Is Your Heart Burning?

By: Gregory S. Neal

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, "What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?" They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, "Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?" He asked them, "What things?" They replied, "The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him." Then he said to them, "Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?" Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, "Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over." So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?" That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, "The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!" Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. (Luke 24:13-35 NRSV)

"Were not our hearts burning within us
while he was talking to us on the road,
while he was opening the scriptures to us?"

"Were not our hearts burning within us?"

I hope so.
I hope that our hearts burn within us
when we come into the Real Presence of the living God.

Would you pray with me:

Gracious God, move among us this day so that we may always know that we are never alone; and speak to us so that we may always hear, understand, and remember -- give us your word by which you mold and shape our living; in Jesus Name we pray. Amen.

It’s a very old,
old message
that we hear today.
There is no message which the Church has to proclaim
which is older, really.
Jesus Christ is risen from the dead
and his Real Presence within us changes our lives.

Have you ever known the immediate Real Presence of the living God?
I dare say that there may be a few here, today,
who either haven’t,
if they have,
the memory of that experience,
the memory of the presence,
the memory of that burning within their hearts
is growing dim with the years.

By faith we know that,
if we have accepted Christ as Master,
as our Lord and savior,
then even when we are walking in uncertainty and despair,
as the two disciples were that first Easter day
we are not really alone.

The Real Presence of the risen Christ is with us,
regardless of our ability
or inability
to see and recognize the truth.

What keeps us from seeing the risen Lord?
What kept those two disciples from recognizing
the Real Presence of Jesus?

Verse 17 and following clearly indicates that they were mourning
they were mourning because they thought that this new-comer
had missed out on the miracle
had missed out on knowing Jesus.
They thought that it was all over.
They thought that it was all hopeless.
Note -- even after Jesus had risen,
and even after they had heard the message of his Resurrection,
these Disciples on the Road to Emmaus still felt hopless.

Hopelessness --
severe emotional depression--
can sometimes stand in the way of seeing the Real Presence of Jesus.

Hopelessness and despair.
They had hoped that Jesus would be the one to set Israel free
from the powers and forces of the Roman Empire.
But now, he was dead,
and even if he had been raised from the dead,
Israel was still captive to the Roman Occupation forces.
Jesus had not been the kind of Messiah they had been expecting,
and so they were lost in hopelessness and despair.

Have you ever had great expectations for the future.
Have you ever thought that you finally had a handle
on what God’s Will was for you,
and you thought you knew how to achieve that Will,
Only to have everything you thought and believed
thrown back in your face?

Think about those moments in your life
when your plans have been in ruins.
Some may seem,
to be silly or unimportant,
and if you could only have known then what you know now,
you wouldn’t have been so sad about the failure.

But at that moment in your life
you were devastated.

I can remember when my High School Sweet Heart
and I broke up --
I thought that was the end of my life,
and I might as well run off,
and join a monastery somewhere.

Today --
well, today the thought of that being the end of my life
when I was just 17,
makes me feel very silly.
But at the time,
facing the difficulty of dashed plans and dreams,
the hopelessness and despair were very real and very painful.
and they kept me from seeing the truth --
namely, that Brenda and I would have made a horrible married couple,
and she would have made a horrible pastor’s wife.

Hopelessness and despair can keep us from seeing the deeper truths
the spiritual realities of God ....
the spiritual realities which Jesus offers us
through his Real Presence.

Jesus realized that his two disciples,
on the road to Emmaus,
were lost in a fog of depression,
and so, he didn’t leave them there.

He began to reveal himself
by opening the scriptures to them.
He explained the Holy Word from what we now call the Old Testament
and showed them that they had no reason to dispair --

No, Jesus had indeed been the foretold Messiah,
They had no reason to dispair.
And, as they walked,
and as they listened,
and as they learned,
A fire grew within their hearts as they heard
the Spiritual Truth which our Lord was speaking to them.

But, still, their concious minds didn’t realize that this was,
their risen master.

What drove them to the realization that this was,
their risen Lord?

“When he was at the table with them,
he took bread, blessed and broke it,
and gave it to them.
Then, their eyes were opened,
and they recognized him;
and he vanished from their sight.”

Their eyes were opened to him
when he broke the bread.

Now, maybe this is the Episcopalian coming out in me,
but I cannot help but be struck by what this is saying to us, today.

The proclamation of the word laid the ground work,
prepared the way,
for the disciples to see and to believe
by wiping away the hopelessness and despair which they felt.

But it was the breaking of the bread,
It was partaking of the Holy Communion,
Which truly opened the Disciples eyes,
and allowed them to realize the true identity
the Real Presence of their Risen Lord.

Word and Table
Hearing and Receiving.
Most of the Protestant Church
I believe
has made a serious error
in dropping the frequent reception of Holy Communion
and focusing only on the proclamation of the Word.

Sure, the Word is proclaimed
and the fire is ignited in the hearts of those who hear,
But very little is ever done in response to the kindling of the fire.
Few, if any, opportunities for faith are given to those whose’s belief has been inspired.
Few, if any, opportunities for receiving the fuel of Grace are provided.
And, so, the fire begins the flicker,
and it eventually goes out.

We ignore the commandment of God,
and we resist the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit
By not acting upon our belief
By not exercising our faith.

And, so, the fire grows dim --
and, eventually, it goes out.

Is your heart burning?
Is your heart on fire with the truth of the Word of God?

Then act upon it!
Don’t let the fire go out!
Don’t let the despair and hopelessness of ruined dreams
block your vision of the Real Presence of our Risen Lord.

Look for him,
when he breaks the bread,
and accept him, in faith,
through this means of Grace in Holy Communion.

Act upon the word
which burns within your heart
and receive the bread of heaven.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

© 2001, Dr. Gregory S. Neal
All Rights Reserved

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The Reverend Dr. Gregory S. Neal is the Senior Pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Commerce, Texas, and an ordained Elder in the North Texas Conference of The United Methodist Church. A graduate of Southern Methodist University, Duke University, and Trinity College, Dr. Neal is a scholar of Systematic Theology, New Testament origins, and Biblical Languages. His areas of specialization include the Theology of the Sacraments, in which he did his doctoral dissertation, and the formation and early transmission of the New Testament. Trained as a Christian educator, he has taught classes in these and related fields while also serving for more than 25 years as the pastor of United Methodist churches in North Texas.

As a popular teacher, preacher, and retreat leader, Dr. Neal is known for his ability to translate complex theological concepts into common, everyday terms. HIs preaching and teaching ministry is in demand around the world, and much of his work can be found on this website. He is the author of several books, including
Grace Upon Grace: Sacramental Theology and the Christian Life, which is in its second edition, and Seeking the Shepherd's Arms: Reflections from the Pastoral Side of Life, a work of devotional literature. Both of these books are currently available from