A poignant phrase in today’s gospel from Luke’s Emmaus Road account – ‘We had hoped…’
We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.
They could possibly be the saddest three words in the bible.
We had hoped…
We’re all living with our ‘had hoped’s’.
We had hoped for a securer future financially…
We had hoped the marriage would last…
We had hoped for a child…
We had hoped to grow old together…
We had hoped for more votes…
We had hoped for a ceasefire…
We had hoped for……… (fill in your own very different outcomes from the ones that actually happened for you).
So we can sympathise with the two crestfallen disciples on the Emmaus road.
They had hoped the Messiah would….what?
Redeem Israel, whatever that meant.
And clearly in their minds they knew what they had wanted Jesus, as Messiah, to do.
But it hadn’t worked out, apparently.
The Emmaus Road teaches us that hope, the sort of hope we often come up with in our own imaginations, will frequently give way to disappointment, but disappointment can be redeemed, by a (sometimes very) surprising Redeemer.
It’s great to have hope, though, especially when you’re starting out in life, or starting out on a new project in later life, perhaps.
But something I’ve noticed with my own hopes is that we tend to be very specific in the things we want to happen, even in the spiritual life, where you’d think we would have learnt by now that God is in control and his ways are often not our ways.
We even read the bible in certain ways that mean a new interpretation can surprise us and cause us to doubt the genuineness of the faith of the Christian who can see one thing where we can see only the other.
For instance, why does the American Right get so agitated about abortion but miss the obvious references to social justice that run through the Old Testament?
Another example: commentators have this week been harassing the leader of the UK Liberal Democrats, Tim Farron, who happens to be someone who came to faith later in life, and who expresses it in a more evangelical way. They constantly seek to slip him up on his opinions on gay marriage, whereas the PM, Theresa May, who is also a Christian (but a quiet Anglican one) is never asked this question, even though her voting record on equal rights is extremely mixed.
We cherry pick the bible and get hung up on details while missing the big picture.
The disciples on the Emmaus Road were the same. They had been convinced Jesus was ‘the one’ and that he would act in a certain way. He would defeat the Romans and free his people, wouldn’t he? Their hopes were pinned upon this detail.
And then he got himself killed.
‘We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel’.
We had hoped our congregation would be on the increase by 2017.
We had hoped that God would heal our friend of cancer.
We had hoped to see our children’s and youth work grow…
We all have hopes, and in addition to all the normal human hopes, Christians are carrying hopes of the kingdom, and that can feel like a heavy load, particularly for lay and ordained leaders.
I’m not saying details are unimportant but they are not the foundation of our hope.
If they do become the foundation of our hope, we will experience disappointment.
Evangelists (and all keen Christians) need to hear that our hope doesn’t lie in the details we like to imagine will come true for us as we live as Christians in the world.
I had a good friend for whom I prayed 10 years. She was close to the kingdom, I was sure that soon God would give me a chance to share the Good News, invite her to something at church, see her come to know the love of God personally.
Every time I invited her to something, she’d express real keenness, put it in her diary, fail to turn up. After I moved away we lost touch. I have no idea if she made even one small step closer to God as a result of our friendship. The details, for me, did not work out. But I have to trust the big picture.
Cleopas and his friend on the Emmaus Road (Mrs Cleopas?) had their own hopes for Jesus, but they were not God’s hopes, or his ways, and they missed that the liberating Messiah would first suffer and die, despite apparently knowing their Scriptures.
In fact they missed the big picture entirely, they were so caught up in the details of their imaginations, and so derailed by their own disappointment.
They needed Jesus to walk along beside them afresh; they needed Jesus to give them a completely fresh bible study and they needed Jesus to become known in the breaking of bread.
I wonder what sort of disappointments you have suffered in life, or perhaps recently.
Maybe some of the ‘had hoped’ phrases at the beginning of this talk rang true for you.
As Christians we can get bogged down in the details of how our churches are faring, even on a national scale, but today we recall that God has the big picture and the big picture takes a long while to play out and can often take us by surprise.
In silence, we spend a few moments to consider where we might have gone astray by imagining all sorts of details that God hasn’t apparently come good on, instead of trusting he has the big picture in hand.
Imagine a fresh walk with Jesus, a fresh bible study where the words come alive and address something you’re actually struggling with, or come and receive Jesus made known to you today in the breaking of the bread.
Whatever fresh emphasis you need, spend a few moments giving any disappointments to God, and telling the Lord what it is you need right now.
Instead of ‘we had hoped’, we might be able to say, with the two disciples on the Emmaus Road – ‘didn’t our hearts burn within us while he was talking to us on the road?’