January 25, 2021

Sad of Heart

The Emmaus Road, Mike Moyers

Journey into New Life, part two
Sad of Heart (Luke 24)

Our Gospel text for this Easter season is Luke 24:13-35, the story of the risen Lord’s encounter with his disciples on the road to Emmaus. This passage sets forth a Lukan paradigm of what it means to walk with the living Lord Jesus Christ. It is more than a story of something that happened back then. It represents what newness of life is all about, how it works, and what it is like to experience the new creation. We are the disciples on the road, and Jesus comes to walk with us.

• • •

“They stopped, their faces drawn with misery…” (Luke 24:18).

When we meet our friends on the road to Emmaus, we can see that they are sad of heart. Their faces are downcast, their voices hushed, their shoulders slumped. The two are absorbed in a serious conversation punctuated by sighs and shaking heads.

Sad. So sad. Indeed, so sad their sorrow keeps them from seeing Jesus when he comes alongside them.

So sad they can’t believe there’s a person alive who doesn’t know about the events that made their world collapse.

So sad they are sure all their hopes had been dashed.

So sad they can’t stop talking about their painful experience, can’t stop obsessing about it, can’t make sense of any of it.

And when strange news came from women who went to the tomb and found his body missing — well, that was just crazy talk! Insult added to injury. Grief now irritated by impossible, incredible tales.

So sad.

Henri Nouwen reminds us that loss is part of the very fabric of every life.

If there is any word that summarizes well our pain, it is the word “loss.” We have lost so much! Sometimes it even seems that life is just one long series of losses. When we were born we lost the safety of the womb, when we went to school we lost the security of our family life, when we got our first job we lost the freedom of youth, when we got married or ordained we lost the joy of many options, and when we grew old we lost our good looks, our old friends, or our fame. When we became weak or ill, we lost our physical independence, and when we die we will lose it all!

…What to do with our losses? That’s the first question that faces us.

• Henri Nouwen, With Burning Hearts

As painful as our natural losses may be, the losses these disciples mourned represented more than personal grief. They had lost their religion. Their hopes of God’s Kingdom coming — and it had seemed so near! — were now crushed. Their dreams of a new world of peace and justice emerging in their lifetime evaporated. The trust they had placed in the Man who seemed to fit the role of Messiah perfectly now seemed misplaced. He was gone. Dead. Publicly shamed. Crucified. Buried. It was over. Where was God, who had seemed to be with him in such power, displaying such love and grace through his words and works? This was a darkness darker than dark, a black hole of an abyss, a full-blown crisis of faith. Hopelessness.

Disciples on their way to Emmaus, Tissot

We can see, however, two slight glimmers in the dark.

First, there is human companionship. Two walk side by side. Their spirits may be as dead and dry as sticks, but perhaps together they can produce a spark of hope.

Second, there is an unrecognized Presence. Even when the two travelers are prevented from knowing him, Jesus is with them. His questions prime the pump, get their attention, lift their eyes, get them thinking outside the box of their stunned grief. His presence adds an extra dimension to their fellowship, pulling them out of their tight huddle of mourning. His encouragement and instruction begins to renew feeling in their numb hearts and minds once more. Gently, he listens and responds. He doesn’t overwhelm them with advice or counsel, but simply helps them reframe their perspective and consider other possibilities. He creates curiosity, awakens a sense that there might be more to the story than the darkness they feel.

When we suffer loss, when we are hurting, when our faces are downcast, when we are sad of heart, we need a friend. And we need a Friend.


  1. Beautiful.

    Also a reminder that without Easter, our faith is useless and hopeless. If Christ did not rise, all IS lost.


    HE did indeed RISE!

  2. “With Burning Hearts: A Meditation on the Eucharistic Life”…My current favorite read! Yaaaay!

    Nouwen reminds us in this work that without loss, there is no context for victory…without sickness, no healing; without pain, no pleasure; without crucifixion, there is no resurrection…

    Good stuff, CM. Looking forward to more.

  3. Tokah Fang says

    In the way that our life is eschatologically so much like Holy Saturday, I find this verse of the hymnography for that day a great comfort. (It is sort of a poetic dialogue between the grieving Mary and Jesus.)

    “By mine own will the earth covers me, O Mother, but the gatekeepers of hell tremble as they see me, clothed in the bloodstained garment of vengeance: for on the Cross as God have I struck down mine enemies”

    There are so many griefs we experience in this life, but the Lord is destroying death.

  4. The worst of lives is lived with horror, desperation and hopelessness. The old bumper sticker ‘Life’s a bitch and then you die’ was made, without humor, for those lives. The most peaceful of lives is lived with travail and difficulty. No one gets away unscathed. I think of a poor 10 year old who was starved to death by his parents in a closet just recently and compare my life of relative joy and ease. I know that I am less worthy of my life than he was. He never had a chance to do as many hurtful and stupid things as I have done and yet, here I am. I respond to this with the seeming paradox of embracing everything and embracing nothing. I embrace everything by calling these, like that song from a few years ago, the good old days. I look out the window and see a white daisy and some roses. That red and white and green are mine. They are here for my peace right now. Live them right now. Experience. Tomorrow they will be gone but I’ll be allright with that. My wife and I joke about this. We will be having happy hour on the porch on a Friday evening and ask, ‘Are you embracing?’ If it is not lived fully the first time around, the memory it leaves is a dusty untended cabin in the woods. These are the good old days. On the other hand, embrace nothing. Own nothing. Grasp nothing. The best life lived by a monk, Merton would agree, is one immersed in the vow of poverty. You can’t lose what you never had. Be forever exhaling. This is not mine. All is Christ. My up, my down; my coming and going. All is Christ. Be still and know that I am God.

  5. Thank you!

  6. Judy from Canada says

    I’ve lurked around this sight for a while and appreciate the conversation. This touched me as I’ve been in this very place with ‘my religion’ in ashes scattered around my feet. Once I stopped feeling sorry for myself I found the very curiosity of which you speak. The journey since has not been without trouble but what I have gained along the way is priceless. There is indeed a much bigger picture if we are willing to seek for it.

  7. Glenn Lashway says

    Have you ever thought that maybe the two disciples were husband and wife? Just wondering.

    • Many think they were. Compare John 19:25 where it says Mary the wife of “Clopas” was standing at the cross, and Luke 24:28, where it tells us that one of the Emmaus disciples was named “Cleopas.”

  8. He is risen and he is that friend we need.

  9. Our risen Jesus is that friend we need.

  10. Wow. Best take on the passage, ever. I’ll never hear the story the same again. Thank you.

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