I want you to imagine the most beautiful park or beach you’ve ever been to. Perhaps it’s a place here in Wisconsin, perhaps it’s a place you’ve visited on vacation. Now I want you to imagine that someone has buried a bunch of landmines in that park or beach, closing it indefinitely. What was once your favorite place to visit is now surrounded by a barbed wire fence covered with warning signs. It’s a short fence, so you could probably hop over it. But you’d be taking your life into your hands; one wrong step and you’d be a goner. For anyone who has visited modern day Israel, this isn’t hard to imagine. In fact, they’ve most likely seen it first-hand: For there is a large stretch of remarkably beautiful land near the Jordan River, near the place Jesus was baptized, that is inaccessible, fenced off, closed indefinitely, because thousands of land mines are buried there.
I once heard someone say that the landscapes of our hearts are remarkably similar: beautiful to behold but full of all sorts of hidden dangers. If you’ve ever shared your heart with someone you know this to be true. You share your heart with them, you’re vulnerable with them, you invite them in. And they’re walking around and exploring. And then suddenly, perhaps accidently, they step on something painful, a hidden wound in your heart. The landmine goes off and you explode. The hurt which you never knew was buried there, the rage which you never thought you were capable of, breaks through the surface, erupting like a volcano.
Growing up, one of these wounds in my heart, one of these landmines, was my shyness. I was a very shy kid, couldn’t help it, and hated it. When someone commented on my shyness, or otherwise drew attention to it, it would hurt me immensely. I would seethe with rage. Perhaps you’ve had, or still have, some of these wounds, some of these landmines, in your own hearts. Perhaps it has to do with your personality, athletic ability, body image, financial situation, or family of origin. Often these wounds form, these landmines are buried, when our expectations are unfulfilled, or our hopes dashed: We wanted something, but didn’t get it. We wanted something to happen, but it never materialized. A traumatic experience or tragic death took something or someone away from us.
This is what had happened to the two disciples walking to Emmaus. Jesus the Nazarene, “a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people,” was handed over “to a sentence of death and crucified.” But they “were hoping, [desperately hoping], that He would be the one to redeem Israel.” Expectations unfilled. Hopes dashed. A tragic death. A wound formed. A landmine buried. And you can almost hear it explode when Jesus asks the them what they are talking about along the way: “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days?”
But Jesus does not just leave the disciples in their woundedness. He is part of the Divine Bomb squad. He draws near and walks with them. He opens the Scriptures to them, helping them understand how all that had happened was part of the plan from the beginning. And when He celebrates the Eucharist with them, He opens their eyes to His abiding presence with them. He is not dead, but alive. And He will be with them always, even until the end of the age. Hope is kindled once more. The wound is healed, the landmine diffused.
In this time of traumatic experiences and tragic deaths, of unfulfilled expectations and dashed hopes, we need to call upon the Divine Bomb squad. We need to invite Jesus to walk with us, open the Scriptures to us, and help us understand that all that is happening is part of God’s plan. We need to ask Him to open our eyes to His presence in the Holy Eucharist, even if we cannot receive Him sacramentally. We need to ask Him to heal our wounds, to diffuse the landmines that are being buried in our hearts. Jesus wants to do this. He wants us to invite Him to stay with us. “Stay with us, [Jesus], for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.” Let us make these words our own.
My challenge to all of us this week is to spend some time praying with this gospel passage. Enter the scene in your imagination. Take the place of one of the disciples. Talk with Jesus about what’s going on in your own heart. Share your wounds with Him: Tell Him how you were hoping the restrictions would have been lifted by now. Tell Him how you were hoping to receive the Holy Eucharist at Easter. Tell Him how you were hoping you or a loved one were in better health or better off financially. Tell Him how you were hoping to see your classmates one last time before graduating. Tell Him how you were hoping to go to Irish Fest in the Fall. Tell Him all this and more.
Although we no longer live in the Garden of Eden, Jesus wants to make our hearts a garden (Cf. Garden by Matt Maher). He wants to make the beautiful landscapes of our hearts accessible again. He wants to walk with us, even as He used to walk with our first parents, before they hid themselves in their woundedness (cf. Genesis 3:8). So don’t hold back. Don’t hide a wound, don’t shield a landmine, from Him. He wants to walk with you, stay with you, and heal you. He wants to bring you the hope of the resurrection.