“N OW ON THAT SAME DAY,” the scripture says, “two of them were going to a village called Emmaus.” On that same day. The “same day” is Easter Sunday.
The women went to the tomb at early dawn. They found the stone rolled away, the tomb empty. They encountered angels who questioned:
“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”
The disciples hear the women’s testimony but pass it off as an idle tale.
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NOW, ON THE SAME DAY, a few hours later, a few miles away, the Resurrection story continues. Two people travel on foot along the dusty road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. We don’t know much about them. They are somehow connected to the Jesus movement.
Earlier in Luke we read that the women return from the tomb, tell the eleven disciples and “all the others” what they have seen and heard. These two are probably in that supporting cast of “all the others.” They know what happened. They know about betrayal, denial, desertion, condemnation, and crucifixion.
As these two walk toward home they try to make sense of all that that’s gone on these past few days.
Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, a stranger shows up and walks with them. He asks them what they’re talking about. They stop in their tracks, looking sad. They can’t tell the story and walk at the same time their pain is so sharp, the wounds so raw on their hearts. They recount the arrest, trail, crucifixion, death, burial and the idle tales.
“But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”
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HERE IT IS EASTER SUNDAY and there’s not an ounce of hope in their hearts. They are exhausted, discouraged and defeated.
Hear that phrase again, “We had hoped.”
■ We had hoped that Jesus was the one who would redeem Israel. But now he is dead, and we are defeated.
■ We had hoped he would start a revolution. But the Romans killed him.
■ We had hoped the news our sisters shared with us this morning was true. But all we have is an empty tomb and Jesus is nowhere to be found.
■ We had hoped but now those hopes are gone. And so we packed our things and are going home.
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IT’S A POIGNANT LINE: “We had hoped … .” And if you’re like me, it’s a line you have uttered at one time or another. Think about crushed hopes and dreams. “We had hoped … ,” uttered when a family packs up the things they had brought with them to the ICU, and then they go home alone.
■ We had hoped that we would all be back in worship today.
■ We had hoped that the stimulus check would arrive before the mortgage payment was due.
■ We had hoped that the chemo and radiation would work.
■ We had hoped that this time he would keep going to AA meetings.
■ We had hoped that she would return our calls and texts and emails.
■ We had hoped that this month, we would finally get pregnant.
■ We had hoped that things would be different.
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WE KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE to feel exhausted, discouraged and defeated.
■ We had hoped … the degree we earned in college would land us a well-paying job.
■ We had hoped … our parents would love us no matter what.
■ We had hoped … the doctor would find some kind of pill or procedure that would make us feel better.
■ We had hoped … we would be able to retire this year.
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THERE’S A LOT OF DISAPPOINTMENT and heartbreak bound up in those three simple words, “we had hoped … .”
Some of you recognize the words as a true statement of your current situation or you recall a time when you thought or voiced those words and perhaps have not yet fully processed what happened.
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I WANT YOU TO THINK about what happens in our gospel lesson.
The first thing: Jesus meets the two disciples on the road. He doesn’t appear before them in Jerusalem. The angel didn’t tell the women “Go to church and you will find him there.” Jesus isn’t waiting for them at home. Jesus doesn’t say if they are good little girls and boys he will appear.
Instead, Jesus meets them on the road. Jesus goes to where they are and appears right smack in the middle of all their pain, all their disappointment, all their hopelessness.
Friends, this is good news! Jesus doesn’t require us to go to him. Instead he promises he will always, always come to us even when we don’t recognize that he is there.
And that’s the second thing: the risen Lord promises to meet us on the road, but he doesn’t promise we will always be able to discern he is there. It’s the one thing about this story that drives me crazy! Luke simply says “they were kept from recognizing him.” That’s an odd way of saying for some reason they didn’t know who he was.
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JESUS IS WITH US, even when we can’t see, feel, or sense his presence in our lives. That may very well be the true definition of faith.
God is with us in our times of disappointment, not scolding us but encouraging us to see how God is at work.
This was Jesus’ response to Cleopas and friend. He listened and then opened the scriptures to them to help them see that God was in the midst of what they were experiencing.
When we, like those two disciples, find ourselves feeling exhausted, discouraged and defeated, remember these two downcast disciples and proclaim, “I am not alone.”
We may feel like we’re alone, but we are not alone, never alone! Jesus is with us!
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EVERY TIME WE FIND ourselves saying “we had hoped” — every time we feel exhausted, discouraged and defeated — Jesus promises to meet us wherever we are, and make his presence known in our lives.
We don’t have to “do” anything for this to happen.
We don’t even need to believe that Jesus will be there. Because Jesus promises us he will be there whether we believe it or not, whether we see his presence or not! He will be there in Word and Water, Bread and Wine.
He will keep coming back again and again and again, until we finally get it! Until our hearts begin to burn within us and we can proclaim the good news that “Christ is risen. He is risen indeed!”