We had hoped. In Preaching the Lectionary, Reginald Fuller stated that there are two beautiful narratives in the New Testament. One is the parable of the prodigal son, and the other is the story of Jesus meeting the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. This story we heard today grew from its original nucleus into a repository for theological ideas at various stages of development. The gospel of Luke was written in the latter part of the first century and the writer transformed this story into a vivid narrative.
Imagine walking on a road paved with stone as the sun is setting. It’s springtime and the wildflowers along the road are closing their heads in sleep. You can smell the blossoms in the trees and see the leaf buds bursting. You can smell the moisture in the air as the dew falls. The slanted sunrays are caught in the droplets on the grass. The horizon ahead is turning shades of pink and orange and purple and it is so beautiful. The sunlight is dazzling and you can’t see the face of your companions as you walk along. Your stomach is demanding its evening meal. It is an ordinary day and it is so jarring to your senses.
We had hoped. Remember a time when you lost someone you loved dearly and the loss was so fresh that your heart and mind hadn’t even begun to grieve yet. Your mind was still trying to sort out what had happened. We had hoped. If you can remember a time like that then you can understand how jarring the scene must have been to these disciples who were walking to Emmaus. Someone dies, dreams are dashed and the sun continues to rise in the morning and set in the evening and the world is so beautiful it makes our hearts ache because we had hoped. We had hoped for more time, we had hoped for stability, we had hoped for health, we had hoped for things to continue as they were, or we had hoped that things would get better. We had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel.
Jesus joined them and they didn’t recognize him. Their hope is over: they had hoped. Their grief had only begun and they were telling their story of lost hope. They were analyzing the details of their grief and remembering Jesus. They had hoped.
We had hoped that the addict had a good rehabilitation and would never take drugs again. And he died from an overdose. We had hoped the police and emergency workers would have an antidote. We had hoped he would not take drugs while alone if the rehab didn’t work. We had hoped that cash in hand was not turned into drugs in the vein. And the sun continues to set and the trees and flowers bloom and the world is painfully beautiful. Our hope is gone for another day, for a healthy life for our son, for our life partner, or for our grandson. This is the daily despair of loss. We had hoped.
This is the sort of despair these followers of Jesus were experiencing. They had hoped. Jesus joined them on the path but he was dead so they didn’t recognize him. Their hope was gone because no one believed some crazy women. Their hope was gone. The disciples told Jesus his own story. I think of the number of times I have gone over my mother’s death--not as often now--but so many times in the week after she died. My sister and I sometimes talk about it when we are together. We had hoped. The disciples were trying to sort out what had happened--maybe even why they had hoped that Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus listened and then told them they had missed the point.
These disciples were telling Jesus about their deep pain and bewilderment and about their hope. Much like when we gather here for church, we all come with lost hope with brokenness. We share by being present, by listening, and caring. These two disciples were commiserating with one another and Jesus came to them.
And, just like here in church, Jesus quoted scriptures to them and spoke about their meaning in relation to Jesus’ ministry, death and resurrection. It was the service of the Word. Jesus related scripture and life and death to the hope the disciples had lost. We don’t know the content of this part of the conversation. It would be wonderful to have Jesus’ explanation of his role as Messiah. We do know Jesus made a difference when he stood up to imperial violence. He changed the lives of many people. He healed people, raised people from the dead, and he spoke good news to the poor. He also spoke to those in power about oppression and hung out with the oppressed. No wonder there was hope. He was like old time prophets who did the same. Sometimes those in power listened and repented and sometimes they didn’t. We had hoped.
In the story, the disciples arrived at their destination and they didn’t want the conversation to end so they invited Jesus in for a meal. Hopes were dashed, Jesus preached from scripture, and a meal was prepared. Just like here at church. The Eucharist is served and hospitality is extended up to God and out to all those present.
The disciples recognized Jesus when he became the host and blessed and broke the bread for them. Jesus is present in both word and sacrament. Luke wanted his audience to know this because the early Christians had hoped to see Jesus come again and he hadn’t. Luke wanted them to feel and see Jesus each time they assembled to worship. Scripture and Eucharist were a time that Jesus could come to them and be present and it is the same for us. They had hope and we have hope in the gathering of Christians to worship together. We can bring our brokenness, we can bring our faith, and we can bring our love of God.
We had hoped. Richard Swanson wrote that, “We like to hear future tenses. We like it when families say that everything will be okay, that they will go on, that they will get everything back to normal. … But in this unguarded moment, the walking disciples give voice to a discovery that every adult shares: very often, often when it matters most, we find ourselves speaking of matters of hope (and faith) in the imperfect tense: we had hoped … “ We had hoped there would be jobs when we moved here. We had hoped there would be readily available affordable housing. We had hoped the timber industry could be revived. Sometimes we just have to say it. “Crucial hopes have collapsed.” Many of us here today have said, “We had hoped.” “I had hoped.” “They had hoped.” Deep disappointment is often carried with us everywhere we go. A dis ease about the future.
Each of us comes here broken in some way but each of us brings some understanding of God to contribute to the whole. Each of us brings our own faith and love of God. Each of us comes to be fed and to feed others. Each of us comes to love and be loved. And each time we gather, Jesus comes to feed us, to love us, and to heal us. Our hope lies not in the death but in the resurrection those silly women spoke of almost 2000 years ago. When the disciples realize that Jesus is alive--even though he mysteriously disappears after breaking the bread--they can’t wait to go to Jerusalem to tell the others. Their joy, their newfound hope takes them on the dark road to their friends. And, the resulting meetings with Jesus before the ascension bring about a new faith and a new ministry that we can still join. We had hoped and now we hope.