Sunday, April 26, 2020
“But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel,” the two disciples tell a stranger, who happens to be Jesus, on the road to Emmaus. We had hoped. If you don’t know this about me by now, you should know that I am a planner. I like to plan way ahead. I had our family summer vacation for late June/early July sketched out by the end of December. I had Easter worship planned as soon as Christmas was over. As I mentioned last week, I like knowing what’s going to happen next, and having plans to look forward to. But even for those of you who aren’t as type-A or organized as I am, I have a strong suspicion that coronavirus has thrown a wrench in almost all of our plans. Plans we didn’t even know were plans have been dashed – a routine trip to the library or weekly shopping outing, getting our hair cut, being able to watch sports on TV, or more devastating – celebrating graduations, weddings, anniversaries, and birthdays with family and friends….you name it, almost everything we “had hoped for” this spring is not able to happen in the way we originally had hoped. Everything is changed. There is almost nothing we can take for granted anymore as a matter of course. We are having to adjust a lot of our expectations and plans for the future.
“We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” The disciples walking along that road to Emmaus make it clear to this stranger that they have no idea what is going on. They express disappointment, sadness, and fear that what they had thought would happen with Jesus of Nazareth is not what appears to be happening. They probably weren’t exactly sure, but one thing they knew, the Messiah was not supposed to die on a cross and be handed over by their own religious and political leaders. Many of us have shared in phone and Zoom conversations how this is an odd Easter season. We are still God’s resurrection people – we have hope and faith that new life is possible! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia! Yet, this is still a difficult time. We are on a journey that none of us had expected to go through this Easter season, a spiritual and emotional journey, even though we can’t really go anywhere physically. I continue to be struck that our scriptures this Easter season are joyful, but they contain elements of lament as well. Read Psalm 116 again, for example, or our second lesson from 1 Peter written for a Christian church that is being persecuted and in exile. Even in the season of Easter, especially this Easter it is OK to lament to God that what we had hoped would happen cannot happen. What we had planned for and expected isn’t what will be, this year.
And yet. The disciples on the road to Emmaus continue by telling this stranger about women and angels who claimed Jesus was alive. And this stranger becomes a bit frustrated and starts trying to explain to them that what they thought they understood from the scriptures about what would happen was not exactly correct. Expecting, for example, that life following Christ will not include suffering, is not what the scriptures tell us. Then the stranger stays with them, and eats with them, and when he breaks the bread, they finally get it. This has been Jesus, the very one in whom they had placed their hope, journeying with them this whole time. Here’s the really good news…their hope placed in Christ has not been unfounded. Rather than just being the one to redeem Israel, through Christ’s death and resurrection, he has redeemed the whole world. What looked like defeat and disappointment, God has turned into fulfilling an even greater plan and hope for the world’s future, our redemption in Christ Jesus.
Often in times of crisis in our lives, it is difficult to recognize Jesus in our midst. Like these two disciples, we can’t pretend to understand all that is happening to us and what God’s plans for us truly are sometimes. It is often only after when we look back at that period of our lives that we clearly see Christ with us all along the way of our journey, through grief, disappointment, suffering, confusion and even in moments of joy. We might even wonder how we didn’t see it before, because it seems so obvious later how God in Christ was at work during those moments. We are on a journey together – apart physically but together, still, because of God in Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit. Like those disciples on the road to Emmaus, Christ walks with us, listening to our laments, to our “we had hoped” stories of loss and confusion. Then when we most need to see him, Christ appears to us to comfort and encourage us that he is, indeed, still alive, walking this road of life with us all of the way. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia! Amen.