It’s been so long since my last blogpost, I thought I’d post something I wrote for Light of Christ Anglican Church in Kenosha, my home church. This post is an explanation of the title of our sermon series, “Red Letter Living.”
“Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” — Luke 24:32
This year our theme is “Red Letter Living.” For many of us, that immediately conjures up our trusty KJV Bibles with the words of Jesus printed in red. This is a modern symbol of something the Church has known since its inception: that the words of Jesus are somehow different from other words–they stand out against the flood of words of the world; they have an effect on us that other words don’t.
The Road to Emmaus story is a better illustration of what we mean by “Red Letter Living.” In it, Jesus comes upon two disciples (interestingly, not from his inner circle) travelling from Jerusalem to Emmaus after his crucifixion and resurrection. They are discouraged. Even though they have heard the reports of the women who visited the tomb and saw angels who said he was alive, this news is not enough to keep them hopeful. They continue on their way–a business trip perhaps, or returning home–without consolation. Jesus the powerful prophet, the hoped for redeemer of Israel, is lost to them. As they explain this to the stranger who has inexplicably come along, he harrumphs at their misconceptions and begins to explain why what happened had to happen.
We all know what happens next: Jesus is invited to dine with the men and when he blesses and breaks the bread to pass it, they suddenly see him for who he truly is–then he vanishes. While this is the point of Epiphany for them, they then recognize that something had been happening inside them since the moment Jesus began speaking: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
A burning heart is an important indication of God’s work within us. Think about it: this is a intuition that is unlike any emotion or understanding that we experience in normal life. It is, in fact, a coming together of our heart, mind and spirit in the recognition of something that is true. It is not something that can be explained in purely cognitive, emotional, or psychological terms. It is a unique experience that marks an encounter with the Living Word, Christ Jesus.
How did this unusual encounter come about? As Cleopas and his friend listened, John says “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, [Jesus] explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” Jesus, the divine Logos or Word is explaining the words of scripture! The living Word is interpreting the revealed Word in a way that causes them–once they recognize him–to dash back to Jerusalem and confirm the stories of the women at the tomb; in other words, to preach the essence of the Gospel.
While this sounds like a once-in-a-lifetime experience, we can put practices in our lives that set us up for heart-burning encounters with Jesus by spending time in the scriptures (the Word revealed) and inviting Jesus (the living Word) to teach us.
Not all of our moments with Jesus are “ah-ha!” moments like the one that took place when Jesus broke the bread. Often we need to recognize and cultivate the words that are burning our hearts–and that may mean taking a special journey with Jesus to let him teach us what the Word truly means.