Hidden Christ, Burning Hearts

In some ways the story of Jesus joining his disciples on the road to Emmaus is the tale of the church.  We disciples tend to head down that road a lot.  I mean the one that leads in the wrong direction.  And Jesus frequently joins us there, going in the wrong direction with us, until we suddenly understand that he is there, that our hearts are burning within us because of what he has made us see.

We head down the road in the wrong direction crying out,  “We had hoped.”  Each periodic church renewal – what Phyllis Tickle calls a church-wide rummage sale – is like that trip to Emmaus.  The church is supported by the government in the time of Constantine and  suddenly the fervor of the martyrs is lost.  “We had hoped,” cry the disillusioned, and they head for home.  But, because they are accompanied by Christ, they eventually feel the fire in their hearts and discern that they need to spend some time in the Egyptian desert.  And there the seeds of monasticism are sowed.  Or, much later, Martin Luther, totally disillusioned with the Catholic church, cries, “We had hoped.”  He goes in the wrong direction until he feels the fire of Christ in his heart.  And the result is the Reformation.

Today the church seems to be slipping away from us.   We had hoped that our kids would stay, carrying on the traditions we hold so dear.  We had hoped that our finances would be better this year, that our worship space would be less badly in need of repair than we thought, or that the capital fund would be successful.  We had hoped that we’d have the money for outreach and renewal. We had hoped we would be able to go back to using the common cup after COVID.  We had hoped that the people who left us when we went online would come back.  We had hoped our new priest could inspire us with energy and purpose.  We had hoped.

We scramble around for fixes.  Perhaps we need more relevant music.  Maybe we need somebody who can speak the language of the young.  Maybe we need better advertising.

It’s probably time to listen for the unheard-of possibility.  We need to open our minds to the Christ whom we do not recognize but who travels the road of despair with us.  What is trying to get our attention?

Five years ago, my church sold its building and rented temporary space with a Lutheran church in town.  A second church, a tiny one that had been sharing our building with us, also came along.  We were just going to stay in the rented space until we could discern our next step, but the most amazing thing happened.  We began to share education and outreach between the three congregations.  And our hearts began to burn within us.  What joy there was in having more pooled resources, more ideas, and more places in which to pitch in.  Today we are working to live into a covenant in which we all share worship and office space and collaborate in accompanying those in our county who need resources and allies.

Christ accompanied us on the road, and opened us to hear the message he revealed to us.  Thank heavens that our congregations were able to feel our hearts burning within us.  In tough times we can hearken back to this experience, and we can continue on the course we have discovered together.

Where have you felt your hearts burning within you?  Turn and you will see the hidden Christ revealed.

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