I know that I have focused on the phrase “but we had hoped” in the story of the Road to Emmaus before. Maybe in a sermon three years ago, or maybe in a Bible study. But it seemed way too applicable to today’s moment to pass it up in favor of focusing on another part of the story.
Have you had disappointed hopes recently? Are you scared to hope for the future, worried that it will only lead to more disappointment? These early disciples knew how we feel, and Jesus has a word for them and for us.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
“But we had hoped.” But we had hoped. The road to Emmaus is a road where hope is in the past tense. The past tense of hope is just an incredibly sad word. But we had hoped. These two disciples have just seen all their dreams and hopes dashed. Jesus, the one they followed, the one they hoped in, has been put to death. The worst, most godless death imaginable. Worse still, his tomb is empty, his body is missing, and the women who loved and followed him seem to have gone crazy with their bizarre tale of angels and gardeners and talking ghosts. And so, they walk the road of exhaustion, grief, and disappointment. They are headed home dejected.
But we had hoped. I had hoped about my child’s birth since finding out I was pregnant. I had hoped about introducing this baby to family and friends, getting to see my grandmother hold her first great-grandchild. I had hoped.
We’re all a little familiar with that past tense of hope right now. Seniors in high school and college had hoped for celebrations of their achievements. They’d hoped for proms and graduations and thesis presentations. Engaged couples had hoped for weddings that are now postponed or limited to just a few witnesses. Family reunions, anniversary trips are canceled. But we had hoped.
But we had hoped that the treatment might work. But we had hoped that he wouldn’t get laid off, that she could keep working through the crisis. But we had hoped that our loved ones might be spared. But we had hoped. With those two disciples on that first Easter day, we travel the road to Emmaus, the road of disappointment and grief.
But then, we come upon this miracle: this bitter, grief-filled road is also a sacred road, because this is a road that Jesus walks. Jesus comes alongside these disciples in their pain and disappointment. He doesn’t reveal himself right away. He doesn’t push them straight to rejoicing, but first listens to them, talks to them. Enters into their grief and longing with them.
He hears them out, allowing them space to articulate their grief, to give voice to their dashed hopes. And then, when they’re done, he offers them another story. It’s the same story they just told him, only Jesus gives it a new light, a new context. When Jesus tells the story, the death of the Messiah finds its place in the history of God’s acts of redemption. Jesus shows them a new future. It’s not exactly what they hoped for; it doesn’t end the way they assumed the Messiah’s story would end, but it is full of possibility and promise. And hope.
If you are walking the road to Emmaus right now, living with disappointed hopes, whether big or small, know that you do not walk this road alone. Jesus walks with you. Jesus feels your pain and grief, and they matter to him. But Jesus also has something else in store. New hope, and a new future.
While the disciples do not yet recognize Jesus, they invite him in to share an evening meal with them. They take a chance on this stranger and extend their hospitality. And then, everything changes. Such small things. A loaf of bread. Thanksgiving shared around a table together. Small and commonplace things reveal the divine presence that has been with them all along.
God is powerfully, wonderfully, hopefully present in the small and everyday things of our lives. In sharing a meal together. In the phone call or text with a neighbor. In the encouragement offered to another disciple traveling the road with us.
But we had hoped. Yes, we had. Of course we had. So very many things are different right now than we hoped they’d be. And yet. And yet the stranger who is the Savior still meets us on that road to Emmaus. And yet the guest who becomes our host still nourishes us with his presence in the ordinary moments of life.
So, wherever you are on the road, know that we walk together. And we walk side by side with our God. Amen.