Rev. Peter Faass
(Picks up cell phone)
Let’s see, where’s that “Google Maps” icon? Ah, there it is.
E-M-M-A-U-S (presses search). Oh, there’s no Emmaus listed. Well, there is the “Emmaus Bible Fellowship Church” in Mentor, but I’m pretty sure that’s not the same place.
I’m not sure why Emmaus didn’t come up on Google; everything else does! The Biblical text says Emmaus was seven miles from Jerusalem. Let’s see if I can find it if I type “Jerusalem, Israel.”
Yes! There’s Jerusalem. Oh no, not Jerusalem, Ohio! Oh great, this GPS only finds locations in the USA and Canada. How I am going to Emmaus so that I can encounter Jesus if my GPS can’t get me there?
This is how meeting Jesus and believing in the Resurrection happens. You have to duplicate the same circumstances and be in the same environment for it to be real. It’s like a scientific experiment; we need a methodical and empirical procedure, with the goal of verifying, falsifying, or establishing the accuracy of the Resurrection. If I get on the road to Emmaus, I can see if Jesus meets me just like he did with Cleopas and his companion. It would be cool to watch him vanish from my sight. Poof! Now you see him, now you don’t. If this doesn’t happen for me, if it’s not scientifically repeatable, how can I possibly ever believe in his Resurrection?
A lot of Christians – especially we Episcopalians - are skeptical about these passages of scripture that speak of Jesus’ paranormal appearances. That stuff isn’t real, we think. We are too smart, savvy and sophisticated to believe in those myths. If we don’t have concrete evidence or see it with our own eyes, then it can’t be true. And yet, Biblical texts about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ are all paranormal experiences meant to inspire our faith and not lead us to disbelief.
Mary Magdalene encounters a man who suddenly appears to her at the empty tomb. She believes he is a gardener. It is only when the man speaks her name that she recognizes him as the risen Jesus.
The terrified disciples are secreted away in a locked room when the risen Jesus suddenly appears. Only when doubting Thomas insists on hard evidence and sees the marks of crucifixion on Jesus’ body does he believe.
On the Road to Emmaus, two followers of Jesus were heading out of Jerusalem on the Sunday of the Resurrection. News that the women who visited the tomb have seen the risen Lord is fluorishing. As these two walk the dusty road, a man suddenly appears. The text tells us “their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” This is similar to Mary’s experience in the garden.
This mystery man walks with the two men as they relay recent events about Jesus, events they’ve not yet reconciled. Jesus admonishes them as he interprets these events through scripture.
As they approach Emmaus, the two men encourage Jesus to stay and have dinner with them. He accepts their invitation. When Jesus is at table with them, he takes bread, blesses, breaks and gives it to them. The active verbs of taking, blessing, breaking and giving are Eucharistic. In the context of these actions, the men recognize the risen Jesus, clearly indicating they were present at the last supper just a few nights prior.
Jesus then “vanished from their sight.”
Astonished, the two men begin to connect the dots. Of course this was Jesus. “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 ask. Despite the late hour, rush back to Jerusalem to share their encounter of Jesus with the disciples.
The Road to Emmaus Resurrection Story, as well as the stories of Mary Magdalene in the garden and Thomas and the disciples hiding in the upper room, provide us with a boilerplate truth about our Christian faith; a truth that strikes at the head and heart dichotomy that splits Christians and how we engage our faith . . . or not.
The central question these Resurrection stories ask us is, “How do we encounter the risen Jesus in our lives? Is it through deductive reasoning, scientific evidence, our intellect, or in the experiences of our heart?”
If we believe the former, and our minds can’t rationally process the Resurrection stories and the presence of the risen Jesus, do we disbelieve? Do we disbelieve because we fear the experience of our hearts, thinking them as too emotionally fraught, irrational and susceptible to sentiment?
With both Mary and the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, the evidence clearly favors the heart. Mary didn’t know she was encountering Jesus until he lovingly uttered her name.
The man in the garden did not compute in her mind, which told her that a gardener was standing in front of her. Mary was struggling to resolve the impossible situation of the empty tomb. When Jesus finally spoke her name, her heart leapt in recognition.
Cleopas and his companion couldn’t intellectually compute the presence of Jesus walking with them on the dusty road. They were trying to figure out what this bizarre story of a man coming back from the dead meant. When they heard Jesus’ voice, blessing and sharing bread, they realized, “Oh my gosh, it’s him!” When the men recognized Jesus, they said to one another,
“Were not our hearts burning within in us while he was talking to us on the road?”
They recognized the risen Jesus in their hearts.
As Benny van Buren sings to his struggling baseball team in the play, Damn Yankees, “You gotta have heart!”
We know the heart helps us recognize the risen Jesus after the Lord responds to Thomas touching his wounds and professes his faith. Jesus responds, “Have you believed me because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Just like my GPS will not lead me to Emmaus and a real-time encounter with Jesus, my mind itself will never ultimately lead me to an encounter with the risen Jesus. If we just trust in our highly educated, rational minds, we will always be skeptical of what we believe is the irrational experience of the heart when Jesus appears to us. Our blessedness only occurs when we make our hearts vulnerable so we can encounter the risen Lord.
Our intellects are valuable assets – we Episcopalians believe that Jesus died to take away our sins, not our minds – but our faith cannot be built solely on an academic, intellectual or scientific enterprise. Scripture is clear that the human heart is where God meets us.
Our life journeys are our road to Emmaus, where we encounter the risen Jesus. To be a pilgrim on that road, we must open our hearts to experiences that are beyond rational explanation.
Jesus is present in the hearing of the word and the breaking of the bread. Jesus is also equally present to us in the rest of our lives. Just as with our eyes, we need to open our hearts so we may know the presence of the risen Jesus as he accompanies us on the way.
Emmaus reminds us that our intellects and great powers of rational thought that don’t ultimately matter.
Our risen Savior seeks us out, is with us, and walks with us in our human confusion, fears, pain, anxieties and joys. Emmaus brings awareness to our hearts burning within us, recognizing Jesus’ love.
Ultimately, when it comes to the Resurrection, “You gotta have heart!
The Reverend Peter Faass
The Reverend Peter Faass was born in Delft, Netherlands. He is a graduate of the General Theological Seminary in New York City and has been at Christ Church since 2006.