Saturday, April 5, 2008

Setting Our Hearts On Fire!

Easter 3A – Luke 24:13-35 * Luke 24:13-35

The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, St. Peter’s at Ellicott Mils

Were Not Our Hearts Burning Within Us

“Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road,

while he was opening the scriptures to us?”

When was the last time we felt “our hearts burning within us”? When was the last time we engaged a stranger on the road, or perhaps today in the mall, in a conversation about the scriptures? Or, in a conversation about Jesus?

There are at least two important things going on here.

Two friends of Jesus are walking on the road to Emmaus, a village about seven miles outside of Jerusalem where “things have taken place.” The Sabbath is over – that is, it is nightfall. Darkness is setting in, although nothing compared to the darkness they are feeling over “the things that have taken place” in Jerusalem. Walking and talking with the stranger, however, helps them to see things in a whole new light – a whole new way.

Then suddenly, at the dinner table the stranger takes bread, blesses it, breaks it and gives it to them – familiar actions in the Feeding of the 5,000 and at the Last Supper. Taking bread, blessing it, breaking it and giving it to others signals the presence of Jesus. The stranger vanishes instantly. They run back into town to tell the others.

Jesus is present to them in word and sacrament. Thus, Jesus is available and present to us in word and sacrament.

When I was in seminary I looked for a spiritual director and convinced my New Testament professor John Koenig to take me on despite the fact he felt unequipped and unqualified to do so. He decided that what we would do is get together every other week for what he called “a monastic walk.” That is, we would walk the streets of Manhattan and talk while we walked.

We would talk about seminary, we would talk about prayer, we would talk about Jesus, we would talk about scripture, we would talk about how the church could serve more people. Like the two people on the way to Emmaus, Jesus would be present to us as we walked and talked. Many was the day our hearts were burning within us!

I commend monastic walking as a way to bring Jesus closer into your life – to set your hearts burning within you. And if you cannot find another disciple to walk with, another professor, James Forbes, would recommend reading scripture while walking – even just walking in circles in a room. When one does this you discover that you naturally “trip” over certain words. These are the words, Professor Forbes would say, to which one needs to pay attention.

A corollary to this pertains to those of us who underline things in our Bibles. Barbara Hall, another New Testament professor of mine, would urge us to go back to our underlined Bibles and pay most attention to passages, words and lines we did NOT underline. That is where God is calling you to grow, she would say. Let’s face it, we all underline the stuff we already believe or agree with.

Finally, it should not go without saying that all the scripture that set the two disciple’s hearts on fire came from what we call the Old Testament – or Hebrew Scripture. Anyone who wants to know Jesus better had best read Moses and the prophets. Why, we even had a New Testament professor in my undergraduate work who had us spend most of the semester just reading Isaiah before even cracking the New Testament open!

When I think about it, this is what the Great Vigil of Easter is all about. We read an entire array of Old Testament stories to prepare us for the News of the Resurrection - to prepare us for baptism or the renewal of baptismal vows. All the while we are holding these tapers, lit from the Paschal Candle, the Light of Christ. We are each of us holding the light of Christ as we listen to God’s story of salvation!

Let’s pass a few of these around right now. Pass it on, or hold onto it if it is setting your heart on fire.

With the flame in our hands, and the words in our ears and hearts and souls, there is the hope that our hearts will be burning with the love of God in Christ.

Then, of course, there is the bread and the wine – the body and blood of Christ. Every Sunday the priest takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it and gives it to us. When the stranger does this in Luke, we read, “Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.”

Do we open our eyes? Do we allow them to be opened? Are we prepared to see Jesus?

The preparation before seeing him in the breaking of the bread was in that conversation on the road – a discussion of the scriptures, of Moses and the Prophets. Which is of course what the Liturgy of the Word is meant to do – prepare us to see Jesus, to recognize him in the breaking of the bread, in one another, in the hymns and songs that we sing, and in all that we do.

May the Lord bless you and keep you

May the Lord’s face shine upon you and be gracious unto you

May the Lord’s countenance lift you up and give you peace

May God give you grace not to sell yourself short

Grace to risk something big for something good

Grace to remember that the world is now too dangerous for anything but truth

And too small for anything but love

May God take our minds and think through them

May God take our lips and speak through them

May God take our hands and work through them

And may God take our hearts and set them on fire!

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