Sermon for Sunday 23 April 2023
Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter
Luke 24.32 The disciples said to each other, Did not our hearts burn within us …?
A burning heart is all you need for your journey. A burning heart is the sign of love trying to happen, a sign that God has entered our lives again. Easter is a time to cultivate our burning hearts and minds, a new alertness, a new attentiveness. God has given you a heart that burns with desire and hope. Do you remember how that was when the Christian faith first struck you, not just talking to God, or thinking about God, but being with God? That’s all it was. St John records Jesus as saying that there comes a time when you will ask nothing of me. What a luminous moment that would be. No more questions. A burning heart and mind consume those questions, those circular doubts, when Christ is the one who opens the scriptures for us.
The two disciples on the road to Emmaus (insert your own names here) had a lot of unanswered questions about what had happened in Jerusalem, and much to talk about. “And they stood still, looking sad.” I think the Christian journey can be a sad one. We pretend it’s not, we put on a brave face, even a new persona, when we come to church, but it can be sad at times. One reason for our sadness, our frustration, is an unreal expectation of how life should turn out. One disciple on the road to Emmaus says, “We were hoping that Jesus was the one who would set Israel free.” We expect completion, a result, a finished symphony. So there arises a creeping discouragement, because Christ has not yet healed the hidden wounds in our own lives, wounds which keep opening up; then there’s the stalled prayer life, the persistent feeling that we have settled for second best and it’s now too late. “..they stood still, looking sad.”
Year after year and not much changes. But that’s All Saints for you, isn’t it? We don’t come here for change, do we? Pretty trad, isn’t it, have you noticed? Except that’s an illusion, because you have changed. You are not the same person you were five years ago, or even a year ago, and your response to the Christ who meets you on the road to Emmaus, that personal experience of the Risen Lord, is never the same, is always new. That is the freshness, the springtime of Easter life. The entrance stone to the tomb is hurled away at first light, the beginning of a new day, and the light streams in. Consider your life. Consider the possibility that you are being given a new start in life, that is what forgiveness means, and your heart and mind can take fire again. Easter is our new start. The fullness of God (and He has been kept nothing back), the fullness of God is to be found in our own hearts. No more questions. The gift is already given. We can open our hearts to God’s generosity, set aside our preconceived ideas about Jesus and enter his Real Presence, for He has walked alongside us all this time. The Christ in us is no longer in the tomb.
What would you say to Him? I wish that in my life I had said more often to that mysterious stranger, just three words. Stay with me. Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent. We can say that now even when, like the disciples, we are not sure of this stranger’s full identity. And during their meal, Jesus vanishes, as He does so often in our conscious lives. But the disciples do recognise him, as we can. Jesus is recognised, known for who He is, in the broken bread, in what we call the Eucharist, the Communion, the sign of Christ’s Body given for us. Broken Body of Christ in the Eucharist, Burning Mind and Heart of Christ in the Scriptures. It’s all we have, and it will be enough.
I could take you further into the theology of Easter, but I’m like that friend of Dr Johnson who wanted to be a serious philosopher, “but cheerfulness kept breaking in”. We know Easter joy. And this joy takes an unexpected form. We never make it to the fleshpots of Emmaus where we had booked an indulgent weekend break. We turn back to Jerusalem, to the scene of crucifixions, to be with the others whom Jesus loved. Walking away was a mistake, it usually is. Back to Galilee where our hearts first burned within us when Jesus spoke to us. At Easter our hearts burn as we wait for the Holy Spirit that is promised to us. The Resurrection is not a single event. It is a forward movement, from Mary Magdalene in the garden, to the disciples setting out for Emmaus, down to us, so that we can live with His eternal life, a sacrificial life, an Easter life. It’s like being born anew, says St Peter in today’s epistle, …through the living and abiding word of God. …Love one another earnestly from the heart.” Easter joy is just the start of your new life this year. Jesus walks alongside his church on her journey, revealing who God is and what God can do, Light of the Minds that know Him, as we shall sing at Communion, making of life’s brief journey, A new Emmaus road.
Fr. Julian Browning