May 4, 2014
In David Lose's most recent weekly column for WorkingPreacher, he shared an anecdote about Ernest Hemmingway. Hemmingway was once challenged to write a story in six words. Supposedly he wrote this response to the challenge on a napkin, "For sale. Baby shoes. Never used." Think about those six words for a moment. Think about what they imply. It doesn't take much imagination to envision the different scenarios that would bring about that particular for sale ad. Regardless of the back story we could construct, there is one certainty from Hemmingway's brief but powerful little story; a future that someone imagined and dreamed about was lost. Someone's hope had died. “For sale. Baby shoes. Never used."
With everything that is happening in this story about two unknown disciples walking the road to Emmaus, unique to Luke's gospel, it's easy to miss or quickly skip over three little words found in verse 21; we had hoped. Yet I think those three words tell an even more poignant story than the six that Hemmingway used. "But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel." We had hoped.
We hear these words from two disciples, one unnamed and one named Cleopas, who were walking toward Emmaus, a town about seven miles away from Jerusalem. As they walked, they were discussing the terrible events that had happened in the city. A stranger joined them on the road, and asked them about their conversation. The two disciples were sad and surprised at this stranger's seeming cluelessness. Obviously he was the only person who didn't know about the terrible events that had taken place in Jerusalem over the last few days, so they filled him in. They told the stranger about the way their religious leaders, the chief priests and authorities, had handed over their beloved teacher Jesus to the Romans. The two disciples shared with the unexpected traveling companion how this same rabbi was put through a mockery of a trial, was beaten and cursed, then was crucified and left to die on a criminal's cross. Then these disciples, who we have never met before and will never meet again, uttered those three words that cut to the heart of their grief and the heart of this story. We had hoped.
We had hoped. I did some brushing up on my grammar, specifically the tenses, to dig into these three words. Grammatically, this sentence is written and spoken in the past perfect tense. I know that I have some die-hard grammar folks who will both hear and read this sermon. I realize I could get even more specific about the past perfect tense. But for the purposes of this sermon, the simplest definition is that past perfect tense describes an action that was completed before another one took place. We had hoped that he was the Messiah, the one to redeem Israel, but he must not have been. We had hoped that Jesus would change everything, but he didn't. We had hoped that he truly was the Son of God and that all of this talk about death was a mistake, but it wasn't. He died anyway. We had hoped, but Jesus died anyway.
The two disciples knew the story the women told all of the disciples. They went to the tomb, found it empty, but saw a vision of angels. The angels reassured them that Jesus had risen. He was alive. The other disciples checked out the tomb as well, but they received no vision. Consequently, the disciples dismissed the women's story as "an idle tale.”
As far as these disciples could see or understand, everything was lost. Their dreams and belief that God would rescue them, that God's long-promised Messiah would free them from occupation -- those dreams were dead, done. Jesus died and so did their hope. We had hoped.
We had hoped. It is easy to skip over these words. It is easy to breeze past what they convey. I know that as many times as I've read and preached this story, I haven't given those three words much attention. But I think that moving past them too quickly is not only problematic, it reflects what we too often do in our daily lives. We want to move past our broken hearts, our grief. We need to get over it, move on, pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and get back to life. We express those sentiments to others. We tell them to ourselves. Yet, I don't think there is any way that we can get around the fact that the disciples have broken hearts. Their hopes and their dreams for a different outcome for Israel have been disappointed. They have broken hearts. They had hoped.
Even though we may attempt to ignore or quickly dismiss them, we too have broken hearts. We too have hopes that aren't realized. How many times have we heard someone say as they leave a funeral, “we had hoped that she would recover?” Or, we had hoped to make it to another anniversary. We had hoped that he would move past the depression. We had hoped that this time the rehab would work. We had hoped that he would have found a job by now. We had hoped that we would have been able to have children. We had hoped that our child would live to adulthood. We had hoped. We had hoped. We had hoped.
There is no age limit for loss or broken hearts or disappointed hopes. None of us are immune. The only way to move through life without a broken heart or a dead dream is to live without love or relationship. That's not living, though is it? So it seems to me that every one of us comes here today with some lost hope. Every one of us is here with a disappointment. Every one of us sitting in this sanctuary could probably tell a story that begins with the words, "We had hoped."
But I think we have this idea that because we have faith, we should never utter those three words. If we are faithful, we have no business saying, "We had hoped." We are the ones who are in the hope business. We do hope. We are hoping. We hope and will continue to do so until hope is no longer needed. That's what we must declare. Admitting, "we had hoped," seems unfaithful. After all, it seems that even Jesus chides them for speaking those words aloud. "Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!"
But was Jesus admonishing them for having broken hearts? Or was it more about hearts and minds that were closed to the truth of the resurrection that had been declared to them. I realize that this is a clichéd and hackneyed expression, but when Jesus met them on that road to Emmaus, he met them where they were. He met them and walked with them, broken hearts, disappointed hopes, and all. He opened the scriptures to them, reminding them that there was more to God at work in the world than they could see. He taught them about all the promises that had been made about the Messiah that were now fulfilled. He met them so that their broken hearts could become burning ones.
It seems to me that this is the essence of the resurrection. It is about new life, yes. It is about love conquering even the seeming finality of death. It is atonement and absolution, forgiveness and new creation. But at the very heart of this, it is about broken hearts becoming burning ones. As I said a few weeks ago, Easter, the resurrection, isn't about magic. It doesn't happen so that everything was perfect, is perfect and will be perfect. It doesn't eradicate the messiness that comes with life and love and loss. But the love of God in Christ, the love that was willing to go to the cross, the love that imbues creation and refuses to give up on us in spite of ourselves; that love binds up our broken hearts. God's love for us in Christ takes seriously our disappointments and our lost hopes, but it reassures us that there is more than we can see or understand. There is much, much more.
Jesus met those disciples on the road to Emmaus, and he met them at their most broken-hearted moment. Isn't that where he meets us as well? He binds up our broken hearts so that they can become burning ones.
Jesus meets them and us in our broken places, in the ashes of our hopes and disappointments. It was only in the breaking of the bread that the disciples finally see him. Their eyes were opened and they recognized him. So, too, for us. In a few minutes, we will gather for a meal. In a few minutes you will hear these words repeated in preparation for our meal. When you do, look around you and see the risen Lord; recognize that Love Incarnate in the faces of everyone around you. Know that our broken hearts are being bound up so that they may become burning ones. Let all God's children say, "Alleluia!" Amen.