One Heart

So, I moved yesterday. Ai, ai, ai. Moving is stressful. Change is stressful. Now, everything went well on moving day. And this is a good move. I’m thrilled about being moved to Jersey. I’m thrilled about the house. I’m thrilled about the community and the new job. Still. Change is hard, right?

The move got me thinking back to 2011 when I had candidated and been hired as the Associate Pastor at First Church Somerville and all the things that needed to happen to make the big move from New York City to Boston.

It wasn’t easy. At the time I was looking for a room in a shared apartment. It turns out that most of the hip, cool people in Somerville, Mass with a room for rent were pretty pessimistic about the prospects of having a no-fun, judgey, conservative minister move in with them.

After two full weekends of looking and failing to find a place to live, I made one last trip to Somerville on a Tuesday to meet one last roommate. This was it. If this one didn’t work out, I was going to be commuting to Somerville from my parents’ spare bedroom in RI. There was a lot riding on this one, and I was pretty angry about the whole thing—after all this work it took to get this job, couldn’t this part be a bit easier? And I was really having a hard time trusting God.

This final interview started off great, as they always do, and then the dreaded question came. She asked me: “You’re moving to Somerville for work? What do you do?”

“I’m going to be one of the pastors at First Church Somerville on College Avenue,” I said trying not to sound too evangelical about the whole thing. “So…wait…what?” “So, I’m a minister.” “OH. Oh. That’s so cool! So, you like, help people all day?” It was a miracle. I had found Somerville’s hip, cool, nonjudgmental optimist.

It was the beginning of a great conversation between Jess and me. We talked about hopes, and dreams, and jobs, and vocation, and spirituality, and how soon after you cook your dinner do you wash your dishes?

She walked me out of the house to the sidewalk, and it was kind of an eerie evening. The sun had just set and there were heavy, fog-like clouds billowing low in the sky that managed to muffle all the noise of the city. It was quiet and darkening. And then there was a faint echo somewhere in the distance—like a spooky brass band approaching. And it got louder and louder and louder—this reverberating rolling honking bouncing off the clouds and bouncing off the rows of houses crammed onto this narrow street. And then they were on top of us, tearing through the silence, tearing through the dusk. A huge flock of geese mere feet above the peaks of the rooves and the chimneys, in a perfect V, honking like mad, they came cruising down the street, passed right over the tops of our heads and then over the house we had just been in, and then they disappeared.

And in that moment, I felt my heart burning. And I realized it had been burning through the whole conversation I just had. But more than that. It had been burning all along—through the whole long process, God had been with me. I didn’t know it at the time, but in this moment, I was able to see it—to remember it.

We stood there in awe for a few breaths, our ears ringing. And I asked, “Does that happen all the time around here?” And Jess said, “I’ve lived here for years and I’ve never seen anything like that before.” And a couple weeks later, I moved in with my new friend.

What was it about that moment that affected us? The moment the geese flew overhead? Have you ever experienced something like that? I mean, it’s not like this happens to me every time I see a goose. It’s not a chronic condition. But somehow those geese were full of meaning that we might not think that geese—honking flocking poopers that they are—should have any right to. And yet these geese were able to trick me into remembering and knowing the truth. God was with me.

Perhaps it had to do with some sort of sacred time—not clock ticking chronological, mechanical, literal time, but what the New Testament Greek calls “kairos” time, which means something more like “the appointed time.” When those geese flew overhead it was literally 6:27 PM on Tuesday night. But (just like the stranger transformed into Jesus) Chronos time transformed into the Kairos time, the opportune moment, in which everything that came before flowed into everything that was about to be. Perhaps a moment not unlike the one we are celebrating right now—worshipping God between all we have been through over the last couple of years—the stressful move from one building to another, the stressful transition of pastors and staff—and the beginning of something new which is coming this summer when Rev. Piazza arrives and you all begin the next phase of your ministry.

Sitting down to supper with a stranger in a little house in the village of Emmaus, two of Jesus’ followers experienced a moment like this. For them it happened when the supposed stranger blessed and broke the bread—BOOM—and they knew. There they sat between death and resurrection, between Jesus’ ministry and their ministry, and in that moment it all came together.

