We Had Hoped

Unity Lutheran Church + Cross of Life Campus
26 April 2020 + Easter 3A
Luke 24.13-35
Rev. Josh Evans, preaching


Video of the entire liturgy. The gospel reading and sermon begin at 15:17.

Audio of gospel reading and sermon only.

Can you feel the disappointment, the despair, the grief? As they walk along, thinking out loud, maybe even rambling, trying to make sense of all that had happened, so quickly … their entire lives changed in an instant.

For them it’s still Good Friday. It’s not even Holy Saturday yet – let alone Easter Sunday. Sure, we encounter these two disciples walking the road to Emmaus on the same day the women find the tomb empty. But remember: We’re in Luke’s version of the story. Jesus hasn’t shown up yet. It’s only two mysterious men “in dazzling clothes” who greet (frighten?) the women at the tomb. There’s nothing beyond the word of these two men to suggest that Jesus indeed has risen.

For these two disciples on the Emmaus road, Jesus is, at worst, still dead … or at best, missing. Their hopes are dashed. All the promises they had staked their lives on … gone. Worse yet, the tomb is empty, and Jesus’s body missing. Just when it seems like things couldn’t possibly unravel any more…

“We had hoped…”

I have to admit: While I generally love this resurrection story of the road to Emmaus in Luke’s gospel, this year it strikes me as more poignant, even offensive. This year, it feels like, as one preacher puts it, the road to Emmaus is just longer. This year, we are walking that road, somewhere in between Good Friday and Holy Saturday, our lives changed in an instant, our hopes dashed, in the era of coronavirus and social distancing.

There is so much we had hoped for, as many of you shared with me on Facebook this past week:

We had hoped for graduations … to be able to graduate and celebrate in person, to see our kids graduate from college, high school, and elementary school. We had hoped to go to prom … for all of the “lasts,” special events, and celebrations. We had hoped to go on college visits.

We had hoped to watch our kids play baseball … even while sitting in lawn chairs, freezing in the park.

We had hoped for Primero Dios VBS, the Appalachia Service Project trip, and all the other summer trips and traditions of Unity.

We had hoped to spend more time with friends… for vacation and honeymoon plans now deferred.

We had hoped for more time with family … to be with and care for aging parents, to visit grandparents, to celebrate Easter and Mother’s Day and birthdays and baby showers and weddings surrounded by loved ones, and not just on Zoom.

We had hoped for the job hunt to move more quickly. We had hoped for a hug … even for the non-hugging types among us!

We had hoped testing might move more swiftly, and for political leaders to break party lines to work together in crisis.

We had hoped… This list breaks my heart, even more so knowing the people behind each hope. And I’ll be honest: I’m not really sure I know what to do with that. I’m not sure where the good news is in all of this.

The fact is that so many of us are growing “increasingly tired, frustrated, scared, lonely, sad, and broke.” This is a time of grief. The road to Emmaus indeed feels longer this year.

But maybe, the good news is right there, on the road, walking alongside Cleopas and his unnamed companion. I’m grateful the gospel writer doesn’t actually name that second disciple. It could be you… There, walking beside them, walking beside us, is the risen Jesus. His first appearance post-resurrection … it’s not a grand entrance, but a quiet accompaniment – and curiosity: “What are you discussing?” “What things?” It’s an invitation for them to tell their story, to name their grief, to process what they’re experiencing, to feel what they feel without discounting it or trying to explain it away.

There is power in naming grief out loud. There is power in the conversation the two walking companions and the as-yet-unknown Jesus have on the road to Emmaus. Our grief in the era of coronavirus is real. Our hopes lost are real. So let’s name them, and share them with our companions on the way. And maybe, in the sharing, there is healing.

Here’s the good news I hear this day: Jesus invites them and us to name that grief and loss. He doesn’t care that they don’t recognize him or can’t recognize the presence of God in their midst at this specific moment, when grief and trauma keep them from seeing clearly, whatever the reason. Jesus is with them anyway … already a blessing … in the walking, on the road, in the listening … in the grief, in the despair, in the disappointment.

Emmaus is the resurrection story I need to hear this year. It’s an honest resurrection story, as one commentator writes: “I’m grateful that the journey continues into Easter evening, when hope is possible but not yet realized. I’m grateful that even the road to Emmaus – the road of brokenness, the road of failure – is a sacred road. A road that Jesus walks. A road that honors our deep disappointment, even as it holds out possibilities of nourishment and revelation.”

Emmaus is the resurrection story for the era of coronavirus, the era of “we had hoped.” Emmaus is the resurrection story big enough to hold our grief and the distant but nevertheless certain hope of new life, even if we can’t fathom or recognize it yet.

Emmaus is the resurrection story where it’s okay to not be okay, and where – all of a sudden – we realize: The risen Jesus was there all along, alongside us the whole way.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

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