“But We Had Hoped” April 26, 2020
“But We Had Hoped”
Today’s gospel reading for this, the 3rd Sunday of Easter, comes from the gospel of Luke. The story of the Road to Emmaus is unique. It is found only in the gospel of Luke, but here’s the thing – it is first and foremost a resurrection story. So, we’re going to take a little break. We’re going to take a break from images of the empty tomb and of the disciples holed up, locked in a dark room afraid for their lives. Today we find ourselves traveling a road, and if we give it half a chance we’ll notice that it’s a road that is all too familiar to our journey of faith – right here and right now.
I have to say that I love this story; I love it for its own sake. I mean, think about it: it has all the ingredients of a great story. First of all, when Jesus met these two men on the road to Emmaus, they didn’t have a clue who he is. His identity was hidden from them. They didn’t know, but we do which adds to the suspense. Now, it’s safe to assume that these two were part of a larger group of followers that traveled with Jesus throughout his ministry – the larger group apart from the 12 disciples that we know well. But that was all over – it was done. That part of their life was kaput. The events of the past few days had left them anxious and fearful and staring at a future that looked bleak. The betrayal, the arrest, and the cruelty of crucifixion – they had seen it all. Now they were heading home wondering to themselves, “What’s next?” And so when Jesus asked them what they had been talking about, it was Cleopas that snapped at him, (vs. 18) Are you the only one in Jerusalem that hasn’t heard what’s happened during the last few days? For Jesus, it was a classic Columbo moment. “Tell me,” he said, “what’s happened?” So they did, and all of the pain and agony and disappointments of the last few days came pouring out. It’s funny how we can sometimes share what is really on our hearts better with a total stranger than with someone we know. A stranger doesn’t know you; they don’t know your quirks; your good points and your bad. A stranger is not in a position to judge. If this wasn’t so, there’d be a lot of therapists out of work right now.
Imagine if they had known somehow. Imagine if all the doubt and frustration had spilled out only to find that they were in fact speaking with the Son of God himself. But Jesus let them speak. Jesus listened, Jesus loved, and then Jesus spoke up.
He proceeded to school them, you might say. Jesus told them, in so many words, that they haven’t been paying attention; that these terrible events had to happen; that in fact, the events of the past few days had been foretold in scripture: (vs 27) Then he interpreted the things written about himself in all the scriptures, starting with Moses and going through all the prophets. Slowly, patiently. It was a long story, I’m sure, and told as only the master could tell it. You see, what Jesus does here is tell the story back to them: the story of his life and his death.
But in his retelling, it becomes what it really always was – something far bigger and deeper, older and wiser than these two weary travelers understood. It was a vision of the Kingdom of God; it was an invitation into the Kingdom of God. When they arrived, the two travelers have finally found some peace in their world of chaos. It was getting late, so they invited the Christ to their home where he at long last revealed himself over the breaking of the bread…. And then he was gone.
Like I said, I love this story. It has all the ingredients of a great story, complete with a happy ending. I wish I could just leave it at that. The thing is, I’ve always focused on Jesus in this story. I like the way he lets these two men rant and rave, and then pulls them back in – read your scripture, look at the big picture, trust in your God. But this go-round – maybe because we live in such uncertain times- this time it was Cleopas and his side kick that spoke to me loud and clear as they walked on the road to Emmaus. “But we had hoped,” they said. “We had hoped he was the one that would redeem Israel.” And boy, I was right there with them. “We had hoped. We had hoped the cancer wouldn’t come back. We had hoped our kids would be happy. We had hoped this pandemic wouldn’t affect our family; our community. We had hoped it wouldn’t affect anyone that we knew.” We’ve all walked this road. There’s no denying that.
But the beauty and the power and the glory of the resurrection is that we walk this road with Christ within us. There is no setback, no disappointment so great that we can’t rest in the knowing that we are part of a story that is eternal. Our faith, our trust, our hope is in a power than knows no bounds; has no beginning or end. Because of that, we are part of a story that is big enough to hold our disappointments without being defeated by them. That’s what it is to be a resurrection people; an Easter people. No matter how rough the road that we walk, Jesus will always be there to hold us up – to raise us up – and even in the darkest of times, to set our hearts on fire.
Amen & Shalom