Easter 3A: We had hoped…

Readings

  • Acts 2:14a, 36-41
  • Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19
  • 1 Peter 1:17-23
  • Luke 24:13-35
You can find the readings, in the CEB and NRSV translation, by clicking this link.

Sermon

So far in our story of Easter timeline we have been to the tomb with the women and discovered an angel sitting on the rock that sealed the now empty tomb.  We have walked on the road to discover Jesus along the way with those very same women.  We have been in the locked room with the disciples and heard of how all those except Thomas encountered Jesus and were shown the holes in his hands and side.  And we have been included when Jesus came back some time later to invite Thomas to put his finger in the holes and his whole hand in Jesus side.  And today, we find ourselves again on the road, this time to Emmaus, with a couple of the disciples when Jesus appears yet again.

The timeline in the gospel of Luke is a little different from the gospel of John and the gospel of Matthew.  Despite the variations and differences in each of the gospel tellings, there is, in fact, a common theme running through all of the gospel accounts of the resurrection: no one believes the good news of Jesus’ resurrection when they first hear it.[1]

Today’s scene is a little different.  We aren’t at the top of the hill.  There isn’t an empty tomb in front of our faces.  We’re not locked up inside a room.  This is a road.

The story itself is a little different.  There isn’t a big dramatic angel entrance.  The earth doesn’t shake and tremble when the end is proclaimed.  Jesus doesn’t suddenly appear and breathe on people, while making a grand proclamation. This is a conversation.

Those kinds of details are important.

Some people, like the soldier at the cross, have, what I like to call, an epiphany moment, and just believe.

Some people get to see Jesus after he dies, like the women along the way or the disciples in the locked room, and hear his promises (even when their doubts are voiced, like Thomas), and that’s enough to break the disbelief.

Sometimes, it isn’t.  Because, people are varied and different and they deal with the matters of life and death in equally varied and different ways.

I think this is just one reason why we get the delightful variances and differences of all the gospel tellings.

We all come to terms with the Truth in different ways.

And sometimes, people just need more than the reassurance that Jesus shows up and is present to all the fears, doubts, disappointments, and grief that we bear.  Sometimes the best thing that can happen is a little space, a little time to have a conversation and ruminate on what has happened and find a little healing in a simple mean.  Kind of like what happens on a walk to the nearest town.

This is why the story about two disciples on a walk to Emmaus is such a powerful one.  It’s true that Jesus keeps showing up again and again in our Easter stories.  As I said before, there can be a fair amount of comfort in that reality for a number of people.  But, something a little different happens this time.  “Well, he doesn’t just join them on the way.”[2]  He comes upon these two guys engrossed in their talking – deep discussion over what has happened is going on, and he joins the conversation.

“What’s going on? What are you talking about?” “What things?” he asks.

Jesus asks these travellers to name their pain and loss. [3]  He listens.

The disciples then talk about this Jesus of Nazareth who did such amazing things.  And then, these most interesting words are spoken:

“We had hoped…” [Luke 24:21, CEB]

There are some words that are capable of carrying such a weight that the whole of humanity understands and simply knows to the depth of their soul all that is intended.  I once heard a story about a writing challenge that, however true it is, does an exemplary job of capturing the weightiness of phrases.  Tasked with writing a novel in no more than six words, a clever, and perhaps famous, writer wrote: ‘For Sale: Baby shoes, never used.’

I think all of humanity knows what weight those simple and small words strung together.  As with the disciples who articulate their pain and grief by saying: ‘we had hoped…’ “It’s not just the tragedy of what happened that hurts, but the gaping hole of all that could have happened but won’t.”[4] So much is said, and these words “speak of a future that is not to be, a dream that created energy and enthusiasm but did not materialize, a promise that created faith that proved to be false. It speaks of a future that is closed off, now irrelevant, dead.”[5]

I call these moments of deep disappointment.  That moment that the last thread of what was hoped for turns us to a different reality.  And then, these words are spoken, and it’s as if this short little sentence becomes the two hands that gently set in place to cradle the heart that is the midst of breaking and falling.

I think that all of humanity would much rather have the hope of a bright future.  Humanity would prefer the promise that the world will right itself and that life will get better.  Humanity has a general preference to hear people say that everything will be okay, that they will go on, that they will get everything back to whatever their idea of normal is.  Funerals are a particularly good example of this – as words of support and reassurance for those in deep grief can often turn to speaking of life going on and the sun rising on a new day. [6]

And yet, I have heard ‘we had hoped…’ many times – as a pastor, and a friend, from my own lips.  ‘We had hoped…’ gives voice and space to deep matters of the heart.  The matters of life and faith and hope.

