Scripture Readings: Acts 2:14a, 36–41 | Psalm 116:1–4, 12–19 | 1 Peter 1:17–23 | Luke 24:13–35
“But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” (Luke 24:21).
“We had hoped…”
What was it that we had hoped for… and that has not come to pass?
I know it’s the season of Easter. A season of wonder and unexpected joy… of celebrating the world-changing news that Jesus Christ is alive!
There is so much for us to be thankful for. There are so many reasons for us to rejoice. God has been incredibly gracious to us, both as a church, and as his children.
But our readings today from the Scriptures, especially our reading from the Gospel of Luke, don’t jump straight to joy and celebration. Instead, they deal with the turning point… the transitions… the moments when the way forward doesn’t seem so clear… when the dawn is just beginning to break, but we can’t yet see the light.
Such times call for hope. For the conviction that the new day is on it’s way. But no one waits eagerly for the dawn after the sun is risen. To understand hope we have to acknowledge the times that seem darkest of all.
The story of Scripture give us plenty of examples of times when people have needed to sit with their disappointment for a while… to recognize their pain, their fears, their frustration… to not just rush past the darkness, but face these things head on… and face them together. After all, it’s good to have company when we are struggling to make sense of where we have been, and of what comes next.
Our Gospel reading today gives us a good example of this: two confused and grieving disciples, were on the way to the village of Emmaus together. But their story is a gift to us in other ways as well. Beyond simply sharing the burden of those dark times together, these two disciples serve as signs of how the Living God is at work in our lives too… showing up and sharing hope even when we cannot seem Him.
“We had hoped…”
Can you feel the heartbreak behind these words? So much of their lives had been tied up with the trust they’d placed in Jesus of Nazareth… in what He would do, not just for them but for their people… and for their world. But now, they didn’t know what to believe, or who they could trust anymore.
They both knew quite well what had happened on Good Friday. They knew there was no hope for those who are lifted up on a cross. They knew that, whatever they had hoped for, was now gone for good. And yet… reports had reached them that Jesus’ grave was empty. Rumours of angels, and claims of resurrection had started to shake up even what they knew about life and death.
Would it have been it too much to hope for to get a clear sense of closure to this sad story? A definite end, even if it had to end in disaster? What should they do now when their whole world had just been pulled out from under their feet?
We’re not told why these disciples were headed to Emmaus, but maybe they just felt they needed to get away for a while. Maybe they wanted to step back and sort out what comes next with a bit of breathing room.
There are times, of course, in our lives when it seems like the right thing to do is to walk away. To get some distance from the confusing and painful parts of our stories, and search for peace elsewhere. Sometimes that can be and important part of the healing we need. Sometimes we’re trying to run from the darkness… and outrun our despair.
Whatever the reason for their journey, and despite the distance they planned to put between them and the heartbreaking confusion back in Jerusalem, the Living God had other plans.
“And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’” (Luke 24:17)
He would not leave His grieving children simply to wander off alone. The Lord was right there with them, even in their doubts and despair, even when they could not see Him.
The risen Jesus, the very one they had placed all their hopes in, was right there beside them… inviting them to share with Him everything that was on their hearts, and troubling their minds.
We might have wanted Him to just walk up and say: “Hey guys, cheer up, it’s Me!” But no, He comes gently, quietly, even secretly to them in the midst of their grief, and He makes space for them to share their sad story… He makes time to listen to them… even though He knew all along that their sorrow would soon turn to joy.
Together, they tell Jesus the tragedy of His own demise. How they had been convinced that Jesus was God’s Chosen One, their rescuer… but how their own people had handed their Messiah over to be crucified.
“But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” (Luke 24:21). The story of Jesus had not turned out at all the way they had hoped it would.
What are we hoping for Jesus to do in our stories? In our communities? In our world?
Are we hoping for freedom from the things that bind us? From fear, pain, heartbreak?
Are we hoping for forgiveness? For a new start? For a return to the familiar? A place to find some peace? For someone who will welcome us in?
How do we respond when it seems like the hope we have placed in Jesus has let us down? What do we do when we don’t see Him, and only the darkness?
So many today are walking away from their faith in God, and from His family, the Church. There’s too much pain there… too much confusion… to many things we’re called to believe that just seem too good to be true. At times, for some it can all just seem simpler to walk away.
And those of us who have not walked away are still left to struggle with wounds, with fears, with uncertainty, and disappointments that we don’t always know what to do with. Sometimes we’re told to just ignore all this stuff, and to focus on the bright side. So sometimes we turn a blind eye to our burdens, until they’re too heavy to bear.
But maybe instead we need to learn to just be honest with God… even about how our hopes have been dashed… about how we feel let down, and don’t know how to turn things around again.
Maybe we can take a moment right now to do just that: to tell God, right now, what you had hoped He would bring about… but that has not happened.
[You are invited to take as long as you need right now to share what’s on your heart with the Lord today.]
Do we believe that God hears these prayers too? Do we believe that He is listening to our hurting hearts?
Jesus shows us that God listens to even our prayers of discouragement and despair… and He took the time to listen to those two disciples, on their journey away from Jerusalem.
But as important as it may be to listen to us in our pain, God does not simply leave us in our sadness… no, He shows us where to look for hope.
