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“We Had Hoped” on Luke 24:13-34 by Michelle Ellis - April 14, 2024

We, as a church are now journeying through the season of Easter together. This is a season where we celebrate the resurrection, we celebrate Jesus’ victory over death, and we celebrate together the gift of new life. We get a taste of that new life now and then, and we look forward to when Christ comes to make all things new. It’s a fitting thing that Easter falls during the spring season when we can see again new life after the long sleep of winter and see reminders of the big promise acted out in a million small ways as buds grow and new life springs up from the ground.

In this season, we have been and we’ll continue for a couple weeks to explore stories together of people grappling to come to terms with Jesus’ resurrection. Last week, we explored the story of Thomas and how it was important to Thomas to actually get to see Jesus and to put his hands on his wounds before he could allow himself to believe. We saw how God honoured the need that Thomas had to see and to touch so that he could trust.

Today, we’re exploring the story of two other people who are trying to make sense in their minds and hearts about who Jesus was, what it meant that he was crucified, and what his missing body could mean. As we explore these stories together of Jesus’ friends and followers trying to make sense of what they see and hear, we’ll see that there is certainly celebration that happens with the resurrection, but always before the celebration there is a deeply complex concoction of disorientation, caution, doubt, confusion and surprise. These are stories of people grappling with what they didn’t expect, with what didn’t fit in the story they had written for themselves or for Jesus. They are reeling from the gap between what they had hoped and the realities that seemed to have shattered that hope.

This is what happens in the story that we read today in Luke 24. Two followers of Jesus, who we’ve really never heard of outside of this story are walking and talking together on their way to Emmaus. They are talking about everything that had happened, rehearsing again conversations they’d had with Jesus, healings they’d witnessed, the threatening religious leaders, and then finally Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion. And suddenly, this unknown person comes and walks alongside them, asking them what they are talking about. Luke says that when they are asked what they are talking about they stop short, with sadness written across their faces. They confess to the stranger what they had been talking about Jesus, a prophet who did powerful miracles, a mighty teacher who had been put to death three days ago. And then they say what to me is one of the most heartbreaking phrases in this story, “We had hoped that he was the Messiah.”

We had hoped.” Can you hear the disillusionment, the resignation in those words? “We had hoped.” Here are these two followers of Jesus, who maybe had walked with him, who had grown to trust him, who had even grown to hope that he was the one they had been waiting for, that he was the Messiah. “We had hoped.” Hear the pain behind these words. ‘We had hoped in Jesus, but I guess we were wrong, we must have misread the signs, I guess God was not at work in the way that we thought. We had hoped.’

Then they had groped at these strange things that had happened after Jesus’ death. His body is missing and women had told them that angels said that he’s alive. What are they to make of that? Is that even real? Are those women just sick with grief? Did someone steal the body?

Hearing these stories after Jesus’ resurrection feels like a balm, because this is where I live. It’s where we live: — after Jesus resurrection, before he comes again, daring to grapple with what Jesus’ life, death and resurrection could mean, where to put our trust, where to place our hope. Here we are, too, grappling with the gap between our expectations and our lived reality, between our hopes and our experiences, between our ideas of what God will do and how he will act, and what we see and experience. We, too, contend with what it means to follow a crucified Messiah, a Messiah who walked toward and through rejection, suffering, and death. What can it mean? How does it impact our hope? How does following a God who came and suffered, died, and then rose again impact how we hope, how we trust?

I wonder, too, as I read this, what conversation Jesus is joining as he walks alongside you and me often uninvited and unrecognized? What does he hear as he joins your honest, and sometimes unspoken thoughts? What does he hear as you try to make sense of your own life, in the tension of the places between what you had hoped and what you are now experiencing? What does he hear? Does he hear you speak out things like: I had hoped that God would show up by physically healing my body? I had hoped my child would come to love the Lord? I had hoped I would be married by now? I had hoped to live out my retirement years with my spouse? I had hoped things wouldn’t keep feeling this hard? I had hoped that God would make my path more clear? I had hoped that I wouldn’t be living with this darkness for so long? I had hoped to be more sure, to have more faith, to see God more clearly? I had hoped that God would show up powerfully in a way I could name and see? What does Jesus hear as he joins in your honest conversations, maybe in the secret places of your heart, maybe with a friend? What are the things you had hoped?

