Can our hearts still burn within us?

Last Sunday the Gospel reading used by many churches was the story in Luke 24 of the resurrected Jesus meeting two disciples (Cleopas and his partner) on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. (The painting here is Caravaggio’s rendition of Jesus about to break bread with the two disciples at the end of the Emmaus journey.)

A piece by Debie Thomas in got me thinking about the idea that all of us in our unique ways are on the Emmaus Road. In the original story, Jesus – on the evening of the first day of his Resurrection – is found to be walking with two of his disciples on the road toward Emmaus. The two disciples are kept from recognizing him.

When he joined them, Jesus asked them what they were talking about. The two told Jesus all about what happened in Jerusalem in the recent days and how broken-hearted they were that Jesus had been killed. Finally, they lament:

“But we had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel.”

The first four words in their lament stir me: “But we had hoped.”

I had a pastor tell me last week, “I had hoped this Coronavirus shut down wouldn’t last long, but I think we’re in for the long haul.”

I watched an interview with a family in Georgia who lost a loved one to COVID-19. They told the reporter that had hoped the pandemic would spare their family.

One of my next-door neighbors with 4 children all under 8-years-old said to me, “I sure had hoped my older kids would have been back in school this year. Doesn’t look like it will happen.”

Another next-door neighbor has serious kidney disease and 6 kids – ranging in ages from a senior in high school to age 2! He’s headed for a kidney transplant soon. He told me he so hoped his kidney disease wouldn’t have progressed so far and so quickly, but it has. Next week he heads to Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis to get his work up for a kidney transplant. And of course, he hoping for the best.

Yet a third neighbor’s wife has early onset Alzheimer’s. He told me this past weekend he sure had hoped after she retired, they would have time to travel and enjoy life. She is just 68.

With the Coronavirus looming over us all, the Emmaus Road on which we are traveling has us feeling lots of frustration, disappointment, and yearning. Is it any wonder people might be saying, “But we had hoped?”

Along with the pain on own Emmaus Road writer Debie Thomas thinks the Emmaus Road is also a sacred road. Just as in the original story in Luke 24, Jesus is on our Emmaus Road with us. As Luke writes it, as soon as Jesus comes up to the men, he invites them to tell their story: “What are you discussing with each other?”

Cleopas (the only one named) and his co-traveler tell Jesus everything, even saying he was “a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people.” They tell him all about their great expectations and now about their great sense of loss, pain, and uncertainty. And Jesus listened.

But then Jesus gets to tell His story to them. Now it is their turn to listen. As Jesus spoke, he grounded his story in Scripture, explaining that the death of the Messiah, as Debie Thomas writes, “finds its place in a sweeping, cosmic arc of redemption, hope and divine love that spans the centuries. When Jesus tells the story, the hearts of his listeners burn.”

Walking along our Emmaus Roads, it’s easy to lose sense of the bigger picture, of the arc of redemption, of who we belong to, of His purpose is for our lives and of how all of history is moving toward it’s final day.

Which is precisely why we need to invite Jesus to join us, whatever that road looks like for us at this moment in time. We all have our stories – our pain, our sorrows, our fears and worries. But Jesus has His story to tell us, too. And His story always reminds us that He is weaving our story into his grander story.

Right now, the story on our Emmaus Road is that our lives are pretty-well shut down by the coronavirus creeping mysteriously across the globe. We all hope it will be different soon. But for today, at least, we can welcome Jesus to join us and nourish us with his presence, whatever the day, or the future, holds.

We can tell him our feelings. After all, the resurrected Lord still is a man of sorrow and familiar with grief. He loves us. If we listen carefully, expecting his presence, we may feel His Spirit radiating inside us, coming alongside our spirit, and even causing our hearts burn within us.