Easter 3 A: Dashed Hopes and Surprising Grace

Luke 24:13-35

Dear Partner in Preaching,

Notice that it’s a road. Not an upper room or garden or mountain top or any of the other places we expect revelation to take place. It’s a road. And it’s not a pronouncement or discourse, but a conversation.

I think these details are important. Sometimes, it’s enough just to see Jesus, or to hear of his resurrection, or to be promised his presence.

And sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it takes longer. Sometimes the move from doubt, fear, and grief to faith, hope, and love takes both the time it takes to walk from one town to another and the opportunity for an open and honest conversation.

Can our congregations be places where that happens? Where there is time to mull over what we’ve heard? Where we can talk over life experience in the light of faith? Where we can be honest about our disappointments and grief? Where we sense the grace and patience to bear with and explore each other’s questions?

If so, we’ll need to start by creating room to voice what may be the three saddest words in Scripture…or in our lives. “We had hoped….”

In this case, it’s “we had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel.” In ours it might be, “we had hoped our child would recover,” or “this job would last,” or “for a better relationship” or “that the cancer would go into remission” or “our church would grow.”

Few things are more painful than dashed hopes. And so before Jesus interprets Scripture, before he breaks bread, he does two things. He comes along side these forlorn disciples and he asks 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 we listen.

Naming our pain, our grief, our loss are essential ingredients to moving beyond them. Not, I think, erasing them or even leaving them fully behind, but transcending them so that they are no longer what defines us. Naming our pain, that is, creates room to be surprised.

The disciples are disappointed in part because they fundamentally misunderstood how God was working to save the world. Expecting a God of power, they got one of vulnerability. Expecting a warrior God, they got a suffering servant. And while it might be tempting to chide them for their lack of understanding, I think it’s important to recognize that pretty much everything they had experienced or been taught thus far made it impossible for them to imagine God’s work in Jesus. Seen this way, Jesus’ words about hearts as foolish as they are slow to understand are less rebuke, I think, than lament, grief at the pain they suffer.

To put it another way, while the disciples may be disappointed because they misunderstand God’s work, 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 by God’s decision to show up just where they least expect God to be.

That still happens. When we name our grief, pain, disappointment, and fear in the safety of the community of faith and with the assurance of grace, we find these things have less of a hold on us and discover room to be surprised, once again, by God’s presence, love, and promises.

Perhaps that’s our task this week, Dear Partner: taking a cue from our Lord, perhaps we may ask our folks to name “what things” they are grieving, fearing, suffering – naming these things as real and understandable and lamentable – in order to escape the fear that these things are the only reality, and in this way to make room to be surprised by God’s patient and loving embrace.

Perhaps we might press the “confession” to serve this cause. That is, while we normally think of the confession as the time to name “the bad things we’ve done,” perhaps this week we can use this part of the service to confess all the difficult elements of our lives, not expecting the absolution to erase them but rather to allow God’s promise of grace and forgiveness and acceptance to make room for a new reality, for something we had not expected and can scarce believe because it is so beautiful. Perhaps, that is, we can help our folks move from the dashed hopes of the early part of the story to the burning hearts of the end.

As we do this, we might remind our people that it’s a road they’re on. And while some may need only walk seven miles, others may feel that it’s more like seventy or even 700. That’s okay, Jesus will walk that distance with them, and so will we. And tell them, too, that it’s a conversation. They are not alone. They can bring their hopes – dashed or still growing – and their questions – spoken or still lingering in the depths of the heart – and this community will not just welcome them, but cherish them.

Dashed hopes to burning hearts. Confession to Lord’s Supper. Disappointment to joy. This is the movement of the Christian faith and experience because it is, finally, the movement from cross to empty tomb and from death to life. The road is before us. Jesus walks with us. Thank you for inviting us to start the journey this Sunday. Your work, your words… these things matter, Dear Partner, and I am grateful for the room you will create this week for us to name “those things” troubling us so that we may be surprised once again by God’s incredible grace. Blessings on your proclamation.

Yours in Christ,