By: Laura Callarman
The following is the manuscript for a sermon that I preached recently for the weekly graduate chapel service in the Graduate School of Theology at Abilene Christian University. It is based upon the lectionary texts for May 4, 2014. (The sermon focuses mainly on Luke 24:13-35, but it also incorporates Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19; and 1 Peter 1:17-23.) While the manuscript is admittedly longer than most of our posts here, I invite you to delve into it anyway. I think you’ll be glad you did. May God bless you with the hope of resurrection!
The men trudged along the road. Weary, disheartened… Their shoulders slumped. They barely said a word to each other… What was there to say, really? Rumors of an empty tomb, but what did that mean? Distraught and delusional women, that’s what it meant, nothing more. So why speak of the disappointment, the confusion, the despair? Wouldn’t it just be better to get on with life and leave the past in the past? Leave the discouragement behind them where it belonged and at least try to move on, even if they weren’t quite sure how?
You see, they’d had so much that they’d hoped in, but their hope was now gone. Shattered. Torn to bits, into a million shreds, really. Leaving them with nothing. Nothing but the haunting questions of “What happened?” and “Why?” Hadn’t he been the one? The one they’d been waiting for all their lives? Hadn’t he been the one who was going to set everything right? It sure had seemed like it. Confusing and exasperating as he was sometimes, this Jesus had at least been different. He’d had an aura of promise to him, of hope. But no… that promise had been cut short, and the hope, well, that was long gone. He was dead, you see. And so were the spirits of all who had hoped in him.
“We had hoped.” That was all the optimism these men could muster as they began to explain to the oblivious traveling companion who’d joined them on the road. We had hoped he’d have proven to be as powerful as we thought he was. We had hoped he’d restore Israel. We had hoped that we hadn’t simply been wasting our time these past few years. We had hoped he was the Messiah.
But obviously those things could never be. Jesus was dead and buried. His followers, or what was left of them after the harrowing weekend they’d just had, were disillusioned and scattered. What was the point, after all? Without Jesus, what was the point? He’d spoken in lofty terms about the Kingdom and the restoration of God’s people, but in the end he’d just let himself be killed, leaving his people alone, sheep without a shepherd. So like sheep without a shepherd, they scattered. And these two trudged along the road away from Jerusalem, away from the place that they’d forever remember as a place of hope disappointed and dreams destroyed.
“We had hoped.” These three little words summed up the men’s entire perspective on life, at least in that moment. And we too know the pain of “we had hoped.”
We had hoped that life would have turned out better than it has. We had hoped that instead of only challenges and setbacks we’d experience a relatively easy, abundant time, at least once in a while. We had hoped that this relationship would have flourished rather than falling apart around us. We had hoped that God would relieve the pain of illness and the grief of loss. We had hoped that we’d feel purpose and meaning and direction in life. We had hoped… but it seems we shouldn’t have.
Disappointment, frustration, and bewilderment. An inability to understand what in the world God might be up to—if God cares, or even exists. That’s what “we had hoped” can feel like. And just like the men on the Emmaus road, we each carry our “we had hoped” around with us.
But we don’t have to carry it with us forever, for as these two men are about to find out, “we had hoped” is not the end of the story.
You see, their oblivious traveling companion turned out to be not so oblivious after all. At first they could only wonder that he hadn’t heard about what had been happening in Jerusalem. Who was this guy, anyway? Then he began to teach them from the Scriptures, as though that could encourage them after what they’d been through… But still, whoever he was, his words had some comfort in them. The men wanted to hope, after all; they just didn’t know how to anymore… It wasn’t until this stranger sat down to dinner with them, blessed their meal, and served it up to them that they realized, startlingly, this was no stranger! This was Jesus himself! Raised from the dead! They didn’t know how… They didn’t care how! It was him, no doubt about it. Hadn’t they spent years following him, after all? But then—wait! He was gone! As soon as they recognized him, he was gone… But it didn’t matter. The questions they had, the fears still lurking in the backs of their minds, those paled in comparison to what they had just experienced, and they had to share the good news. Jesus was alive! So despite the late hour and the dangerous journey, they were up and running. Back to Jerusalem, back to the gathered disciples, back to those who needed a word of hope, just as they so desperately had earlier that afternoon. They had to share the news: “We had hoped” was not the final word!
And church, “we had hoped” is not where our stories end either.
Though we may dwell for a time in the realm of confusion and disappointment, that is not our permanent home. Because, you see, this same resurrected Jesus walks by our side too. True, we may not recognize him at first, distracted as we are by the disheartening setbacks of life. But he’s there all the same, speaking words of wisdom and waiting for just the right moment to make himself known. And when he does, it changes everything.
So if you find yourself trudging life’s weary road, take heart. Jesus is your traveling companion. Look for him. Listen to his words, though you may not understand their significance at first. Feel his presence in your life, and find hope in the news of God’s resurrecting power. For while the promise of resurrection does not always look like what we’d expect it to look like, it’s there in our lives nonetheless.
Our other passages for today help us see that promise from a few different angles. Acts 2 — We have hope because we can turn to a gracious God, confessing our sins and seeking out the presence of the Holy Spirit, who is our Comforter and Guide. 1 Peter 1 — We have hope because we have the promise of eternally new life from the living and enduring God. And Psalm 116 — We have hope because we can know that when we call on the Lord, God will hear our prayers and loose our bonds. Yes, there is hope for us, hope that redeems and renews and resurrects all things to abundant life.
But, church, as much as we each need this message of hope in our own lives, since we all find ourselves on the Emmaus road from time to time, renewal of hope in our own lives is only part of the good news. The other part, arguably the more joyous part, is this: the hope that we have received, the hope that we can now live because we know the full story of Easter, is hope that is for all people. It is hope we can extend to others.
We read in Acts 2 that “the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” Everyone whom the Lord our God calls. And I won’t speak for you, but I’m pretty firmly convinced that that means all people, without exception.
So if instead of trudging the weary road, you find yourself sitting at the dinner table, your heart burning within you because you’ve seen the resurrected Jesus, because you know he’s alive and well and at work, then what are you waiting for? Get up! Get back out there on the road! There are people who are still waiting and wondering, people who need to know! “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to me!”
Because we know the end of this Emmaus story… We have the perspective to see that the promise of Easter is a promise that has the power to transform—and therefore needs to be shared—on all days, in all situations, and with all people, no matter how hopeless they might have seemed. The promise of Easter is a promise of renewal, of hope fulfilled, of lives transformed, and of all things set right under the reign of a loving, redemptive, resurrecting God.
So as you go from here today, whether that’s into the promise of a fulfilling vocation after grad school, into a slower paced summer, into another long and difficult day, or just across the street for lunch, may you find hope from the assurance that Jesus walks by your side, and may your feet be quick to carry the good news of that hope back to those who need it. Carry the promise with you to all whom the Lord has called. Proclaim joyfully, as you go, that “we had hoped” is not the final word… Rather, with both your words and your lives, declare with confidence to everyone you encounter that because the resurrected Jesus has appeared to us and brought renewal to our lives, “We have hope, and so can you!” And that, my friends, simple as it may be, is good news for all of us!