When Jesus walks with his new friends on the Road to Emmaus, he simply comes along-side them for a while. They tell stories. Jesus opens scriptures and they tell Him their sad story of the events of their last few days. That is what we should do now, in these 40 days.
We are told that their “hearts burned within” them when Jesus spoke to them of the scriptures – God’s stories told and retold. Our story.
What we are not told however, is that there never was, nor has there ever been, a place called Emmaus. There are places named that now. But at the time of the stroll along a road – Jesus and these two others – at that time there was no map of the first century nor reference in any record (and the Romans kept good records) which contained a place anywhere near Jerusalem (or far from it) named Emmaus. It simply never existed at that time or previous. Roads were named for their destination at the time of Jesus’ walking. There was not such place. There was no such road. So why fabricate that?
I find this interesting because the tidbit of information means that they were really just walking alongside each other and not “towards” anything in particular. Or, the fabrication is meant to convey that the destination is not the point of a walk and a talk. Both.
This week, for a day, I was in Santa Fe at the home of some new friends. My heart burned within me as we discussed issues of faith. The hosted a dinner party and I met their friends, and made friends with them. Most of the conversation was not about Christian faith and belief, ritual and polity even though some of the conversation took place in a beautiful chapel of glass that looked out over the New Mexico desert with a light show that changed every quarter hour from pinks to taupes to purples. And half of us were clergy. Most of our conversation was about native American Spirituality in which these people were non-native experts. Though they were experts in God. Fluent. And by experts I mean that rare kind of clergy who are in deep, real relationship with God, not simply “experts in the subject.”
We discussed fires and dance, fasting and prayer, sacrifice and sweat, metal and leather. My heart burned within me when we spoke, Christians all, about this different liturgical practice full as it is with physical sensations.
At one moment, my host, in a segment of silence said “Charles, you look peaceful.” He seemed surprised which made me sad and hopeful, both. And suddenly I was aware that indeed I was. We had told our stories. Or bodies had been doing what human bodies do when telling and hearing stories from beginning to end – injecting chemicals into our bloodstream which give us a natural “high” – an encouragement of connection – a means of nature’s encouragement that we connect and so, survive.
Our hearts burned within us.
We ate a simple meal and laughed and cried and told our stories and spoke of Jesus and also of other versions of God and the New Mexico mountains took on the bedclothes of purple for the night and began to settle in. It’s what I had always hoped church would be.
The truth is, I am dead tired of hearing about the stories of Jesus in the Bible. I want to hear more about the way Jesus shows up in our lives, playing hide and seek in other costumes, other faiths, other liturgies of turquoise, clay and coral, not just brass, linen and silver. My soul craves something it was fed last night. It craves people. Friendship. Vulnerability.
A friend recently told me that I write so much about friendship because I am not a very good friend – not good at friendship. And maybe that’s true. But that does not change the very real truth that I want friendship. I want to encounter Jesus in the form of people along whom I come, side-by side, walking to a place that does not exist on any map and so never getting there. And yet getting where we need to go. Burning hearts. Kind eyes. Gentle touches of hand and arm. Warm smiles. A holy kiss. Laughter which doubles one over and makes breathing difficult. Tears which flush out the poisons.
Sitting on a wooden pew is fine. Safe. Elegant. But I want my heart to burn within me as I walk with new friends to nowhere in particular and yet arriving.