Jesus Christ calls us to be a joyful community that celebrates God's love, transforms lives, and is a force for justice in the world.

We Had Hoped

Luke 24:13-25
Rev. Elizabeth T. Smith
St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church
April 23, 2017

Last Sunday, we followed the children out of the sanctuary singing “Halle halle halle – luuuuuia”
It was a joyful day as we celebrated the empty tomb!

Now today, Luke draws us back into that day, the third day, and we find ourselves on a road with two followers of Jesus, as they journey that evening.

But we don’t find them singing joyfully as they go.
In fact, we encounter them quite the opposite.
These two men are deep in discussion as they leave Jerusalem.
And they are trying to make sense of what has happened – or maybe better said – not happened.

When a stranger joins them and asks them what they’re discussing,
I picture their heads hanging low as they struggle to explain.
Their faces are downcast, Luke tells us.
And through their answer we get a glimpse of how they’re feeling.

“We had hoped…” they start to explain.
“We had hoped he was the one who would redeem Israel.”

Their hopes for redemption and a new way have been dashed.
Their dreams have been crushed.
These faithful followers of Jesus are disappointed.
And grieving what should’ve been.

Have you ever felt like that?
Have you ever hoped for something different than what happened?

Faced with such raw and deep emotions, we see that Cleopas and his friend are now eager to get out of town.
To escape.
To disconnect from all they’ve known and been a part of.
After all, it seems none of it was worth it, right?
Their Messiah had not come to reign like they thought he would.
He died.
He left them.
I suspect by now they felt burnt-out.
Tired of it all.
And probably quite betrayed.

What were they supposed to do now?
“We had hoped…” they say.
We had hoped for a different outcome.

And so they go.
Down that long road to Emmaus.

Now it’s not crystal clear where Emmaus was.
Biblical scholars suggest a few different locations, but they aren’t entirely sure where the road to Emmaus led.
But were they to ask us, each and every one of us could tell them the exact geographical coordinates to locate Emmaus on the maps of our lives.

We know all too well that the road to Emmaus is the road we walk when our hopes are dashed and our dreams are crushed and our hearts are filled with despair. [1]

The Emmaus Road is any place where we find ourselves seven miles from certainty, as we lament the things didn’t turn out how we had hoped.

  • We had hoped the biopsy results would be different.
  • I had hoped our time in therapy could’ve put our relationship back on track.
  • We had hoped our candidate would win so they’d fight for what we believe in.
  • I had hoped that job would pan out.
  • We had hoped things wouldn’t get this bad.

Fredrick Buechner in his book, The Magnificent Defeat, writes that Emmaus:

“is the place where we spend much of our lives, you and I, the place we go in order to escape — a bar, a movie [you fill in the blank] Emmaus is what ever we do or where ever we go to make ourselves forget the world holds nothing sacred and that even the wisest and bravest and loveliest decay and die; that even the noblest ideas that [humans] have had — ideas about love and freedom and justice — have always in time been twisted out of shape by selfish [people] for selfish ends. Emmaus is where we go; where these two went, to try to forget about Jesus and the great failure of his life.”

We know that in moments of disappointment and confusion, it is so tempting to want to disconnect.
To break off from community.
To do whatever it takes to protect ourselves from the raw feelings that threaten to overwhelm us.

And yet it is in those moments that the Risen Christ comes to us.

Cleopas and his friend don’t immediately recognize Jesus,
but they do rise to the challenge of welcoming the stranger in their midst.
And in doing so, they experience something that feels vaguely familiar –
bread is taken, blessed, broken and shared.

This ritual of love and hospitality opens their eyes – eyes foggy with disappointment and hopelessness- and shows them how things really are.
Disappointment and death don’t have the last word.
New life is possible!
As Rachel Held Evans writes:
“Something about communion triggers our memory…and opens our eyes to Jesus at the table.”
Every. time.

Take, bless, break and give.
One person models this over and over again.
These simple actions around the dinner table are actually a way of life.
These simple actions are a ministry of love that is more powerful than death.

The Lord’s Supper holds great mystery for all who partake of it.
We have come to expect the words and actions that go with communion, but we can’t ever possibly fully understand what happens in this meal.
How can one explain unbelievable forgiveness?
Miraculous reconciliation?
Life out of death?

Thankfully, we are not required to figure it out in order to follow Jesus, nor are we asked to solve the mystery.
But we are asked to take up the practice of breaking and sharing bread in Jesus’ name.
We are called to practice hospitality with strangers –
We are called to draw our circles wider in order to leave no one out.

I see this happening when I look around St. Mark’s.
It’s evident in some big actions, like…

  • building a shower that can be used for groups who stay here at night
  • Keeping the food pantry stocked so those in need of an extra boost can find one here
  • Volunteering in the front office and being a cheerful face to all who enter, no matter their story
  • Bringing food on the fourth Wednesday of every month, and getting to know our neighbors over a homecooked meal

Hospitality is also evident in some smaller ways, like…

  • Donating food cards for guests who need them
  • Introducing yourself to someone worshipping with us for the first time
  • Listening to the person who arrives at our door in need of someone to talk to or a shoulder to cry on

If we’d asked those two men heading to Emmaus that day if they were up for showing love and hospitality to a stranger, I bet they would’ve said –
We don’t have time.
We’re too tired.
It’s been a bad day.

And yet, they did.
They remained open in their hearts, even when they felt there was no hope left.
And it was in that moment – the moment they welcomed the stranger in their midst – the moment they least expected to see Jesus – that he showed up.

The Risen Christ who walks with us down the long Emmaus roads of our lives continues to call us to the table, to bless us, feed us, and send us back into the world to practice love and hope through hospitality.

And in doing so, we put the empty tomb into practice.

May it be so…

[1]  Rev. Alison Harrington, Southside Presbyterian Church, Tucson, AZ
[2] Searching for Sunday, p. 132.
[3] Rev. Christin J. Norman, “On the Road to Emmaus,” Woodland Presbyterian Chruch, April 5, 2015.