There must be something special about these moments. There must be some experience, some truth locked up in them that we can’t get at any other way. Jesus, as a spiritual guide and teacher, throughout his ministry, valued the tension that exists between that which is hidden and that which is revealed. And now here in the Resurrection is this ultimate example. Why didn’t Jesus just appear on the road looking like Jesus? If for some reason folks didn’t recognize him why didn’t he just say, “Hey, I know this is weird, but I did warn you—it’s me Jesus. It’s true, I’m resurrected.” Instead, Jesus takes on the role of Trickster—the one who hides the obvious in order to critique our assumptions, in order to reveal some Truth far greater, far deeper than what we are able experience when it’s right before our face.

The trouble we run into here, is the feeling that these experiences—the bread breaking, the geese honking—and the meaning or truth they reveal is “all in the head.” The ancient Celtic Christians had a word for the Holy Spirit, they called it An Geadh-Glas (On Geeod-Gloss) which literally translates, “the Wild Goose.” We moderns know that a goose is a goose is a goose. If you “BELIEVE” that a goose is something more than a goose, then that is your personal, subjective, psychological issue.

Isn’t it fascinating how the story of Emmaus holds the tension between that which is real, and what is hidden, and what is true, and what is verifiable, and how we experience it? For instance, the whole point of the Gospel stories of the resurrection of Jesus was to reveal the Good News—that Jesus Christ IS Risen! And the Gospel writers are all very clear—it was a bodily resurrection. It wasn’t a ghost. It wasn’t a vision or a dream. The crucified body of Jesus Christ got up out of the tomb. But to convince us we’re given stories about a person no one recognizes who pops in and out of existence more like a Spiritual Body than like a physical one. If you saw something like that all by yourself, you might well worry that it was indeed all in your head.

As Jesus disappeared and the broken bread fell with a plop back onto the table, I imagine Cleopas might have turned to his companion to ask, “Did you just see what I just saw?” “I think so. Did you see the stranger Polyjuice potion himself into Jesus and then dissaparate? Cause that’s what I just saw.” “Uh-huh. Does that happen all the time around here?” “I’ve lived here for years and I’ve never seen anything like that before.”

It couldn’t have been all in the head because these two people had two different heads that saw the same thing. Instead, they realize, it was all in the heart. The prophet Ezekiel opens up the door for this understanding. The prophet relays the voice of God: I will give them ONE heart, a heart of flesh. Modern translations of the Bible frequently translate the words of the two disciples in Emmaus as, “Were not our hearts burning within us?” But the original Greek literally reads, “WAS not our HEART burning within us?”

This resurrection experience—where did it take place? It took place not in the mind, but in the heart, in the flesh, inside the body, in the Body of Christ, in the undivided Soul that is a part of every person who has “seen” or “heard” in some way the Good News of Jesus Christ.

This resurrection experience—did it take place in literal reality? You’ll notice the Gospel writers are not too concerned with asserting what we would normally recognize as literal, empirical reality. If they were, they’d tell the kind of story where folks meet Jesus on the road, and it’s Jesus, and he doesn’t do anything spooky, like disappearing. The Gospel writers are very clear—the resurrection is BODILY. The crucified, dead, and buried body of Jesus Christ got up out of the tomb, it sat down to eat dinner, it broke the bread. It was not a ghost. It was not a spirit. But it was spooky. It was different. Was it literal?

There are literally flocks of geese all over urban areas. They love the ponds, the rivers, the parks and fields and airports. The geese that flew over my head standing with my friend outside our apartment had taken to the air as a literal flock of geese. But something happened when their downy bodies flew overhead, and we both felt it, in our one heart. Time went from chronos to Kairos. Baseline literal reality jumped into its excited state absorbing the energy of the holiness burning through it. And the geese became something more than geese, they became The Wild Goose, the Holy Spirit.

At the burning heart of the Gospel is a TRUTH that extends beyond the borders of the literal and the spiritual, beyond the borders of the individual, to meaningfully touch even the physical world, Creation, our human bodies, and the collective human heart.

Beloved, as the resurrection season of Easter is coming to a close, I pray for all of us, that—after a time of much uncertainty, change, change, change, and plenty of hard work—that the moment is coming when the Gospel Truth might be revealed in a dramatic way. So that we might be torn away from our literal-mindedness and our doubt, and then turn to one another with confidence and declare in one voice, “Wasn’t our heart burning within us all along?”