As human beings, we sometimes miss things. We just do. We’ve all done it. We are supposed to see, or do, recognize something…and we just don’t. I think we can all admit that it happens to us. A few examples of what I’m talking about:
- A colleague of mine at my last congregation was doing a wedding once. The wonderful, well-meaning aunt of the bride was supposed to read the scripture from 1st John, chapter 4 which includes the well-known and lovely verse “beloved, let us love one another…for love is of God, and everything that loves comes from God…” But somewhere in there she missed the “1st” in 1st John and instead read from the Gospel of John, chapter 4, which includes the words “You are right in saying, you have no husband; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.” It was an easy detail to miss. But an important detail. (Especially at your niece’s wedding!)
- Or occasionally, not often, but occasionally, you hear stories of airline pilots who land at the wrong airport. They just get mixed up and land not at the one on the map, but on the one that they see.
- Or once, on a cross-country road trip, I was going to stop in Pittsburgh…and I was so focused the National Public Radio program that I was listening to, that I missed the Pittsburg exit, and then the next, and the next. I didn’t realize it until I was about 10 miles past Pittsburg. I missed Pittsburg. The whole city.
Yes, we occasionally miss things.
So, I do have some sympathy for those men on the road that day, who missed the fact that they were with Jesus.
Let’s just think back on this story a bit: the resurrection happens, and Jesus is risen from the dead. Happy Easter! He first appears to a few of his disciples, to let them know that what he’d told them was true. And then what does he do?
Jesus goes for a walk.
Two of Jesus’ followers, a man named Cleopas, and another, whose name we are never told, were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, a distance of about seven miles, after the events of the crucifixion and resurrection. They had heard the stories, but apparently, they had not actually seen Jesus yet, and to be honest they had their doubts. Then, while walking, the newly resurrected Jesus approaches them on the road.
And they don’t recognize him. He walks right up, and they don’t see who he is. They greet him as a stranger. Now, this is a little puzzling to me. I’m not sure how they could miss him. But they do. Interestingly, they are not the first to “miss” recognizing Jesus.
In the Gospel of John, when Mary is at the tomb on that Sunday morning, and she is weeping because Jesus’ body is gone, Jesus appears to her, and she doesn’t recognize him. She assumes that he is the gardener.
And when Jesus appeared to the disciple Thomas, Thomas not only didn’t recognize Jesus, but when Jesus said who he was, Thomas didn’t believe him! He had to place his fingers into Jesus wounds (kinda gross, I know!) in order to believe that it was really him.
So, while I don’t understand how or why they “missed” Jesus, it is clear that they did. He was unrecognized. There is something about the resurrected Jesus…something that I don’t understand, that makes him, apparently, easy to miss.
And on the road that day, Jesus starts this conversation with Cleopas and the other disciple by asking them questions. “What’s going on?” And they say, “are you the only one who doesn’t know the things that have happened?” Jesus plays dumb: “What things?”
And so, they tell Jesus the story.
But in the midst of their storytelling, they say something really significant. They utter 3 small words; words that are easy to miss; the words that theologian and pastor Dr. David Lose has called the three saddest words in the scriptures. They said: “We had hoped…”
We had hoped.
“We had hoped,” they said, “that he was the one to redeem Israel.”
We had hoped.
- We had hoped that he would be the one to kick out the Romans and restore the nation of Israel
- We had hoped that he was the Messiah
- We had hoped that he was the Savior
We had hoped.
Can you hear the disappointment in these words? “We had hoped.” And now they’re just walking home down a dirt road. Back, they are assuming, to their old lives…before they had met Jesus.
Few things are more painful than hope that is crushed. But what Jesus does in our story is interesting, and I think helps us understand some important truths about our own sense of disappointment.
Jesus simply comes alongside these two forlorn disciples, he accompanies them. And then he asks them to name their loss. This is important. It’s important because naming our pain, our grief, and our loss are essential steps in healing and moving beyond them. We can’t ignore those things that we have lost.
This past week I did two graveside funeral services for people that have died in the last couple of weeks. In both cases, the pandemic and the quarantine meant that traditional funeral services here, in the Sanctuary, were impossible.
It was a double hit for these two families. They were grieving the loss of their loved ones, and they were grieving the fact that they couldn’t gather with friends, and relatives to celebrate their loved ones lives, and the promises of God fulfilled. And they were missing family members who simply couldn’t get here… and we were standing at the graveside… keeping social distance, as we grieved. And I could tell, they felt a deep sense of loss, a wound now doubled…I could sense what was in their hearts: “We had hoped.”
This may be your experience too. When you think about your plans for the spring, and maybe the summer, you might find yourselves saying “We had hoped…”
- We had hoped for a summer hanging out with friends and family
- We had hoped for graduation
- We had hoped for prom
- We had hoped for that family reunion
- We had hoped that the baseball season, or the soccer season, or the marching band season would be a good one for us
- We had hoped for a great spring play
- We had hoped for a raise, now we’re just hoping to keep our jobs
- We had hoped to go to a Twins game
- We had hoped to spend time with Grandpa and Grandma
- We had hoped for our vacation
We had hoped. And we are disappointed. And maybe we are grieving.
And so as people of faith, what do we do? We look to God for help. But like Cleopas and his friend (and all the other disciples, for that matter) I think we can miss it; we can misunderstand the kind of help…and the kind of hope that God gives to us.
The disciples were disappointed, at least in part, because they didn’t see how God was working to save and heal the world. They missed it.
- They expected a God of power. Instead, God was vulnerable
- They expected a warrior God. Instead, God was a suffering servant
- They expected a God who would fix things. Instead, God stepped into, and accompanied them through the mess
And even though they misunderstood Jesus, and what God was up to, it’s important to recognize that for them (and for us), the grief and pain are real.
Let me be really clear: your grief and pain are real. And the first thing Jesus does is to invite you to name that, in order to create space to be surprised by God’s decision to just show up alongside us, even when we don’t expect it.
When we can name our pain, grief, disappointment and fear, and with the assurance of God’s grace, we discover that these things have less of a hold on us, and we find that we can be, like Cleopas and his companion, surprised by God’s patient and loving embrace.
So what is it for you? What do you grieve? Where is your disappointment? What is your “We had hoped…” thing? Think about that for yourself. And name it. And maybe talk about that with someone close to you. Pray. It’s ok to say in prayer “God, I am so sad…and maybe even kind of angry…because we had big hopes and plans…”
At the end of the Gospel story, after Jesus had read the scripture with these two, and then had shared the meal, he disappeared from sight. And Cleopas and the other one, their eyes were opened. And they recognized Jesus…they knew who he was.
And they said to each other “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”
You see, Jesus moved the disciples.
- He moved them from dashed hopes to burning hearts
- He moved them from disappointment to joy
- He moved them from “We had hoped” to “We have hope.”
- He moved them from the cross, to the empty tomb
And Jesus does the same for you. You all have a road before you, and some days your journey may feel like 70 feet, some days like 7 miles and some days it feels more like 700. Jesus walks that distance with you. And you can bring Jesus your questions, and your doubts and your disappointments, and maybe even your frustrations and your anger. And Jesus will walk with you through these feelings and will move your heart from loss and disappointment to joy and hope.
And when this is all over (and it will be over), we will all look at each other and say “did not our hearts burn within us, when we recognized him…when he was with us…and when we experienced the joy that comes from God’s great love.”
My friends, go take your walk. Jesus walks with you.
Thanks be to God!