It takes, depending on how fast you walk, around two hours to travel the 7 miles between Jerusalem and Emmaus. For Cleopas and the other disciple these were probably the most difficult two hours. The disciples had lost every that they’d been working for. Keep in mind this is the evening of the first day. Jesus died just three days ago. The women have come and shared the perplexing news that Jesus is not in the tomb and some angelic figures told the women of their group that he is indeed alive. But they aren’t sure whether or not to believe them. With heavy hearts they head to Emmaus sometimes in silence, sometimes talking trying desperately to understand all that has happened. Between the silences they tell stories about Jesus. “Do you remember when healed the blind man... ” “ I can still see his face...” “I remember how it felt in that boat battered by the waves... ”
As they were telling these stories, they meet a stranger on the road. The stranger asks them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” (Luke 24:17) And the two are amazed. He must be the only one in all of Jerusalem that does not know what happened. So they explain about Jesus and his death and what the women had said about Jesus being alive and how they hadn’t seen him. They said to Jesus, “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” (Luke 24:21)
“But we had hoped...” We understand the pain that comes with those words, can’t we? But we had hoped she would get better. But we had hoped this move would make a difference. But we had hoped he’d get a new job. But we had hoped the cancer wouldn’t come back. But we had hoped the counsellor would help us. But we had hoped we would get good jobs in this new country. But we had hoped...
The lists of life’s disappointments are many. I’m guessing that most of us could complete the phrase “But I had hoped....” with our own lost hopes and disappointments. Life does not always work out as we expect it will. Life throws us curve balls and sometimes, just like the disciples, we need to find a way to gain some perspective.
When I need perspective I go for a long walk or to the gym or just sit in silence, in prayer hoping for some new insight. Most times I go for a walk and while I walk I listen to the radio. Last year I listened to Jian Ghomeshi interview the poet, writer, activist Maya Angelou. She has perspective. Maya Angelou was recently awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She eloquently spoke about how she felt to be awarded this medal. She said that she accepted this honour on behalf of the African Americans who travelled in terrible conditions on slave ships, of those who suffer the indignity of poverty, of native Americans, of immigrants and all who came to the America as she said, “Traveling on a nightmare, praying for a dream.” (CBC Radio, Q)
“Traveling on a nightmare, praying for a dream.” That’s where the disciples found themselves. Since Friday they’d been traveling on a nightmare. They had lost sight of hope and couldn’t find a dream to pray for. They had given up everything to follow Jesus and now he was dead and along with that all their hopes. They were living in constant fear of persecution. They killed Jesus would they be next? But they were also praying for a dream. They knew the tomb was empty – the women had told them all about it. Could it be true?
“But we had hoped...” they said to Jesus who meets them in their pain and confusion. He walks with them. He listens to their story. Then Jesus interprets scripture for them beginning with Moses. That seven miles flies by – their hearts burning within them. Not wanting to part with this stranger, they plead with him saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is nearly over.” (Luke 24:29) The two found something in this stranger and that want more of it. They urge him to stay.
Jesus agrees. He sits at the table with them surrounded by the food of everyday life bread and wine. Jesus takes the bread, blesses it and breaks it, and gives it to them. In that moment, their eyes are opened, and they see Jesus for the first time since their journey began. He is risen! All the pain that came with confessing “But we had hoped he was he one...” Luke 24:21) gone. With the sorrow and confusion lifted, the two fly back to Jerusalem to share the good news with the disciples.
The same is true for us. When we find ourselves lost and confused, when we’re “traveling on a nightmare,” when the words “but I had hoped” are continually on lips, Jesus meets us on the road, Jesus finds us where we are and stays with us. That is the promise of faith. Faith does not provide us with miracle cures or instant fixes to life’s problems. The promise of faith is that we won’t be alone as we do. The promise of faith is that there is always reason to hope. The promise of faith is that new life always has the final word. With Jesus at our side the hard stuff becomes easier to face.
The journey each one of takes through the days, weeks, months and years of our lives are filled with ups and downs, twists and turns but it begins with one step in faith. In the journey of life there is always reason to hope because the blessed stranger, Jesus, meets us on the road of life reminding us, in the words of our creed: “We are not alone we live in God’s world. Thanks be to God” Amen.