During the Easter season the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus is read at liturgy. We hear the story so often that sometimes we miss some of the wonderful imagery contained in it. In this case, I am thinking of a meditation on the story using an icon that I have.* The icon has two scenes on it: on the left it shows the two disciples of Jesus walking with Him, deeply listening to His words, and on the right side of the icon are the two disciples with Jesus as He breaks the bread. In each of the scenes the disciples are oriented toward Jesus, and interestingly one disciple is depicted as a man and the other is a woman. (Luke's Gospel identifies one of them as Cleopas, which is clearly a man, but never names the other. Therefore the second one could have been a man or a woman, maybe the wife of Cleopas, who is mentioned elsewhere in the Gospel!)
In the scene of the two disciples walking, the two are looking intently at Jesus; that is, they are indeed oriented toward Him. The passage says they were downcast when He arrived, but that He explained the Scriptures to them. Later, after He has gone from their sight, they exclaim: "Were not our hearts burning within us while He spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?" It seems to me that their vision had been clouded by their disappointment that Jesus had died a few days before. Their expectations had been dashed. That is the problem. They believed quite possibly He was the long awaited Messiah, but then things did not go as they expected. Their expectations limited their vision. So when things went differently, even though Jesus had repeatedly said He would die and rise, they were downcast.
What we can learn from this is that we need to be totally oriented toward Jesus in order to let our hearts burn with love. We need to be open to the journey and to what He calls us to; we need to be open to His voice which comes in surprising ways quite often. If we only expect Him to come to us in a particular way, we could miss Him when He does come. He wants to guide us on the journey, and He will help us when our vision is clouded. The good news here is that Jesus will help us overcome our human weakness just as He helped the two disciples understand and eventually see that, in fact, it was Him and He was alive, contrary to their expectations. The lesson here is that our expectations can limit our ability to experience His love. The grace we may need to ask for is openness to His love and openness to whatever He has planned for our journey. Often we expect it to go one way, and He has plans for it to go another way. (I have heard it said that if you want to make God laugh tell Him your plans!) And when it does not go as we expected, we get disappointed and downcast. However, just like in the Scripture and in my icon, Jesus is with us whether we recognize Him in that moment or after the fact. And He will show us the way, just as He did Cleopas and the other disciple on the road to Emmaus.
I love that these two disciples said their hearts were burning within them because it reminds me of the Burning Bush. Fire is one of my favorite images for God. He came quite often in fire throughout the Old Testament, and we still use the light of the Easter candle (and other candles) to remind us of God’s presence. God spoke to Moses through the bush that was aflame but not consumed. He identified Himself as "I AM WHO AM." This is as if to say that it is enough to know He exists: He always has been there and always will be. Moses eventually catches fire with this love which is God. His heart is burning within him and so he does something greater than he thought he was capable of doing, which is enabling the liberation of his people. He does not do this alone: it is God who works the liberation, but Moses is His instrument.
At Emmaus we see that Jesus is the "I AM", the Son of God. He is resurrected and in glory. He helps the two disciples to do something greater than they thought they could do: they eventually return to the community and then go out to the ends of the earth building up the Kingdom by declaring the Good News. Many of the early disciples lost their lives as martyrs. We do not know what happened to these two. But we do know they caught fire, just as Moses did.
At Easter, when the candle was lit and the proclamation sung, the lights in the church were turned back on. During the singing of the proclamation we were each holding a burning candle, lit with the fire that was blessed. The church went from darkness to light and our hearts began to burn within us, as we celebrated the reality that Jesus the Lord had indeed risen just as He had promised. It was a very moving moment. At Emmaus the disciples had such a moment: it came when they realized they had the very presence of the Risen Lord Jesus with them. Once their eyes of faith were undimmed by the enlightenment Jesus provided, they were filled with the very fire of God. Indeed, they caught fire with renewed faith, hope, and love.
May we catch fire also! During this Easter season, let us become aware of where Jesus walks with us on our journey, and let us listen and discern how He empowers us to be disciples, enabled to do more than we thought we were capable of doing. All we have to do is whatever it is we are already doing, but to do it with love. In other words, do what you do with love, no matter how small the action seems. It is that simple. The fire of His love becomes the fire burning in our hearts, and that fire is contagious if we let it become so. If we live the Gospel message, the love with which we do things will set fire to those around us. And the best part is that He walks with us the entire time.
May we be set aflame with renewed zeal to live the Gospel! May we become open to the presence of Jesus all around us that we may hear His word in our hearts! May we live in Easter joy throughout this season and beyond! Let us meet on the road with the Lord, in the fire of His love. Peace!
*The icon mentioned will be in the re-post of the second part of the Emmaus entry, coming soon.
I took the top photo at Lost Maples State Park in Vanderpool, Texas a few years ago. If you look closely you can see two people walking in the distance.
The second photo was taken the same day as the first. I know it is not really a burning bush, but it was afire with color so it will have to do! :-)
The icon is called The Name of God, Yahweh (Masculine) by Rev. William Hart McNichols. I have had a copy of this by my desk for years. It is wonderful for meditation. It is the Hebrew letters of the great revelation of God to Moses at the Burning Bush, "I AM WHO AM" (the tetragrammaton), superimposed. If you are interested in a copy or if you want more information, you can find it at
A brief explanation of the tetragrammaton is found at
Heart Speaks to Heart