Archbishop Peter A Comensoli
Homily: Third Sunday of Easter (Year A)
“Did not our hearts burn within us…?” When was the last time you could say that your own heart burnt within you? I don’t mean by this identifying when was the last time you got excited about something, as if this is equivalent to the feeling of elation when your team won the footy pennant. (Sorry Carlton fans!) Rather, the fire that burnt in the hearts of those two disciples as they walked with Jesus along the road to Emmaus might better be compared to the fire of deep loving affection that a couple of many years might still have for each other.
You know what I mean – you catch it in the tender way they are with each other; the look of trust and forgiveness they give each other; the way they talk of one another. They can be irreverent and playful, or annoyed and frustrated, while all the time they are attentive and comfortable in each other’s presence. It is a burning of the heart that outlasts the ups and downs of daily life together, and even beyond the years of familiarity and resignation to each others’ foibles. It is an expansiveness of affection that opens someone to a generosity of heart and an honesty of spirit.
We can reasonably presume that those two disciples had travelled with Jesus for a good portion of his three years of public mission. And clearly they had been intimately connected with what had happened in Jerusalem. These were friends of Jesus, and part of the inner group of his closest followers. While their identity is not indicated in the gospel, I like to think they might have been a married couple. It took the attentiveness of Jesus towards them to re-open their hearts to his presence, and it took the sharing of a meal – the Eucharistic ‘breaking of bread’ – to allow them to once again recognise him. Their hearts burnt within them because they had been reunited with him who had loved them to his death. Those two disciples had hoped in Jesus, and thought they had lost him; now they knew their hope was not in vain. Their flame had been re-ignited.
What had changed, such that this happened? Jesus does not just present himself to his two friends, without explanation or contribution. Jesus comes to them with an offering. He opened to them his own life, presented through the stories and prophecies of scripture, as the life of the one they had always hope to share in – God’s life.
To know God – to really know him personally – can be such a difficult journey to take. How can we make our way to the Almighty and Eternal One, who is so utterly above and beyond us? But God has come to us, as one of us, in Jesus. God commended to us his Son, as St Peter said to the crowds, and God raised him to life. It is through him, Peter says, that we can come to God in friendship. Jesus tells of his life with and in God, so that our lives might join with his. This is the flame that burns deep within each of us. Sometimes – often perhaps – it exists as a dark glowing ember, yet within it abides the potency of a blazing fire.
How is this fire to be ignited in us? Remember the example of the couple: affection, trust, forgiveness, tenderness, honesty – all built on working together by being attentive to each other in love. Know that you can ask Jesus to walk with you, to be with you, to remain with you. And he will, for this is why he seeks to make the journey of our lives with us, to appear when we might be at our lowest, and to re-ignite the flame of faith and hope that lies deep within. Make this a daily task, not just something for Sundays; and trust that he will find you where you are.
On the way to Emmaus by Janet Brooks-Gerloff, Oil Painting in the Abbey Cloister (1992)