I’d like you to notice how Luke gives us a reader’s insight into a secret as to what the two followers of Jesus can’t see up to this point. They don’t see that it is Jesus walking with them. It’s Jesus who is asking them questions. It’s Jesus who is hearing them grapple with their doubts. It’s Jesus who is inviting them to tell him more about their confusion, their disillusionment, how they are trying to making sense of the events that they’ve been a part of and have witnessed. We know it is Jesus, but they don’t.

Somehow I appreciate, too, that some of the first disciples that Luke tells us about who Jesus reveals himself to aren’t the ‘famous’ disciples. This isn’t John and Peter talking. This is Cleopas, who we’ve never heard of before, along with a disciple who doesn’t even get a name. This is right in line with the rest of the book of Luke which makes a point of naming how God chooses to make himself known and share his especially world-changing news with ‘un-famous’ people from very ‘un-famous’ places. I like this because I consider myself a very ‘un-famous’ follower of Jesus, just like this unnamed person here. And seeing Jesus choose to come and walk and talk with these two as they grapple with their own disillusionment and confusion opens my imagination to the possibility and the reality that Jesus is also present and often unrecognized and unseen in conversations you and I have with our friends, very ‘un-famous’ people traveling to ‘un-famous’ places, trying to make sense of the gap between what we had hoped and what we see.

Luke lets us in on the secret of the unrecognized presence of Jesus walking with these two people, and the whole feeling of this story, from spiralling down into disillusionment and becoming one of mystery, presence, power and anticipation. Luke lets us in on the secret that just as these two are grappling with the mysteries of their lives, with their doubts, with whether they have misplaced their hope, the very one that they think they have lost hope in is walking alongside them, risen, alive and changed. Jesus himself comes alongside them although hidden. Jesus is the one opening up Scripture to them, showing them how his suffering wasn’t things going sideways, showing them how his crucifixion wasn’t a sign that everything had gone wrong. It was a part of God’s mysterious pattern of redemption, of God’s pattern and way of making all things new, of bringing his kingdom to earth, not by sidestepping suffering or death, but by walking right through it and transforming it as he went.

Jesus says, “Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?” To which I can imagine answering him, ‘No, Jesus, it wasn’t clear! That kind of threw us for a loop, Jesus.’ Just like I have spoken that out to Jesus from my own current places of confusion and suffering. ‘No, Jesus, it wasn’t all that clear how glory would come out of that suffering. I didn’t quite see how your redemption, your making all things new could come through death.’ ‘No Jesus, maybe the signs were there, maybe I should have picked up on that, but I didn’t.’

I really wish Luke had given us a transcript of that conversation with the disciples on the road to Emmaus. I wish I could hear Jesus take me through the Scriptures and show me this path hidden in plain sight, just like I wish he would open my eyes and show me all the moments in my life and in the lives of others where suffering is being redeemed, where death has lost its power and where he himself is hiding in plain sight among us, walking with us, talking with us, asking us questions, listening to our confusion, witnessing our pain, teaching us, all unrecognized. Surely he is doing this still now, showing up unrecognized among us just as he was then. Maybe you even have a story of when your eyes were opened and you saw him, or when your heart was burning within you and you knew you were in his presence.

Notice that when Jesus opens their eyes to who he really is so they can recognize him, it’s when he’s breaking bread with them. And I wonder if there is something here, something about the moments when we can see Jesus in a unique way. This moment of breaking bread brings our imaginations immediately to the last supper Jesus shared with his disciples where he takes the bread, breaks it and says, “This is my body, broken for you.” I wonder if there is something about times of brokenness, when we, too, are broken, when the world around us is broken that Jesus chooses to reveal his presence, to show us the mystery of his power and presence in places where we are most scrambling to find him.

When we share the Lord’s supper together as a church, I invite you to allow a current place of confusion or disillusionment or muddiness to come to your mind and your heart. Maybe a place where you ‘had hoped.’ As you come to the table, hold this in your heart, hold this up before Jesus. If you can, ask Jesus to show himself to you in it, to walk with you, to ask you questions, to teach you, and to be with you through it. Pray and ask that.


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