John (not his real name) had lived with Motor Neurone Disease for many years but over a period of months John’s illness progressed rapidly and it became obvious to John that he had little time to live. It was a huge loss when John lost the ability to use words: a vibrant man had now become silent. Now, instead of words John used his familiar ‘thumbs-up’ gesture to say that all was ok. John loved the story of the road to Emmaus and I read it with him often.
The story of the Road to Emmaus from St Luke’s Gospel is one of my favourite resurrection stories. Cleopas and his friend were walking to Emmaus in a downcast way. Jesus –unknown to them- was walking alongside them listening to them as they told his story. At the time it seemed that nothing was happening. Only when they sat down to eat and they broke bread did they suddenly recognise that Jesus was in their midst.
It is a wonderful example of how gently God can become known to us. “Were not our hearts burning within us?” they asked. In such a gentle way Jesus came alongside them and touched their hearts. This is the deep connection we experience when our inner needs are met.
I will never forget one particular evening when I came to that phrase about our “hearts burning within us” when although frail, John confidently gave his thumbs-up gesture. Here, when words would no longer flow for John somehow his gesture proclaimed louder than any speech that God was near. Our hearts burned within us.
We are not defined by illness but by the image of God that each of us radiates even when our physical bodies let us down. Alleluia!