Preached at St John the Divine, Victoria
Gospel: Luke 24:13-35 (The Road to Emmaus)
Audio file is available here.
“But we had hoped…”
There are some walks that are longer than others. The length isn’t necessarily because of the distance, or even the landscape. Sometimes it is a long walk because of what is being carried…
It had been a long day already. A long weekend, really. Huddled with friends in an upstairs room – all together since sometime on Thursday or Friday. Our hopes have been growing cold along with the body that we laid in the tomb just before the sun set and the Sabbath began.
The Sabbath came and went and finally it was Sunday and we had a little more freedom to move around. Some of the women were up at the crack of dawn to head over to the part of the garden where the graves are. The rest of us stayed put in the room, still sitting in that stunned silence that often accompanies grave disappointment. And then the women returned with the news that his body was no longer there and a story of a vision of angels who said he was alive.
But … still, no one saw him and we’ve been beginning to suspect that the whole thing has been a mistake.
So, with the disappointment still clinging like an anvil to their shoulders, two of them left to head to Emmaus, a village about seven miles away.
Not a terribly long walk – it is only slightly further than the Times Colonist 10K that hundreds of people are walking or running this morning in Victoria… yet from the sounds of it, it was a really long walk. Carrying a heavy burden will make even the shortest distance seem like an eternity.
As they were walking, a solitary walker came near and joined their party and their conversation, and he walked the seven miles with them, sharing in their conversation and discussion.
The gospel writer uses three words to describe the conversation – the first is the word from which we derive our word “homily” (but don’t worry, I don’t intend to have a seven mile walk length sermon this morning!), the second describes a rhetoric-full exchange of words, and the third, an emotional dialogue.
As drenched in disappointment as the two walkers, Cleopas and his friend, were, I imagine that it really was an incredibly emotion-full conversation for them: their despair is encapsulated in the phrase, “But we had hoped that he was the one…”
But we had hoped.
But we had hoped … to bring our baby home from the ICU.
But we had hoped … that the cancer was gone.
But we had hoped … that our relationship would work out.
But we had hoped … that this would have been a good job.
But we had hoped … that they had truly beaten their addiction this time.
But we had hoped…
All of the theology of Easter joy and hope and a dawning future cannot stop us from getting caught in that moment of deep disappointment – where the only thing that actually expresses how we feel is a painfully imperfect verb tense. But we had hoped…
This is one of the things that I love about the gospels, though: they know and express the things that we sometimes dare not say. Crucial hopes have collapsed and we are feeling overwhelmed with disappointment because of it.
It isn’t easy.
I do take some comfort in realizing that even Jesus’ earliest followers didn’t recognize him after his crucifixion and resurrection – some comfort in realizing that belief in Jesus as the risen Lord wasn’t self-evident even to them. Because Jesus walked with the two followers for nearly seven miles – walked and unpacked the scriptures with them, starting with recent events and unfolding history all the way back to Moses and the prophets – and they still didn’t recognize him.
Jesus entered into their despair and disappointment and walked alongside them, talking with them and being present with them, and they still didn’t know him.
And I don’t blame them for that – in the depths of depression, in deep disappointment, when all of our hopes are dashed, I think it is pretty normal not to recognize Jesus or know how he might – how he could possibly – be with us.
And in those moments, the grace of this story is that that our inability to see or recognize Jesus is okay. Jesus is still there, walking alongside us.
As the window in our chapel reminds us, it is in the simple things that Jesus might become known – it isn’t when he first appears on the road, it isn’t when he is walking alongside them, it isn’t even when he is expounding the scriptures and reasoning with them. It is when he sits down at the table with his friends, takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to them.
And they knew Jesus.
Jesus enters our lives, not in the miraculous, but in the ordinary things: the taking, blessing, breaking, and giving.
In the hug of a friend we haven’t seen in some time.
In the joy of a new flower poking out of the garden.
In blessing a meal together.
We recognize God and know her presence with us.
But we had hoped…
What does Jesus do with dashed expectations? He enters into them and, in the breaking of the bread he reminds us that he who was himself broken lives in them too.
The body of Christ, broken for us…