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April 30, 2017 Easter2

We Had Hoped …

Luke tells us that two disciples were walking home from Jerusalem to Emmaus that first Easter. That walk … although it may have only been 7 miles … like an eternity. It felt like forever.
Early that morning, the women found the tomb empty. They had come back and told the disciples, but they couldn’t make any sense of what had happened. There is only massive confusion. And now, two disciples are going home, to Emmaus.
One of them was named Cleopas. We don’t know the name of the other. Most artists paint two men journeying home, but I’m inclined to think that it’s more likely that it’s Cleopas and his wife.
For now, they are trudging home, with heavy, heavy hearts. They are in so much turmoil, so much pain. They’ve lost their friend. They’ve lost Jesus. He had made their lives so much brighter.
When he was still with them, they felt so alive. He told them about a world which was more whole, more just, more loving, more compassionate. It would be a world of peace and wholeness.
But now everything has failed. They can’t make sense of anything anymore. Here’s the thing about that first Easter … the good news of resurrection and life bursts into a world in which everything seems lost. It’s a word of life, but it comes in the midst of death and confusion and dashed hopes.
They are trudging home. A stranger joins them on the road. What are you talking about? And through their tears they begin to tell him … about Jesus … a mighty prophet … but the leaders took him and handed him over … he was condemned … he was executed.
Then come three words which break our hearts. “We had hoped …”
We had hoped that Jesus would be the one to redeem Israel.
We had hoped …
Haven’t we all uttered those words?
We had hoped that the diagnosis would be different. We had hoped our child would recover. We had hoped we could fix our marriage. We had hoped to travel in our retirement. We had hoped that the cancer would go into remission. We had hoped our church would grow. We had hoped that the depression would lift. We had hoped this job would last.
We all know the pain of dashed hopes.
I remember when I was diagnosed with diabetes. I came home from the doctor’s office, fell into a chair at our dining table and started to weep. My life no longer made sense. It felt like a death sentence. But what I remember most about that day was my 5–year–old daughter Yvonne climbing into my lap, wrapping her short arms around my neck and holding me. After a while, she just said very quietly and simply, “It’s going to be all right Daddy.”
In that moment, Yvonne was Jesus for me. She spoke a word of life to me.
The news of Easter comes to us in this way. Easter surprises us with news we can scarcely believe. The good news of life comes in the midst of pain, grief, loss, death.
But before we can believe this good news, we need to name our pain, our loss, our grief.
That’s one of the wonders of this story. Jesus comes alongside these two disciples. They are so burdened with grief that they don’t recognize him. He invites them to talk about their grief, to name their sorrow. He walks alongside them and listens.
That’s what Jesus does. The good news we hear and live out is that Jesus shows up and listens as we speak the truth of our lives, the truth of our pain, the truth of our grief and loss. Jesus shows up, and invites us to name our loss. As we name it, we begin to make some sense of it. We don’t erase the pain. We recognize that it is part of our life and we begin to move through it.
I dare to believe that the church can be a place in which we can name our loss and our pain and our dashed hopes. This is a place where we can be honest about that kind of stuff. This is a place where we can weep.
And when we name them, we find that they have less of a hold on us.
Here’s where we see Jesus, I think. Last week, in my annual “joke sermon”, I suggested that we find Jesus in laughter. I believe that’s true. I also think we find Jesus as we name our pain and loss. I’ve said before that when we laugh, which we cut the monsters of our world down to size. I think the same thing happens when we name our pain. We cut that monster down to size. It stops being such a huge and fearsome thing.
As we name it, we make room where we can once more hear God’s word of life. God’s powerful love drops into our lives like a seed, taking root and growing within us. We discern once more that God’s promise and presence surprise us with the hope that life is a real possibility in the midst of the death that surrounds us. And not just living … abundant life.
Like Cleopas and his wife, we are also on a journey. For some of us it may be only 7 miles. For others, it might be 70 or 700 miles. Jesus walks the journey with us. “Tell me what’s going on,” he suggests gently. And as we walk together, we talk and Jesus listens. Our whole life is a conversation, a dialogue. We bring our hopes—dashed or still growing. We bring our questions—spoken or still lingering in the deepest recesses of our hearts.
We had hoped …
And when Jesus responds to these two, “How foolish, how slow–hearted to believe you are …” I don’t think it’s a rebuke. I read these words as a lament, as Jesus’ own grief that they are suffering this pain.
And as Jesus walks with them, he begins to teach them. They have Bible Study on the road. He helps them to see patterns in Scripture, patterns in their own life, which provide a whole new context.
They reach their home.
And here’s the most surprising thing of all.
The invite him into their home. They lay out the supper.
And Jesus, who is the guest, becomes the host.
He takes the bread. He blesses God for the food. He breaks the bread. He gives it to them.
Luke writes, “Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.”
This is Eucharistic language. So come to the table, my beloved brothers and sisters. Come with your questions and your fears, your doubts and your hopes. Come. Here again, we discern that Jesus is present with us. Here we hear Jesus whispering to our souls, “Tell me what’s going on.” Here we gather as a community who loves God, and which loves one another, supporting and encouraging and praying for one another.
Here, we know again that Jesus is with us. Here, we know again that we are an Easter people. Here, we know again that our trust in God is deep and whole and true. Here, we know again that God’s promises are powerful words of life in the midst of death.
Come and be surprised once more by God’s incredible grace.
Christ is risen. Alleluia! (The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!)
Thanks be to God.

Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt
April 30, 2017 (3rd Sunday of Easter)
Luke 24: 13–35
Acts 2: 36–41
1 Peter 1: 17–23