“But We Had Hoped”

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Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

May 8, 2016

Luke 24:13-35


“Now on that same day,” the scripture says, “two of them were going to a village called Emmaus.”  On that same day.  Here we are on the seventh Sunday of Eastertide, the last Sunday before Pentecost and the start of a whole new church season, and today’s scripture reading takes us back to that first Easter day again.  The women have been to the tomb at early dawn, taking the spices that they had prepared.  They have found the stone rolled away, the body absent, the tomb empty.  The have met the angels in dazzling clothes and heard those mind-blowing words:  “Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here, but has risen.”  The disciples have heard the women’s testimony and disbelieved them, thinking it only an idle tale.

And now the time shifts ahead a few hours.  The place shifts away a few miles.  We find ourselves on a dusty road outside of Jerusalem, where two people are traveling on foot.  We don’t know much about these two, except that they were somehow connected to the Jesus movement, most likely as members of the extended community of his followers.  They know what has happened over the previous few days.  They know about betrayal, and denial, and desertion, and condemnation, and crucifixion.  Hearts heavy, they are discussing all that they have seen and heard as they walk along.  And suddenly, a stranger shows up and walks with them for a while.  He asks them what they’re talking about, and they stop in their tracks, looking sad, for the story is still fresh and the wounds are still raw on their hearts.

But in spite of the fact that they were heartbreakingly sad, in spite of the fact that the roads were notoriously dangerous at that time, in spite of the fact that talking with strangers was patently unadvisable, particularly as afternoon moved toward evening and daylight moved toward night—in spite of all that, those two wandering disciples fell in beside the strange man and joined in conversation with him.  They told him about Jesus of Nazareth, a prophet mighty in deed and word, who had been handed over to be put to death at the hands of the authorities.  “But,” they said, “but we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”

It’s a poignant line.  “But we had hoped…”  We had hoped that things would be different.  We had hoped that Jesus would defeat Herod and Pilate and the rest of the ones who rule our land and our people so harshly.  We had hoped that our friend and teacher would still be alive, would still be teaching and leading us.  We had taken great risks to follow him.  We had staked our reputations, even our lives, on him.  We had hoped that things would be different now.

It’s a poignant line.  “But we had hoped…”  And if you’re like me, it’s a line you have uttered at one time or another.  We had hoped that we would do well on the test.  We had hoped that the paycheck would arrive before the mortgage payment was due.  We had hoped that our beloved would say yes to that down-on-one-knee proposal.

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.

There’s a lot of disappointment and heartbreak bound up in those four simple words, “But we had hoped…”  More often than we would like, the things we hope for don’t come to fruition.  We don’t get the job.  We don’t get the loan.  We can’t figure out how to reconcile with the long-lost friend or sibling or parent or child.  The illness progresses.  The one we love says goodbye.  The things we want our bodies to do stubbornly refuse to happen.

In spite of this, we Christians are called to be people of hope.  For we are receivers of the gospel promise that the way things are is not the way things will always be, that change is possible, that transformation is coming, that life really could be different.  After all, we follow the One who brought healing to people who had been ill for their entire lives.  We follow the One who brought food to people who never had enough to eat.  We follow the One who brought power to people who felt powerless, purpose to people who felt purposeless, meaning to lives that felt meaningless.  We follow the One who, though he seemed to succumb to the powers that be, though he seemed to have been defeated by hate and fear and violence and death, somehow overturned even those most potent powers by the startling strength of love.

We Christians are called to be people of hope.  But like those disciples on the Emmaus road, sometimes our hope leads to heartbreak.  Sometimes we are left standing still, looking sad, stopped in our tracks by grief or disappointment or fear.  “But we had hoped…”

The promise of this story, and the promise of the gospel, is not that our hearts will never be broken.  It is not that our hopes will never go unfulfilled.  It is not that we will always get what we want, that the road will always be easy, that the journey will always be smooth.  If you’ve read the gospels, you know that.  If you’ve studied the history of the church, you know that.  If you’ve paid attention to your own life, you know that.

No, the promise of this story is that in those moments when our hearts are breaking, when we are stopped in our tracks and it feels like we can’t go on—it is then that Jesus will show up beside us.  It is then that God will give us the strength to take the next step.  It is then that the Holy Spirit will be kindled anew in our chests.

The promise of this story, and the promise of the gospel, is not that our hearts will not break, but that when they do, we will not be left alone, abandoned in our sorrow.  We will be accompanied.  We will be guided.  We will be nourished. We will be inspired.

The promise of this story is that broken hearts will eventually become burning hearts, filled up by the power and the love of God.  And we, like those disciples on the Emmaus road, will find ourselves able to share that power and that love with others who are sorrowing, able to be companions to our sisters and brothers on the journey, able not just to hope again, but to share that hope so that others, too, can be warmed by its fire until their broken hearts are burning, too.


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