“Were not our hearts burning within us” Luke 24:32
Morale is at the heart of our Gospel story today. The morale of the disciples had hit rock-bottom in the hours after the awful events of that Friday in Jerusalem. Everything had been lost, every hope destroyed, every expectation smashed. They were left a battered, disheartened, directionless group, who had no idea what would now happen. Then in a moment all is changed. Those two disciples who had given up hope, and had gone back to Emmaus to continue their ordinary lives, suddenly have their eyes opened and the whole world is a different place.
It is almost impossible for us to imagine the depths of their gloom and despondency, and just as hard to imagine the power of the morale change that came into their lives. They are feeling so low that despite stories of what has happened they are heading home; what they have heard must be considered no more than a story. If the news of Sunday morning’s events had been convincing to them, then why were they heading for Emmaus? If they believed there was even a chance of the story being true, they would have been in Jerusalem in the midst of things, instead they head seven miles out of the city to the village of Emmaus. When they come to the realization of who it is that has walked with them along the way, there is a sudden moment when everything is completely changed, when the world looks a completely different place.
This morale change is one that runs through the ranks of the disciples; it is one that was so profound that it changed them from a ragged and motley group of individuals into a world-changing movement. The disciples were a group entirely without resources or organisation in a world that was violently hostile. (If we think we live in a world that is not interested in what the church has to say, we should try First Century Palestine).
The morale change comes though a sense of the power of Christ in their hearts. “Were not our hearts burning within us?” say the pair who would have run from Emmaus back to Jerusalem; it is an emotion that is shared by other of Jesus’ friends. The disciples had the presence of the risen Christ and the faith to live as he commanded, and that was how they not only met the outside world, but changed it beyond recognition.
The first Christian churches grew at a phenomenal rate because they were open to that constant morale boost that Christ’s presence brings and, like those two disciples sitting with Jesus in the house at Emmaus, they were open to what the Scriptures said. Those are the two basics need to be recovered to maintain the morale of the Church: the reading of Scripture and the openness to Christ’s presence through prayer.
“Were not our hearts burning within us?” asked the two disciples at Emmaus. What a morale boost, they had met with the risen Lord and their lives were changed.
Anyone who would discount the story of the Resurrection of Jesus, anyone who would talk of it as an event in the imaginations of his followers, has to explain the early church. Does something imagined change history? Does something imagined inspire people in the way the Gospel story does two thousand years later?
If we want encouragement for the life of our church, then it is there in the story of the road to Emmaus. If we feel the need to be reassured in what we believe, then imagining ourselves on that country road and sensing the change that came in the lives of those there brings a great sense of what it was sparked the church into life.
But if there is encouragement in the story, there is also a challenge to us. Can we put our hands on our hearts and honestly say that we have been changed? How often can we say that the Church has made us so much as even smile, let alone become different people?
The disciples had walked seven miles to Jerusalem, heading towards the setting sun. They reach Emmaus and it is dark. They would be tired and they were very aware that it was not a time to be travelling any further; they invite the stranger to stay with them because night has fallen. Yet when they realise Jesus has been with them they travel back that seven miles, running through the darkness.
Have we ever felt so changed by what we have read or heard have we ever felt strongly about our faith that we have dropped what we were doing and said, what is it that God wants me to do? How often does our faith change us?
‘It is true!’, the disciples exclaim. Can we say with them, ‘It is true!’?
Are we like the disciples as they walked towards Emmaus, unable to believe that such a thing as Jesus rising from the dead could happen? Or are we like the disciples as they sat in the house as Jesus broke the bread, do we know in our hearts that the Lord is risen?