The sainted Rev. Earl Fedderson provides our weekly devotion:
Sunday’s Gospel tells about a walk on the road to Emmaus by a fellow named Cleopas and an unnamed friend. The event takes place on the day of the Resurrection. The two had heard about the empty tomb and the message given by the angels to the women, but they were only confused by it all. They were talking about these things as they walked.
Paul Remmick tells a story about getting lost one time in Yosemite National Park. In his words, he was a “youngster” at the time. Convinced he knew his way to the village from their campsite, he took off on his own in the direction he thought was correct. After some time in the tall pines, he made an unnerving discovery: “I found myself lost. Frightened, I wandered first in one direction, then another.” Eventually, he followed a bridle path to a paved road. Following that road, he finally came across a park ranger. He continues: “Scared and crying, I sobbed out my story. I shall never forget the feeling of that large, reassuring arm around me as he led me back to camp. I was safe, and my heart strangely warmed.”
Like Remmick, those two Emmaus travelers were confused and frightened as they walked. Suddenly, a stranger began to walk with them. It was Jesus, but the “couldn’t- believe-their-eyes” syndrome kept them from recognizing Him. The three of them talked together as they continued the walk to Emmaus.
The Stranger said they were “foolish” and certainly not in any hurry to believe all that the prophets had spoken. Then He told them how the Scriptures, Moses and the prophets, related to the Jesus they were talking about. When the two reached home, Jesus started to go on, but they invited Him in. Later, at their table, He blessed and broke bread. At that familiar gesture, they recognized Him. He left them, and they took off immediately for Jerusalem in order to find the Eleven and tell them what had happened. They spoke about how their hearts had burned within them when He opened the Scriptures to them.
Manufacturers of antacids often refer to a very uncomfortable condition which, to say the least, can leave a bad taste in your mouth. It’s called heartburn. The Emmaus disciples had burning hearts of a different nature entirely. Remmick described it similarly — his heart was strangely warmed by the presence of the big park ranger who comforted him and took him home.
Home is a place of warm hearts and gentle people. A church can also be such a place. At such churches, visitors will go on and on about the warmth and friendliness of the people. They may even describe their visit as a heartwarming experience. I suppose that those who find a different experience never return, so we are not likely to hear about the cold shoulder which, like heartburn, can leave a bad taste in the mouth. Nothing can be done about that later. We may get a second chance, but there is no such thing as a “Second First Impression.”
We could probably dream up some excuses for lack of warmth on a particular day, but it doesn’t matter. A bad taste was left in someone’s mouth. The only thing I know for sure is that visitors will eventually discover that sinners are members of the church. As a matter of fact, churches don’t have any other kind of members! At the same time, that is hardly our strong point. Our “claim to fame,” if you will, is that we are forgiven sinners! Jesus Christ has set us free from sin and death. He has called us to be His people, His church, His missionaries. It is our mission to invite people all over the world to join us in the process of discovering the love and grace of God, the forgiveness He has given us at great cost to Himself and the new life that He also gives.
We do not pretend to have fully put on Christ, so that we are without sin and coldness, but it is most certainly our goal to display the same warmth toward others that we have received from Him. It is always a shame when the old way still shows in those who now walk in Christ’s way.
In Sunday’s lesson from First Peter we read: “For you know what was paid to set you free from the worthless manner of life handed down by your ancestors. It was not something that can be destroyed, such as silver or gold; it was the costly sacrifice of Christ, who was like a lamb without defect or flaw . . . Through Him you believe in God, who raised Him from death and gave Him glory; and so your faith and hope are fixed on God.” It is a good reminder to us and to others, that while we hope there is that good kind of heartburn as the hearts of members and visitors warm each other, the only sure source is the love and grace of God Himself.
Sunday’s lesson from Acts is about the church’s great beginning. Three thousand sinners recognized their coldness of heart in the crucifixion of Jesus and the burning heart of God in the exact same act! Luke wrote in an excited fashion about the love and warmth and devotion and fellowship of those first Christians.
No antacid is ever needed for that kind of heartburn. Let us do our part to continue the mission work those first Christians started. Let us also pray that Christ would give us an experience similar to that of the Emmaus disciples. May He make our hearts burn within us as He reveals Himself to us. Know this — He continues to do it in the same way — through the Word of the Scriptures and in the breaking of the bread.