were burning – not the acid-reflux kind of heartburning, but the kind of burning heart where you know you’ve experienced something life changing and true.
What about you? Has your heart ever been broken? – I had hoped to pass the exam. I had hoped to spend our lives together. I had hoped the surgery would be successful.
How did Jesus respond to those broken hearts on the way to Emmaus? He listened to Cleopas and his friend. He walked with them. Listening to them and giving companionship. And then He filled them with God’s word.
When our hearts are broken we need a listening ear. We need friendship. But especially we need our broken hearts to be filled with God’s saving word. God’s truth restores hopes. Christ’s truth heals broken hearts.
Then Cleopas and his friend 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?”
The burning of experiencing of Christ, present and alive.
You and I don’t experience Christ in flesh and blood as Cleopas did, but we can experience Jesus just as alive and real in the other ways that Cleopas and his friend did, in His word in scripture and in the breaking of bread in our Lord’s Supper. We experience Christ in His Holy Spirit, which is always within us and around us. We experience Christ in a covenant group, or other groups of Christians as we share our hopes and hearts. We experience the risen Christ in quiet times of prayer. We experience Christ as we reach out to help His people in need.
In these ways and infinite others, we see that Christ is alive and really present with us. Our broken hearts burn, as we are filled and healed by Christ’s Word and Spirit.
Just like Cleopas and his friend, we find ourselves with broken hearts. But Christ comes to fill our hearts with His word and Spirit. And then our hearts burn with the power of His presence and love.