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2019.05.05:“Were Not Our Hearts Burning Within Us?” When Resurrection Turns Our Mourning Into Dancing

Preached at First Presbyterian Church, East Aurora, NY, May 5, 2019, by Langdon “Buddy” Hubbard

 

“Were Not Our Hearts Burning Within Us?”

When Resurrection Turns Our

Mourning Into Dancing

Revelation 5:6-14; Psalm 30:1-12

Luke 24:13-35

 

            We have all had a walk like those two disciples on the way to Emmaus.  We too have been sad and lost in grief.  We too have had hopes dashed, and felt the future for us was empty.  We have loved and we have lost.  And oh how it hurts.

 

            I walked my morning walk this morning for the first time without my beloved friend, Dakota by my side.  I cried the whole way, remembering every spot he loved to sniff, where he did his business, and the places he loved to roll in.  Those days are now gone and never will be again.  It hurts.

 

            But then as I walked I looked up and remembered my neighbors as I walked by their houses and the losses they’ve experienced, of husbands and wives, of parents and children.  They too have walked this road to Emmaus.

 

            And then my mind went to the Eat N Park in Cranberry, PA, where Jan and I had lunch on our way home from vacation.  And I remembered thinking about the people who sat alone eating, looking around.  I wondered what their story was.  Would they like for us to come and sit with them?  Or would they just like to be alone?  I didn’t know but I had a feeling there was some story of loss there.

 

            We all have walked this road to Emmaus and know the power of the disciples’ words, “We had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel…” We had hoped he would be with us forever.  We had hoped we would have a future together.  We had hoped.  But now.  We have all walked that road.  We too have known the depth of sadness and helplessness.

 

            One of the things I love about this story is that Jesus just shows up and they have no clue, at least at first, who the stranger is.  He engages them in their grief.  He gets them talking about it, not only the situation but about the one they have lost.  That’s good grief work. 

 

            I remember once one of our neighbors, who had lost her young son many years ago, had just moved in across the street.  One day, as I welcomed her into the neighborhood, I mentioned her son’s name and she paused a moment, looking shocked, and said, “Thank you for mentioning Michael’s name.  No one says it anymore.”  It’s always good to remember the ones we’ve lost and to call out their names and remember them.

 

            But then Jesus does the unthinkable.  He upbraids these two disciples of Jesus with some harsh words, calling them foolish and slow of heart to believe.  That must have shaken them.  But then again sometimes we can get stuck in our grief and need a little shaking up.  Jesus certainly had their attention now.  And so he tells them a story about God, and how the scriptures made it really clear all these things were going to take place, and how the Messiah would come and save the people.

 

            When they get to their house Jesus keeps on walking.  He doesn’t presume they want him around.  But they insist that he come in and eat with them.  And when he comes to the table, he takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it.  Takes, blesses, breaks, gives.  Wait.  This is what Jesus did with his disciples on the night of his arrest when they ate together the Lord’s supper.  It is…Jesus!  And with that he is gone.  But not really gone.  His physical presence may have left the room, but not his real presence.  In that moment they recognized Jesus. And then it all made sense.  “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”  They had actually been with Jesus the whole time and something inside of them knew it.  But only now in hindsight did they recognized that it was Jesus all along.

 

            There is so much in this story for us today in our own long walks of life and grief.  For one thing, we too may find Jesus walking with us when we read the Bible and meditate on it, and when we participate in communion in worship together.  These are two key ways God makes the presence of God known in our lives.

 

            And yet I became painfully aware during my doctoral work that very few people spend much time in scripture, and are thereby cutting themselves off from the possibility of encountering the risen Christ, or at least recognizing that the risen Christ is with us.

 

            Likewise, the majority of people do not go to church to worship and thereby miss the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper where Jesus may also be found in his real presence.

 

            In scripture and in holy communion, we find avenues to see the risen Christ.  Are we engaging in them on a regular basis?  I make Bible reading an essential part of every morning of my life.  And regularly I believe I hear the risen Christ speaking to me about life.  I can’t emphasize this enough:  if you want to know the living presence of Christ in your life, read his Word and eat his bread, as your daily food. The first believers have nothing on us; we encounter the same living Lord just as they did.  We too are first generations Christians.  We too eat bread from Jesus’ hand at Jesus’ table.

 

            Another important thing we learn from this story is that Jesus doesn’t force himself on us.  Just as the disciples in the story had to ask him, strongly even, to stay, we have to invite him to come into our lives too. We are reminded in this story of such verses as Revelation 3:20: “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.”  Jesus is knocking at your door and mine.  Will you respond?  Will you invite him to come in and eat with you?

 

 

            At the same time we have to acknowledge that we don’t always recognize God’s presence with us in the moment.  As Allan Culpepper says in reflecting on this passage:  “God’s presence is always elusive, fleeting, dancing at the edge of our awareness and perception. If we are honest we must admit that it is never constant, steady, or predictable.” (P. 482 in The New Interpreter’s Bible)

 

            It is often only in looking back, in hindsight that we see and understand that Jesus was with us all along, even at the times it seemed God was most absent.  We often learn to make sense spiritually about our lives in retrospect, looking back: “Didn’t our hearts burn within us, when…?”

 

            It was the angel on the morning of Jesus’ resurrection who had said, “Remember how he told you about all these things that were to be?”  And then they remembered.  All too often that’s when we get it.  Sometimes we have to look back and process the things gone by in order to move forward.    

 

            Sometimes we just need to go on an Emmaus walk of our own.  I did that this morning.  I woke up in so much grief over the loss of my beloved dog, Dakota.  After a time of prayer and just as the sun was rising, I felt the need to put on my shoes and go for a walk, just like I’ve done nearly every day for the past 4000 or so days in the past 14 years.  I cried the whole way, but then as the sun began to lighten my path, something else was happening.  I knew, I just knew I was not alone, that Jesus was with me.  This story reminded me that it was true.  I invited him to join me and while the pain still remains I know I am not alone.  Christ is with me.

 

            And Christ is with you.  And just like the disciples on that Emmaus road just had to go and tell the others what they had seen and heard on the road, they found the others had similar stories to tell.  Together they told the stories and remembered. And a day that began with a loss of hope, ended with hope renewed.  That is why we keep telling the stories of Jesus so that we all might remember and not forget that Jesus is with us always, walking with us on our own roads of life wherever they may take us, no matter how challenging those roads might be.  We tell the stories over and over again until they form us in the ways of Christ and we recognize for ourselves that Christ is there with us, and we welcome him in.

 

            So stay awake and alert.  Welcome Jesus into your life and on your journey.  He is already there.  We just need to have hearts and eyes to see that the Lord is risen!  The Lord is risen indeed!

 

 

Addendum:

Fred Craddock says there are three times in which to know an event: in rehearsal, at the time of the event, and in remembrance.  In rehearsal the occasion is just anticipated and planned for, but not known as yet, and so it doesn’t have the power it ultimately will.  During the event we are often overwhelmed by details, swirling moments, confusion and chaos, and breathlessness.  But then comes the time after the event when we can actually pause for a moment and breathe, and recollect in detail everything we have experienced.  Memory is most powerful as we can go back to the salient moments and hold them as long as we need to, in order to meditate on their meaning and significance in our life.  And often, we see things we didn’t see in the midst of the event itself.  We can put all of the pieces together and see not only the parts but the whole.  That is the power of memory, and its potential for our healing and spiritual growth.