I find it interesting that Jesus doesn’t say anything at first.  Jesus just walks alongside his disciples and is present as they continue the conversation and contemplate the weight the news they had heard that morning.

I do believe that Jesus journeys with us in all walks of our lives.
“Jesus is there with us as we grieve at the pain and loss of death;
Jesus is there as we try to make sense of why we bother going to work to face the daily grind;
Jesus is there as we go to ever increasing number of doctors and specialist appointments;
Jesus is there as we struggle with family relationships;
Jesus is walking beside us in all of these situations.” [7]

Yet, I would be the first to tell you that I also believe that it is not just Jesus’ presence that moves us from our deep disappointments into the truth.

The Emmaus story can help point a way.  Even in the deepest of grief and loss in this story, there is still movement.  The future that the disciples had envisioned is no longer – but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a future.  “Jesus is alongside us in ways that may be unexpected and even uncomfortable.”[8]

Two travellers are met on the road – Jesus joins them and listens.

When they have come to the root of their discussion, the matters of life and faith and Truth, if you will – Jesus opens the scriptures to them.

When they get to where they were going, physically, mentally, and emotionally – they share in a meal that reveals the truth of their travelling companion, the identity and real presence of Christ.

And, even then, the movement doesn’t end.  These two disciples get up and out on the road once more to share the good news of what has happened. [9]

I love the pattern of movement in this story.  Sounds like something familiar to us doesn’t it?

We, those who are seeking the promise of faith and love and hope – God’s promises – bring all of our lives into these communities of faith.  The good, the not so good, the worries and tears, the joys and hopes, we are varied and different and we deal with the matters of life and death in equally varied and different ways.  We aren’t at the top of the hill.  There isn’t an empty tomb in front of our faces.  We’re not locked up inside a room.

But, maybe we all got here by taking a road of some kind.

And we gather, we hear God’s word, we have a meal at the Lord ’s Table, and we are sent out again. Gather, Word, Meal, Sending.  This pattern helps bring us into God’s promises again and again – as many times as we need to travel through it, until we are all able to live each day with the certainty that God’s promises are true.

My hope for you this week is that you will live in the truth that God raised Jesus from the dead; that you will live in the truth that God promises to renew the whole creation and grant us new life; that you will live in the truth that nothing – nothing we’ve done or has been done to us – can separate us from the love of God; that you will live in the truth that God will not turn God’s back on any of us but always reaches out to us in grace, mercy, and forgiveness.[10]  May your life journeys take you into the fullness of God’s promises and give you courageous faith that sends you with the joy of the good news.  Amen.


Sermon Inspirations

  1. Karoline Lewis. “What Things?”  Dear Working Preacher: April 23, 2017.  Preach This Week.  Working Preacher.org
  2. Peter Lockhart. “April 30, 2014: Emmaus: What are you focused on?” A different heresy.
  3. David Lose. “Easter 3A: Dashed Hopes and Surprising Grace.”  Dear Partner: April 24, 2017.  …in the Meantime
  4. David Lose. “Easter 3B: Resurrection Doubts.” Dear Partner: April 13, 2015.  …in the Meantime
  5. David Lose. “Broken Before Burning.” Dear Working Preacher: April 29, 2014. Preach This Week.  Working Preacher.org
  6. Richard Swanson. “May 04, 2014: Commentary on Luke 24:13-35” Preach This Week: Gospel Reading.  Working Preacher.org

This week’s image is entitled, “Der Gang nach Emmaus [Road to Emmaus],” created by Fritz von Uhde, in 1891.  The image is public domain.  You can find out more about the painting here, and the artist here.  The image has been modified for the purposes of this blog.


[1] David Lose.  “Easter 3B: Resurrection Doubts” Dear Partner: April 13, 2015.  …in the Meantime
[2] Karoline Lewis.  “What Things?”  Dear Working Preacher: April 23, 2017.  Preach This Week.  Working Preacher.org
[3] David Lose.  “Easter 3A: Dashed Hopes and Surprising Grace.”  Dear Partner: April 24, 2017.  …in the Meantime.
[4] David Lose. “Broken Before Burning.” Dear Working Preacher: April 29, 2014.  Preach This Week.  Working Preacher.org
[5] David Lose. “Broken Before Burning.”
[6] Richard Swanson.  “May 04, 2014: Commentary on Luke 24:13-35” Preach This Week: Gospel Reading.  Working Preacher.org
[7] Peter Lockhart.  “April 30, 2014: Emmaus: What are you focused on?” A different heresy.
[8] Peter Lockhart.  “April 30, 2014: Emmaus: What are you focused on?
[9] David Lose. “Broken Before Burning.”
[10] David Lose.  “Easter 3B: Resurrection Doubts.”  Dear Partner: April 13, 2015.  …in the Meantime

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