32They 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?”
33That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem;
and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together.
34They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!”
35Then they told what had happened on the road,
and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
Have you ever had heartburn? My dad was taken to the emergency room a few months ago because he thought something was going wrong with his heart, but it turned out it was just a bad case of heartburn. My senior year of college was when I had it the worst though. I was probably chewing up 15 or 20 antacid tablets a day when I was the most stressed. I had exams and I hadn’t heard if I was going to get into Yale or Duke, and those were the only two places I applied. The stress was enough to give me some terrible heartburn—and it was all unfounded anyway. Though I still never got that basketball scholarship I was hoping for.
My heartburn has stayed away ever since I got my acceptance letters. But our society must have a major problem with heartburn because you can see five or six displays of medicines that treat it whenever you step into a drug store or Wal-Mart. And those pills can be really expensive—even if you have a $5 off coupon! Any way you look at it, there are a lot of people with heartburn in our society. And if we trust statistics, I bet there are several people in this sanctuary today who suffer from acid reflux or heartburn or something like that.
But I’m up here in front of you this morning to say that what our world needs is not more heartburn medication and treatment. What our world needs is actually MORE heartburn. When I say our world needs more heartburn, I’m not talking about that uncomfortable feeling you get in your chest when you eat four bowls of chili. I’m not talking about a medical condition at all. Rather, I’m referring to a spiritual condition—what the disciples in our gospel lesson describe as their “hearts burning within them.”
The disciples in our gospel lesson this morning were walking down the road on Easter day. They were traveling to a tiny little village seven miles away from Jerusalem called Emmaus. We don’t know why they were headed there, but it wouldn’t be inappropriate to assume that these two disciples were headed back to their family and their old way of life. Their three year pilgrimage with Jesus, the man they thought to be the Messiah, was over. And it ended terribly. It ended in the worst way possible. It would have been difficult to go back home after following Jesus around, leaving friends and family for three years, to follow this radical rabbi around their land. So they walked.
And as they were walking, a mysterious stranger joined them. We know this mysterious figure was Jesus, but Luke tells us that the disciples eyes were “held not to recognize him.” I like the literal words of the stories some times. He asked what they were talking about as they were walking—and the disciples, we’re told, stopped walking for a moment and looked extremely sad. And then Cleopas, the only disciple named in the story, responds rather sarcastically to Jesus, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who doesn’t know the things that have taken place there in these days?”
Jesus, playing ignorant, asks them, “what things?” And the disciples tell him about the events of Holy Week and about Jesus’ crucifixion. But I want you to notice something very important here about the disciples’ words. They are in the past tense. “[Jesus] was a prophet, mighty in word and deed…but we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” Cleopas and his fellow traveler no longer hoped. Cleopas and his fellow disciple no longer believed that Jesus was a prophet. Cleopas and his friend were what I like to call “past tense” Christians. You know what a past tense Christian is. Maybe you are one. Past tense Christians are those followers of Jesus who truly believe that Jesus was divine and was the savior of the world, but they don’t have much faith that he is still walking with us today.
Past tense Christians feel the pain of the world, the hurt, the suffering, the grief—but their eyes can’t see Jesus right here, right now. But notice, just because the past tense disciples didn’t recognize Jesus when he was right next to them, it doesn’t mean that Jesus didn’t recognize them. Jesus sees right through those eyes of his followers, and he doesn’t leave them. But he also doesn’t give them more than they can handle. I often think that’s why Jesus can be so hard to recognize today—because his appearance to you and me in all his glory would be more than we could handle. So Jesus walks with his past tense disciples in the present tense. He talks with them, he listens to them, but he also talks to them. He engages them in a study of the Scriptures in a way that makes their hearts burn for more.
In no time, that long walk was over and they had reached their destination. But Jesus is a gentleman. He isn’t going to stay where he’s not been invited. And the disciples fervently ask him to stay. And as he breaks the bread, the disciples realize who he is. Maybe they saw the prints of the nails in his hands, or maybe they saw him anew and recognized him from the time he broke the bread for them in the upper room. But then Jesus was gone. Even though it was night, the disciples realized that Emmaus was not their final destination. They had walked for most of the day, they thought their journey was in the past tense and was over. But when they recognized Jesus, they realized their journey had just begun and they walked at night to be with their friends in Jerusalem to tell them that Jesus really was alive—in the present tense—and that he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
There are a lot of pills out there to take away your heartburn or acid reflux. And there are supposed to be ways to naturally control your heartburn by avoiding certain foods like tomatoes or very spicy foods. But I think that the doctors have missed a heartburn-causing food. They’ve forgotten about bread and wine, blessed and broken. It apparently causes spiritual heartburn. And there’s no remedy for that. Rather, spiritual heartburn is the remedy for the world. I wish for you all that you might have a holy heartburn this day. Amen.