Open Eyes, Burning Hearts

Luke 24:13-35
2nd Sunday of Easter
Rev. Elizabeth M. Deibert


Catherine and Richard have gone to visit several colleges again so she can make her final choice. She needs to see the campuses, and meet students, get the feel of the place. Seeing and feeling. With our eyes and our hearts, we make many decisions. I don’t mean to discount the mind, but our minds are fed a good bit of information from our eyes and our heart. I bet if I asked you to describe an experience of falling in love, you would talk about seeing someone or feeling your heart flutter in the presence of someone. What we see, what we feel. Powerful relational experiences often begin with eyes and heart.

That’s how these otherwise unknown disciples of Jesus describe their strange encounter with the Risen Christ on Easter night. They meet a stranger on the road and two become three. And while they know that there are three of them on the road, they do not immediately recognize their companion as Jesus. They are stuck with their assumptions about death. Despite hearing news earlier in the day that the tomb was empty, despite second hand word from an angel that Christ is risen from the dead, they do not recognize him. Did he look so different, was his voice not the same? What does it take for them to solve the riddle? It takes Word and Sacrament, just like for us. That’s still what it takes for us to really see Jesus, to really feel him present, to move out of our pre-conceived notions of how desperate life is to a more hopeful truth of the presence of the Lord in the midst of despair, bringing life from death.

READ Passage

Let’s think about this passage as having four parts – four parts which describe our experience of the presence of Christ. The first part is prayer. The disciples are talking to the Lord about their problem, their worries, their grief and despair. The fact that they don’t know they are talking to Jesus make it remarkably similar to our experience. We cannot see Jesus walking with us along this journey but he’s there listening in, responding to us, reminding us of what we need to know, reassuring us, correcting us.

The second part is that word of the Lord. Prayer, talking to the Lord, is not enough. We need that Word from the Lord, that interpretation of our life experience by Christ’s life, by the witness of those who have gone before us in faith. That Word challenges and prods and warms our hearts, as it did John Wesley’s, the Founder of Methodism. Hear what John says about the night of his conversion, In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.

Did not our hearts burn within us. The heart is warmed by the word. And so, the disciples on the way to Emmaus, say to the stranger walking with them. Come now, it is late, stay with us.

And we move from the prayer and the Word to the Sacrament. The third part of our spiritual experience of Christ. He breaks the bread and they recognize him. If there’s any doubt from anyone here about our celebration of weekly sacrament, look at this text. What did it take for the full recognition of Jesus – the breaking of bread. There was prayer – sharing the life story. There was response – the sharing of the Word, straight from the mouth of Christ to the hear of the disciples. But they still did not get it.

They did not get it, because they still did not know who was really there with them Only at the table did they know. Only as the bread was broken, did they sense the real presence of Christ, a real presence that we still believe is here. We are not just re-enacting. We are not just remembering the Last Supper when we share communion. This moment at the table is a mysterious experience of the real presence of Christ, which we cannot interpret in logical terminology. That’s why the table is for everyone – for all ages, because it is the place of encounter, knowing of open eyes, not so much of mental comprehension.

The Word of Christ makes our hearts burn. But we don’t really know yet who is with us. Only in the breaking of bread are our eyes opened.

It is the difference between perception and recognition. Perception is what we think we see. Perception is an impression in the mind of something perceived by the senses. Their eyes were kept from recognizing him. Distinct from perception, recognition is a knowing. The Greek word is gnosis. It is deep knowing.

Luke helps us identify several ways that the two disciples are prevented from re-knowing, from re-cognizing, from seeing what and who they needed to see. It has to do with the distinction between perception and recognition. Perceptions may be born out of assumptions.

• The disciples assumed that the women who had been to the tomb earlier that day were overreacting; that they had not seen a vision; that they were confused about their facts regarding the empty tomb. The disciples perceived that the women were telling an idle tale (Luke 24:11).

• The disciples assumed that Jesus was not only the one to redeem Israel, but that he would do it in the manner they thought best. They perceived that he had failed because he was captured and crucified (Luke 24:20-21).

• The disciples assumed that the stranger on the road was just that – a stranger. They perceived that he was the only one around who hadn’t heard about the crucifixion of their teacher and friend (Luke 24:18).

The stranger, Jesus, and the two disciples continued on their way to Emmaus. Jesus spoke to them about the need for the Messiah to suffer; that this was what the prophets had been saying all along, from Moses on. Jesus interpreted to these two the scriptures and things concerning himself. Cleopas and the other disciple invited Jesus to stay with them that night. During supper, Jesus took the bread and blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.... THEN! The flash of recognition broke through their perceptions. And they knew in a deep way. Their eyes were opened. (For this section on perception and recognition, I am indebted to Rev. Karen A. Blomberg’s 2008 sermon on this passage.)

So there’s prayer, then there’s the Word. That holy conversation between us and the Lord. Our sharing our experiences and struggles, Christ sharing the Word with us. Our burning hearts. And then there’s the knowing that occurs when our eyes are opened to who he really is. That happens in the Sacrament. And finally, there’s our very significant response to this heart-warming, eye-opening experience. Jesus vanished, but the two discuss with one another their experience and then rush out to share it with the others. They testify to what has happened to them. And while they are sharing this testimony, Jesus appears to the others. In the sharing of our experiences of the presence of Christ here with us at Peace, we are part of the mysterious appearance of Christ to others. John Baggett, friend of Mickey Miller, and author of the book study we are starting today in the class Mickey and Morgan are leading, Seeing through the Eyes of Jesus, makes this claim: “The unity of God’s good news for humankind is to be found in the shared reality of Jesus the human being and those who claim him to be the Christ, the Son of God.” When our hearts are warmed by prayer and the Word and our eyes are opened by the Sacrament, and we go to share good news, then the unity of God’s good news for humankind comes to fruition. That is the mystery of the Christian life, as our Lord keeps appearing.

As we reflect in silent prayer, let us remember the one who is on the road with us, no matter where we are going, the one who wants to be invited into our hearts and our homes to be fully known.