Slow of Heart
A Sermon by The Reverend Linda C. Loving April 14, 2002 The House of Hope Presbyterian Church Saint Paul, Minnesota
“All roads lead to Rome,” say some. Perhaps for Christians a better adage is “all roads lead to Emmaus.” Emmaus, that curious place where, according to accounts in Luke and John, disciples encountered the risen Christ, walked and talked with him, without comprehending who he was until day’s end. All roads lead to Emmaus, yet no roads lead to Emmaus. That is, no certain, historical road has been identified, because Emmaus itself has not been located with certainty. On a study trip a few years ago to the Middle East, we spent an entire day in search of the historical Emmaus. There are four sites which at different times in history have been identified as the place where the risen Jesus revealed himself to Cleopas and his companion (some speculate his wife)1 in the breaking of bread with them on the evening of the first Easter Sunday. Each of the four sites is unique, and none seems to fully satisfy the scholars expectation of what and where Emmaus was. Yet each site has distinctive qualities which suggest a certain symbolism and an historical sense of how the faithful have tried to capture and remember this mysterious Post Resurrection story of faith and testimony. One site was known as Imwas, a place recognized by Eusebius and Jerome as the place where the Emmaus story should be remembered. Imwas was in a strategic location, controlling the major natural routes from the coast to Jerusalem. The site saw many battles and many defensive installations. In mid-fourth century A.D., a large Byzantine church was built there to commemorate the Emmaus story. In 1967, the Arab village at the location of Imwas was totally destroyed by the Israelis. Asecond proposed site is Abu Gosh. This site was chosen by the Crusaders in the 12th century as the place where they would locate and remember the Emmaus story. Originally, Abu Gosh was a hilltop town on the border between the kingdom of Judah and the Philistine territory. In the 11th century B.C., the ark of the covenant is thought to have rested there for a significant time. And long before Abu Gosh was a site to remember the Emmaus story, a Byzantine church had been built in the 5th century A.D. to remember there the ark of the covenant. The third location is known as Qubeibeh. This town stood on another main route from Jerusalem to the coast. After the crusades, the pilgrims began to use this particular route on their way to Jerusalem, and about 1500 A.D., this site at Quebeibeh became identified with Emmaus. Finally Motza, a name which some believe could be derived from Emmaus.
1 Charles Hoffacker, “Lectionary Homiletics.” April 2002. p. 12.
Motza is only 30 stadia (or about 19 miles) from Jerusalem and, according to the historian Josephus, “Romans settled at a place called Emmaus, distant 30 stadia from Jerusalem.” Motza eventually became an Arab village which was destroyed in 1948. Imwas. Abu Gosh. Quebeibeh. Motza. All historical contenders on the road to Emmaus, yet perhaps none of them the actual final destination. The place itself, however, is merely a kind of theatrical backdrop for the true action in this gospel story. It is what happens on the way that truly matters; what happens on the road is what happens in the hearts of the witnesses—that old adage that it’s not the destination but the journey that matters. And as glorious and grand as Easter Sunday is, the grace and truth of it is finally made known on the backroads of our own lives, if we pay attention. The risen Christ travels all roads. Imwas. Abu Gosh. Quebeibeh. Motza. St Paul. Jerusalem. Kashmir. Kabul. All of us on our way, on the way, and most of the time we are slow to recognize him and his truth; most of the time we miss his very presence with us. As Jesus put it, we are “slow of heart”—oh, so slow of heart. Just as the women at the tomb had no expectation of finding it empty, we walk our roads with no expectation that the Christ is next to us. Am I right? Let’s be honest—we fall short here! Perhaps one of the ways we most waste this precious life we have, is in only seeing what we expect to see. It makes us lazy; allows a certain coasting. Oftentimes we’d rather not do the work of truly seeing who is with us on the road. But I tell you, if we do so, there are surprises as breath-taking as those on the road to Emmaus. Surprises which carry gifts of deep understanding and cause our “hearts to burn within us.” All my life as a Presbyterian I have been grateful for the denomination’s identity as “a church of the stranger.” Aplace that welcomes new neighbors as a gift in our midst. Aplace that celebrates that the Risen Christ walked as a stranger on the road to Emmaus. The story is now being told nationally about a dear friend of mine, Mauricio Chacon. Several years ago, if you had met Mauricio on the road, you might have seen only a young man who was an undocumented immigrant from El Salvador. And you would have been right. But you would not have seen the whole picture—unless you paid careful attention to the man and his story. You would have been right to see an undocumented immigrant from El Salvador—but on the road to Emmaus, being “right” is not enough. It can be very superficial in the life of the spirit. To have really known who Mauricio was, at heart, might have led you to glimpse who Mauricio would become in this country—a Presbyterian pastor, a colleague of mine in California, where his ministry has transformed Iglesia Presbiteriana de la Mision in San Francisco, an inner city church which had been in serious decline.2 Perhaps if you learned later of his ministry, you, like Cleopas and his friend, would look back and say of your first encounter with him, “Were not our hearts burning within us as he was talking to us on the road?” We are a church of the stranger. Sometimes as we trudge the Emmaus road, it is the children who reveal resurrection. Robert Coles, who wrote The Spiritual Life of Children, gives us the example of Ginny, a very young girl from a poor family. She is bright, articulate, imaginative,
