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From Dashed Hopes to New Life

Sometimes its enough to see Jesus: to have him appear in the upper room pronouncing peace, to hear of his resurrection, and to be promised his presence.

But sometimes its not.

Sometimes it takes longer to have hope again after pain, tragedy, and trauma. Sometimes the move from doubt, fear, and grief to faith, hope, and love takes the time it takes to walk from one town to another

Sometimes it requires an opportunity for open and honest conversation.

Sometimes we need to mull things over. Sometimes we need to talk through our life experiences in the light of faith or in the reality of doubt.

Sometimes we need a place where we can be open and honest about our disappointments and grief, in other words, a space of patience and grace to explore our questions.

Sometimes it takes a seven mile road to Emmaus.

This powerful story in Luke's Gospel shows two followers of Jesus after his crucifixion walking on a road, discussing their pain, trauma, and the tragedy of Jesus' death. Jesus comes alongside them, walks with them, talks with them, and finally reveals himself to them in a meal during the breaking of the bread. It is a powerful story we get to hear this Easter in our Sunday readings.

Like these disciples, we also need a space where we can name and voice our shattered hopes and dreams. This is what I think the disciples in Luke needed: place to name their disappointment and grief. Few things are more painful than dashed hopes. In this incredibly human moment in Luke's Gospel we hear the disciples say these three wistful words: “we had hoped.”

For them, we had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel. We all have our own our own shattered hopes, our own let-downs, and our own lost dreams.

We had hoped for a better relationship. We had hoped a loved one in addiction would quit using this time for good. We hoped this job would last. We had hoped our church would grow. We had hoped our child would recover. We had hoped the surgery would be a success. We hoped this time the marriage would be forever. We had hoped the cancer was not terminal. We had hoped for just a little more time.

Few things are more painful than dashed hopes, especially when we pour everything we have into that hope, and hold onto that hope with all of our might.

And so this stranger comes alongside these two men and before he breaks bread with them, before he even breaks open the Scripture with them, he comes alongside these forlorn disciples and asks them to name their loss.

He comes alongside and he listens. Listens to their heartache. Listens them as they fundamentally misunderstand how God was working to save the world. Listens to them expect a Warrior Messiah, a God of power, not able to see a God of vulnerability or a suffering servant, just as they also did not see that this Stranger alongside them was their Risen Christ. And listening to them, I think his words are less rebuke than they are his own grief at the pain they suffer and lament for their inability to see or understand.

Jesus makes the space for these disciples to speak their pain, suffering, disappointment and loss, and naming it, also makes the space even more so for them to be surprised by God’s decision to show up in the last place they expect God to be, to discover that their pain has less hold over them then they thought. God gave them the space to be surprised by God’s plan of salvation, to have their hearts burn within them, to be caught off guard by God’s presence, to see God’s love with fresh eyes, to hear God’s promises for themselves, and to then know him, finally, in the breaking of the bread.

Jesus does what the Gospel of Luke does so well throughout. He goes through the story of salvation, revealing to them the incredible ways God was working all along in the history of Israel, from Moses through all of the prophets. He reveals God’s history of lowering the proud and lifting up the lowly, the strength of God’s arm in the humble and meek, and his glory revealed in harlots and handmaidens.

Like so often in Israel’s history, dashed hopes to burning hearts, disappointment to joy., slavery to freedom, and finally in God’s true anointed one, the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, the movement from cross to empty tomb. In him is revealed and received the movement from death to life.

This is the good news Jesus spoke to these disciples on the road: the promise of God’s salvation and redemption for them. It is the good news that Jesus speaks to you today. He speaks promises that are for you, and for your children, and for all who are far away, and for everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.

The road is before you.

Jesus walks with you.

I invite you today to name and confess, not just your sins, the “bad things you’ve done,” but also to lift up and confess to God all of the difficult elements of your lives.

Not so that the absolution will erase them, but rather to allow God’s promise of grace and forgiveness and acceptance to make room for a new reality, for something you had not expected and can scarce believe because it is so beautiful.

You can move from dashed hopes to a burning heart.

You can move from disappointment to joy.

You can move from slavery to freedom.

You can move from death to resurrected life.

I pray that each of us can look back at the road behind us and see the places where Christ the stranger came along our side, though we didn’t see him. I pray that our hearts burn within us when we reflect on the presence of the resurrected Christ in our lives, surprised by his incredible grace. May we know his presence today for ourselves as he was known to his disciples in the breaking of the bread, our eyes opened to his redeeming work in our lives, in our church, and in the world around us.

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