Dashed Hopes and Broken Hearts Transformed
Apr 23, 2023
Third Sunday of Easter
Text: Luke 24:13-35
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
It is true; the last time they saw Jesus, he was dead. So, perhaps it’s not surprising that Cleopas and his unnamed companion do not recognize Jesus on the Road to Emmaus.
Today is the third Sunday of Easter, but in our Gospel readings we have not moved beyond the Sunday we call Easter Day. That day began at sunrise with the women among Jesus’ followers discovering the empty tomb and receiving the angels’ message that Jesus was not there but had risen. Then, last Sunday, we moved to Easter evening when Jesus’ followers were hiding behind locked doors, afraid, and Jesus appeared among them, showed them his wounds and offered a word of peace.
Today we’ve gone back in time to mid-morning on Easter Day. Two friends who were followers of Jesus, although apparently not a part of the inner circle, are walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, a distance of seven miles. As they do so, they are discussing the crucifixion and the reports of the empty tomb. Unexpectedly, a stranger – Jesus, who they do not recognize – joins them.
It’s interesting to note that this is the first time in Luke 24 that Jesus is seen alive. But “their eyes were kept from recognizing him”; it’s unclear what that implies. As I said earlier, the last time they saw Jesus he was dead. Quoting Pastor Jonathan Romig, they may not have recognized him because, as far as they were concerned, “He was gone. They thought he was never coming back. They had made it through the last couple days, but are sad and depressed. But now they’ve heard from word from several women who followed Jesus that his body was not in the tomb and that angels appeared to them telling them Jesus is alive. They do not believe and just feel more confusion and darkness. They had come to Jerusalem for the Passover feast and now it’s time to go home.” (1)
So it is that Jesus, to them a stranger, inquires about their conversation and learns why they are so downcast. “We had hoped…,” they said. One commentator identifies these words as the three saddest words in scripture, and in our lives. “We had hoped….” They had hoped that Jesus would redeem Israel. But he is dead, there has been no rebellion and Rome is still in control of their homeland. They had made a big mistake, it seems, in thinking Jesus was the one, the Messiah.
Oh, but not so … the stranger implies … and here’s why; then Jesus spells it all out, re-telling the story and connecting it all to himself. Their depression must have been lifted with every word.
There are a number of details I cherish about this story, one of which how Jesus comes along side these disciples in the midst of their suffering. Being someone who has always “worked things out” on long walks, either ruminating alone or talking with a friend, I can easily imagine this scene. It probably took them about two hours to walk seven miles, just long enough to be heard and to listen. But, first they were heard.
“Few things are more painful than dashed hopes,” writes Dr. David Lose, “And so before Jesus interprets Scripture, before he breaks bread, he does two things. He comes along side these forlorn disciples and he ask them to name their loss. Individuals and congregations who want to be faithful to the pattern set by their Lord will do likewise. Before we talk, before we explain, before we invite, we come along side and listen.” (2)
Often, that’s the most important thing we can do when people are suffering. As I’ve contemplated the decision of the Grand Jury not to bring criminal charges against the police in Jayland Walker’s death, I’ve wondered what is truly the best way to be Jesus in the midst of so much pain. It’s pain the permeates the lives of people on every side of the tragedy.
I read in Wednesday’s paper a comment from the Walker’s pastor, “Our hearts are hurting. Yeah, our hearts are heavy. They’re (the family) broken into pieces. It’s a sad, sad day….” I hurt for them. But I also know that the police officers and the citizens who served on the Grand Jury as also struggling.
So…perhaps, foremost, before doing anything else, I need to listen and strive to understand – to come along side. That’s especially true if, while I empathize, I have not personally experienced such pain.
In today’s scripture account, writes Dr. Lose, the disciples are hurting because they misunderstood God’s work in Jesus. Their pain and grief are real. And the first thing Jesus does is invite them to name it so that there is now room to be surprised when God shows up where they least expect God to be. (3)
In this case that happens when Jesus was revealed to them in the breaking of the bread. Cleopas and his companion have reached their destination, and the stranger is continuing on his way. Something compels them to strongly urge him to stay; his presence and words have so impacted them. What happened next is so familiar, “When he was at the table with them, he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.” When Jesus fed the crowds … when they gathered for that final meal together… the same description is used, Jesus takes, thanks, breaks and gives the bread.
I imagine that as Jesus handed each one the bread, it was as if a veil was lifted from their eyes and they knew instantly, but before they could cry out, “Jesus!”, he was gone. Their hearts burned; I think with the warmth of understanding and being understood.
Well, friends, it is a beautiful story that can speak to us whatever road we are on, whether it feels as if we’re walking 7 miles or 70. It’s message is clear, whether we see Jesus with us, listening to us, strengthening us, comforting us, or fail to recognize him. Jesus is alive and he will walk the distance with us in our pain, and, also, through us, Jesus will walk the distance with those who suffer. It may be a rocky road, it’s true, but through him dashed hopes and broken hearts can become hearts that burn with hope. AMEN
- “The Road to Emmaus: When You Can’t See Jesus” by Jonathan Roming, April 28, 2019, Cornerstone Congregational Church, www.cornerstonewestford.com
- “Easter 3A: Dashed Hopes and Surprising Grace” by David Lose, April 24, 2017, www.davidlose.net
- Same as #2