2 John Filiatreau, “Presbyterian Headline News,” 2002, No. 6, “Inclusive Language.”
with a keenly developed spirituality. We meet her on a back road, walking home to do her chores. Ginny encounters an elderly woman, a stranger, who seemed lost and confused. Ginny asked the woman if she needed help, and the woman, with relief responded “If you could, that would be wonderful.” Ginny discovered that the woman had been walking to visit her daughter, but had gotten disoriented. She showed Ginny the written directions she had, and Ginny knew immediately where she had gotten lost and where she needed to go. Although Ginny was now late for her home chores, she sensed that getting this troubled stranger safely to her destination was the chore she most needed to be doing. So she traveled with her, talked gently to her, listened to her as the woman spoke of the pain in her life, and guided her to her daughter’s house. When they arrived and Ginny started to leave, the woman grasped her arm and announced that God had sent Ginny to her and that later she would pray a prayer of thanks to God for having Ginny there. The woman then gave Ginny a kiss. On the road home, young Ginny wondered what it would be like to be old, wondered if she were old and in need if God would send some kid like her to help. “Maybe God puts you here,” Ginny thought, “and …..gives you these hints of what’s ahead, and you should pay attention to them, because that’s Him speaking to you.”3
Pay attention, because that’s Him, speaking to you, giving hints of what’s ahead—like Jesus on the road to Emmaus. Strangers to each other on the road, Ginny and this frail woman found God in each other. They were not slow of heart to believe in this encountered goodness; this deep knowing. Sometimes it is in the stranger that we see ourselves afresh. On September 11th last year, thousands of travelers unexpectedly found themselves on an airfield in New Foundland. Jumbo jets of numerous carriers cluttered this remote area, and passengers were taken by school buses to nearby towns. People in the small village of Lewisport had strangers sleeping on their living room couches and basement floors; on their church pews and gymnasium wrestling mats. Complete strangers, everywhere. And the people of Lewisport stayed up all night baking fresh bread for them. Mind you, the “Today Show” reporter delivers this information without batting an eye. The people of Lewisport stayed up all night baking fresh bread for the strangers! “That’s the gospel—not a sound bite!” I shrieked at the TV. For it was finally in
3Robert Coles, The Spiritual Life of Children, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1990, pp. 332-334.
the breaking of bread that the two disciples recognized Jesus. Jesus whose deeds and words made him a stranger to all, yet in the end a friend to each. The people of Lewisport and the stranded passengers were not slow of heart; they were quick to understand with whom they shared the road to Emmaus. Together they experienced their fear and confusion; they looked quickly, deeply into each other’s hearts and hope emerged. Several days later, as one Delta flight loaded its 218 passengers they passed the hat and right then and there they collected $15,000 as scholarship money to be equally divided among the seniors at Lewisport High School. ($20,000 more came later.) Surely their hearts burned within them. Surely they had paid deep attention to one another on their shared road—honoring the stranger and sensing that being right is not the most important thing; a deep understanding of the “other” is the most important thing. Surely it is the only way we can ever bring peace. How slow of heart the Middle East peace negotiations seem! How hard of heart the people on all sides seem! How slow of heart WE have been to pay attention; to look deeply within these strangers and know them as “fellow citizens of the Household of God.” Whether Arab or Israeli; whether the person next to you in the pew, or the spouse of 30 years across from you at the dinner table, or the person across the street from you; whether Mauricio or Ginny or the people of Lewisport: “Maybe,” in Ginny’s words, “God gives you these hints of what’s ahead, and you should pay attention to them, because that’s him speaking to you” on the road to Emmaus. Open your eyes—the risen Christ is with you. Do not let your preoccupations and presumptions distract you, nor your selfishness or skepticism cause you to stumble. Look deep within the others on the road and you will see anew; and God will never feel like a stranger to you. Gunilla Norris wrote:
Having shared our bread, we know that we are no longer hungry. It is enough that you see me for myself. That I see you for yourself. That we bless what we see And do not borrow, Do not use one another…. The world is full of terror, Full of beauty and yet We are not afraid to find solace here. To be bread for each other. To love.4
Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him! Thanks be to God!
To God be the glory. Amen
4”Plenty,” in Becoming Bread: Meditations on Loving and Transormation, New York:Bell Tower, 1993, p. 72.