Our expectation is that Easter is supposed to make some kind of difference. We say that. We sing that.
We say “because he lives, we shall live also!”
We say that because of the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead, death itself has lost its sting. We say that because Jesus has stepped forth from the tomb, so also can we dare to step out into the fray life, unafraid of the future. We say that we can confidently be witnesses for God holds the future and Jesus goes ever before us into all the corners of the world. What have we to fear?
We sing, “Now all the vault of heaven resounds!” and “Alleluias!” and the hallways and walls of this building echo with “He is Risen” and Songs of Triumph, victory and joy, as well they should. This is the Day of Resurrection, every Sunday is a feast of the Resurrection.
But we say these words and sing these songs fully aware that there is another reality to Easter.
In the characters of Cleopas and the other disciple who is unnamed, making their way from Jerusalem to Emmaus we have our own spokespersons. Their words are our words. These are the words spoken in the midst of the “He is Risen” and the songs.
“But we had hoped…we had hoped.”
These are sad words. They are words that are filled with puzzlement, confusion, and maybe a hint of despair. These are the words that we find coming out of our mouths when the diagnosis is grim, or the treatment does not do what was expected.
“We had hoped it wouldn’t be cancer…”
“We had hoped the surgery would take care of it…”
“We had hoped.”
These are the words that signal a need to discern and figure out what comes next. The way is unclear all at once. The hopes that had been are now all dashed. The orderly progression, the new possibility, the expected or anticipated outcome are no more.
What to do with the “we had hoped…when it is voiced?”
In the story as it unfolds on that walk to Emmaus, we the readers know something that Cleopas and his companion do not know. We know that Jesus has come near. Their eyes are kept from recognizing him, we don’t know how or why. Maybe in the midst of their mumbling to each other and grief they didn’t bother to look that closely.
Maybe there is something about the Resurrection body that makes it hard to recognize Jesus.
Maybe, although they are identified as disciples, as followers, they just never got that close a look at Jesus. One of the crowd who welcomed Jesus with palm branches when he entered Jerusalem, or from a distance as he preached on the mount or from the boat on the Sea of Galilee. We don’t know.
But we do know what Cleopas and his companion can’t see yet, which is that Jesus has come near. We get to watch as Jesus in a sense “plays” them.
“What are you discussing with each other?” he asks.
“Are you the only stranger who does not know?” they respond indignantly, and then proceed to tell Jesus the whole story. It’s all there! Easter! The witness of the women, the empty tomb, the disciples checking it out! The whole Easter story is there, but they don’t know what to make of it. Despite knowing the story, despite hearing it, they are still trying to figure out what it means for them, because you see, “we had hoped…..”
“We had hoped….” And, whatever it was we had hoped for, this wasn’t it. Messiah coming was supposed to set the world right, end the Roman occupation, bring peace and prosperity, and we’re just not seeing it. In fact, they can’t see Jesus walking right along with them because of all that they had hoped for.
I wonder if that is the case with us as well.
Oh, there are so many things that we hope for. We had hoped the budget would be met. We had hoped giving would be better. We had hoped that church would be like this, that people would be like that, that politics wouldn’t intrude in our sacred space here.
We had hoped that the new job to come to us.
We had hoped for an end to payday lending injustice.
We had hoped that politicians would do the right thing, that money would not influence elections, that our representatives would truly be our representatives.
When you get down to it, we had hoped that a lot of things would be different after Easter. As if Easter was some kind of “magic spell” that was supposed to sweep over the world. As if death died so easily. As if oppression knuckled under with a single blow.
We still somehow think that Easter is all about the triumph and the song, and we expect somehow that Jesus rising from the dead is magic.
It is not.
Instead, what Emmaus shows us is that resurrection is about the journey, and the task of discerning, and the questions that are asked along the way, and maybe most importantly, it is about with whom you take that journey.
Cleopas and his companion cannot recognize Jesus for all their disappointed hopes. At least they are still talking, but they are leaving a whole bunch of other disciples back in Jerusalem. They are walking away from the community. They are choosing to take off on their own to see where the road will take them.
Despite knowing the whole story, and what has happened back there, and the command to go to Galilee where you will see him…. They are on their way to Emmaus… not the direction that was indicated at all!
Is that the way it is for us?
Do we miss all the resurrection power at work in this place and among us because our own hopes and expectations cloud our eyes to them and we end up going in the wrong direction, the direction other than Jesus had in mind? The direction that leads us away from community?
We had hoped that the Master Planning would be further along.
We had hoped that the work of the nominating committee would have been easier.
We had hoped to have the Audit completed…
We had hoped that every picture directory would be picked up by now…
We have so many hopes.
We had hoped there would be more interest in pantry volunteers, more ReStart participation, more kids in Sunday School, more new members, fewer hurt feelings, less arrogance, more tolerance, and a whole bunch of things that we hope for and expect of church.
And I wonder if all of those “we had hoped…” keeps us from seeing Jesus in our midst, walking along with us all along.
I wonder if all of our “We had hoped… keeps us from focusing on the very thing central to the Easter promise, and what Jesus promised from the beginning, which is his own presence in and among us in the breaking of bread, and in the midst of our conversations.
That is what opens the door to figuring out what Easter is all about and what the Risen Lord means for Cleopas and his travel companion.
It is when they set aside all their disappointed hopes and attend to hospitality that their eyes are opened.
In the invitation to set aside the all the disappointed hopes and to just attend to the necessities of hospitality, of caring for this stranger, and inviting him to join them without expectation, their eyes are opened at last, and they could see that it was Jesus with them all along.
Perhaps this is what God calls us to do today as well; to let go of all the the “We had hoped….” and to attend to the matter of relationships, how we care for one another and most importantly the stranger, the one who walks into our midst.
Easter is supposed to make a difference, and it does, but not the one we were anticipating. It does not signal Jesus doing everything for us. He has already done that in the cross.
No, the difference that Easter makes is what it calls us to do for the sake of one another. To let go of the “We had hoped..” and to attend at last to the things that make us God’s people. Attending to the scripture, and the breaking of bread, and choosing how we treat each other over what we hope to see done.