Busy weekend at St. Peter Lutheran Church for this third Sunday of Easter! We had the joy of celebrating a baptism on Saturday, then on Sunday between services, we had a great presentation about Royal Family Kids, a camp ministry for children in foster care that some in our congregation have a connection to. (The picture here is from their presentation.)
I preached this weekend on the road to Emmaus story in Luke 24:13-35 and a little on Acts 2:14a & 36-41. Part of the inspiration for this sermon came from this post by David Lose. Here’s the sermon:
There’s a legend that someone once challenged the author Ernest Hemingway to write a story in 6 words. Hemingway came up with this: “For sale: Baby shoes, never used.”
Isn’t that tragic? “For sale: Baby shoes, never used.” It’s so sad because it’s a story about potential, about hopes dashed, and dreams crushed.
Today, we hear a story about two people whose dreams have been crushed. For the third week in a row, our story takes place on that same first day of the week, Easter Sunday. Jesus has been betrayed, arrested, and killed, and then everything stopped for the Sabbath.
Jesus’ inner circle, the 11 disciples, are holed up hiding in Jerusalem. But they weren’t Jesus’ only followers. Many others were in Jerusalem for the Passover when everything happened, including Cleopas and his unnamed companion, perhaps a friend, or perhaps even his wife. Like the other disciples we talked about last week, they’re wondering what comes next, but for now, they’re skipping town.
On the way, they’re processing what’s happened, and Luke tells us Jesus comes to walk and talk with them, but they don’t recognize him. Some people make a big deal of wondering why they don’t recognize Jesus, but it makes sense to me.
I mean, they watched him die. When someone’s dead, you don’t expect them to meet you on the road the next day.
And maybe this is only a possibility for people like me who are really bad at remembering faces, but maybe Jesus looked a little different too. Maybe he got a haircut in the tomb. At the very least, he’s not beaten and bloody, like last time they saw him.
Jesus doesn’t look like they expect. How often do we miss seeing Jesus around us, because he doesn’t look like what we expect! How often do we miss seeing God at work because we don’t consider the possibility God is at work in our world?
But anyway, Jesus comes up to these two disciples on the road, and he asks them what they’re talking about. As they explain, we get some of the saddest words in the Bible, a few short words filled with as much sadness as Hemingway’s story.
Three words: “We had hoped.” Few things are more painful than dashed hopes, that feeling that you’ve misunderstood, or that your dream has been taken away from you.
For these disciples, it’s, “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” What is it today? “We had hoped it would be a different diagnosis.”
“We had hoped she’d recover.”
“We had hoped we had a few more weeks or at least days.”
“We had hoped.” There’s so much real grief there, so much raw disappointment. You’ve heard people say those words; maybe you’ve said them yourself. Dashed hopes are a reality in the broken world we live in.
I’ve been following a story this week about a young man named Chris Stanley, a student at the University of Minnesota, who was swept into the Mississippi River on Wednesday, and he’s still missing. I don’t know them, but his mother Melissa Melnick is a Lutheran pastor, and I have friends who know her.
She wrote a powerful blog post yesterday about what it’s like to go through a tragedy.
I linked to it on my own Facebook page if you want to read it. It’s both beautiful the way she writes, and it’s so hard to read.
All those praying had hoped he would be found, that first night, or the next morning, even today. We had hoped. But it hasn’t happened yet, and the pain and grief are real.
Look how Jesus responds to these disciples in their grief. We can learn from him here. He doesn’t just jump to telling them Bible stories to force them to feel better. First, he comes alongside them on the road and he asks them what’s wrong. Then he listens to what they say. He lets them tell their story.
Imagine what that would be like, to get to just tell your story to Jesus, to let him know all the hurts and pains and joys and expectations. What a great picture of prayer!
Imagine what it would be like for Jesus to just listen to you. I think this is a beautiful picture of how God longs to be in relationship to us, how God longs for us to open our hearts, to be vulnerable enough to pour out our souls to Jesus. One of the deepest privileges of life is getting to listen to people’s stories, and having someone listen to you.
Then, after he’s listened to them, after he’s allowed them to speak, Jesus responds, and this is one of the places where it would be really nice to hear his tone as he speaks. His words are “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!”
A word of advice: If someone you’re talking to opens up and pours out their soul to you, your first response should probably not be, “How foolish you are!”
But I don’t think Jesus is saying it like that. I think he’s saying it in a loving, tender way. They’ve misunderstood the purpose of Jesus’ death, they don’t realize what they witnessed in Jerusalem that weekend, but their pain is real.
I just don’t see Jesus lecturing them here. Instead, he teaches them what the Scriptures say about the Messiah, about God’s plan to save the world.
If there’s one Bible story I’d love to insert myself into, this would be it. Wouldn’t you love to have Jesus himself teaching Bible study, going through the Bible to reveal God’s story? I would!
All too soon, they get to where they’re going, and Jesus accepts their invitation to stay for supper. As he takes bread, blesses it, and breaks it, they recognize him. There’s such a great communion image in this story, that it’s in the breaking of the bread they recognize Jesus. And then he’s gone.
But they understand now who it was who was with them on the road. Their hearts are burning within them, as Luke puts it.
Now remember, it’s evening, and they’ve already walked 7 miles, basically from here to Marble Rock. But they are so energized, so filled with joy and hope, they have to tell the others, so they immediately leave and walk another 7 miles, all the way back to Jerusalem, where they find the other disciples rejoicing at the news that Jesus is alive.
What is it you’re grieving today? Where do you need some hope? The problem with this story is everything gets neatly wrapped up at the end. It turns out the exact thing they were so sad about is all better. It’s a little like when you watch a movie, and then at the end it turns out it was all a dream.
But in our lives, everything doesn’t always get better. Sometimes what we had hoped for really doesn’t happen. And yet, there’s something beautiful and important about this story. Look where it takes place: on the road. Jesus comes alongside them on the road, on their journey.
Whatever you might be going through, whatever you will go through, it’s a journey. It’s a conversation with Jesus, not an easy answer. Church ought to be a place where we can bring our broken hearts, our shattered dreams, and our dashed hopes with us.
Pastor Melissa Melnick ends her blog post about the pain of searching for her son by writing about the comfort and strength she finds in knowing there are so many people around the world praying for her son Chris to be found, and how important it is for her to be part of God’s community at church as she and her family walk this awful road.
You and I are joined by baptism into a community to support each other on the journey, to keep encountering God, in the breaking of the bread, in the waters of baptism, and in each other. We walk this journey together.
As Peter says in his sermon to the people at Pentecost, in the story we heard from Acts, ‘The promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away.”
Cling to the promise that Jesus comes alongside you on your journey. The promise of Easter, the promise of Jesus revealed in the breaking of the bread, the promise Jesus is really, truly alive again, the promise of renewed hope, that promise is for you.
I want to end by quoting the last paragraph of Pastor Melnick’s blog post. She writes, “Know that God is with us and God is with you. Chris is a child of God and God is taking care of him. Austin, too. Their dad, too. Me, too. And you, too, my dear friend who is reading this. Peace.”
As you reflect on this awesome love of the God who comes to be present with us on the road, may the peace of God’s promise to be with you, the joy and peace of the resurrection, the peace that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.