Imagine Jesus responding to His disciples, His friends with a grin and a shake of his head: “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.” (Luke 24:25-27).
Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, points them to the Old Testament Scriptures to understand the meaning of their own story, and which turn out to have been pointing right back to Him all along. From Moses and the Pentateuch, to the Prophets, the story of God redeeming Israel had always been about their Messiah being rejected by them… suffering for their sins, dying to atone for all the evil that they have done, and so to bring them life! Setting them free, not simply to fulfill their expectations, or to accomplish their plans, but to share in the hope of God’s New Creation together with Him their crucified and risen Lord forever.
But as they talked on the road to Emmaus, Jesus was doing more than revealing information to them, He was revealing a new way forward for them as well. This whole turn of events is not just another event in the history of the world… it calls for us all to respond… and to have our lives turned around by it for good.
That’s what happened in our first reading today from Acts Chapter 2, as St. Peter proclaimed to those gathered in Jerusalem at Pentecost, that the Messiah, the one they had all been hoping for, had already come, and that they had rejected Him. Acts 2:36-37,
“‘Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.’ Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’”
Good question. What would any of us do if we were to suddenly realize that our own choices have actually destroyed all that we had hoped for?
Thankfully, St. Peter doesn’t leave them hanging. Acts 2:38-39,
“Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”
Turn around, he tells them, and receive the New Life of Jesus… dying and rising again with Him in baptism… receive from Him forgiveness of sins… and God’s Holy Spirit. A gift not just meant for you… but for your families… for “all who are far away… everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”
Even after they had taken part in the betrayal and brutal death of the Messiah, their own Saviour, St. Peter tells them that there’s still hope for them all, because Jesus Himself is our hope! And Jesus lives!
The Risen Lord, God’s chosen Messiah, has faced and conquered death forever, and He is the source of all our confidence, all our security and strength. It is Jesus Himself that we need, and with Him, we have everything… far beyond what we could ever possibly hope for alone.
We forget this all the time. We constantly fail to see the hope that He gives us. But even so, the risen Lord remains right there… right here with us… ready to reveal what He knows our hearts are burning to receive.
Our Gospel reading goes on…
After the still unrecognized Jesus unpacks the story of hope through God’s suffering Messiah, found throughout the Old Testament, the three travelers finally arrive at the village of Emmaus just as it was getting dark. The two disciples knew the importance of shelter, and just how dangerous it can be for those who are left outside and alone, and so when this stranger seems about ready to leave them and carry on down the road, they strongly urge Him to stay with them instead. They welcome Him in, and set food before Him, offering whatever hospitality they could. And in return, they receive another surprising revelation. Luke 24:30-31,
“When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.”
Just a few nights earlier, their last time together with their Rabbi before His crucifixion, Jesus had blessed and broken bread with them in the upper room… sharing a sacred meal, which for centuries had kept alive the hope-filled story of God’s miraculous redemption of Israel from slavery… and which now Jesus said was taking on a whole new meaning: the bread and the wine were His own life… His own broken body and blood, shed for them.
Now in Emmaus, it all comes rushing back. And in this simple act of receiving this blessed and broken bread, they recognized that Jesus was right there with them.
Then in an instant, He vanishes. And they are left with a choice: What do they do now? Do they just carry on with life as usual? Or do they let this experience of Jesus, which they still struggle to understand, turn their lives around?
Despite their tired legs and feet, despite the time of night… despite their questions and doubts… these disciples get up and run straight back to Jerusalem… to gather with those who knew Jesus, and share with them the hope that they just received.
This is a wonderful story of how Jesus shows up for His disciples on that first Easter, turning their sorrows to joy, and turning their lives around by His risen life right there with them.
But this story is also a gift for us too: it shows us where we are to look for the risen Lord’s presence in our lives… where He shares His hope with us… especially when we cannot see Him:
His hope finds us when we draw near to fellow believers… sharing each other’s burdens, wrestling with our confusion and questions together, seeking to find the way forward, walking side by side.
His hope finds us when we share our hearts with God… when we pour ourselves out to Him in prayer, knowing that He is listening patiently to our words, and eager to turn our sorrows into joy.
His hope finds us as we listen to His words to us in the Holy Scriptures, drawing us into the story of God’s Good News, which weaves all of history into the rescuing work of Jesus.
His hope finds us as we extend hospitality to those we meet along the way… welcoming those outside into our lives, as Christ Jesus welcomed us… without prejudice or pride, but in humility, compassion, and love.
His hope finds us as we draw near to His table… as we share the blessed food that Jesus gives to us: His own body, broken… His own blood shed… His life, freely given to save sinners like us… so that we too can be filled with His new life, and share in its blessings together.
And His hope finds us when we choose to turn around, and seek out the rest of our brothers and sisters in God’s family… when we come together in wonder, mystery, and joy to worship our risen Saviour… to retell the stories of what He has done… to comfort, forgive, and encourage one another.
Jesus is risen. Jesus is right here with us. And He is everything we had hoped for and more.
May the Holy Spirit of God continue to open our eyes and hearts to see His New Life at work… and may He keep turning our lives around as we share in this hope, with one another… with our communities, and with our world. Amen.
Rev. Rob serves as the Priest-in-Charge at St. Luke's Gondola Point, and as the School Chaplain at Rothesay Netherwood School