“But we had hoped.”
It’s weird how appropriate those words the disciples said on that road to Emmaus are for us today. “But we had hoped.” We had hoped we could be back to church by Easter. We had hoped businesses could start opening back up again. We had hoped the summer heat would solve the problem. We had hoped schools would resume in-person teaching before summer. We had hoped life could get back to how it was.
In a season as joyful as Easter, it can be tempting to paper over any lingering sadness or disappointment. Jesus is risen, after all! Hallelujah! He’s burst the bonds of death and opened the floodgates of mercy and love onto an aching and tired world! God has reconciled us to one another and to God! What better news could we have than that? But even so, I felt drawn to these four words of the disciples this week—“but we had hoped.”
Christ is risen! Alleluia!
I have been waiting so long to say that! I’ve always loved Easter. I know that’s a very pastor-y thing to say, but it’s true. Easter has always been one of those perfect kind of days, where all the gloom and sadness of Lent gets thrown off all at once, and we have the big pipe organ hymns with the brass, there are Easter lilies and white paraments, everyone gathers with their families for traditions like Easter egg hunts or a ham dinner. And it feels a lot different this year.
We can’t meet in person, and so much of what makes Easter such a holy day feels like it doesn’t get to happen. We’re social distancing so all those wonderful traditions we have as a family are going to be put on hold. Even the way we get dressed up in our Easter best is being disrupted—I’m pretty sure most of y’all are watching this in your pajamas. And I think it can be tempting to think Easter is somehow less than because we don’t get all those things.
A lot can happen in the course of a week. We’ve probably all had weeks like that, where the place we started looked nothing like the way the week ended. Sometimes it’s for the better, when everything goes our way and the weekend feels bright and optimistic. And sometimes a week that starts off well enough makes a hard left turn for the worst. We can all probably think of a certain week where exactly that happened not too long ago.
It feels particularly important, then, that it’s just that kind of week—one where things go suddenly off course—that tells us the most important things about God. We heard how Jesus was celebrated in a huge parade, complete with a donkey to ride on and palm branches littering his path. Matthew describes the crowd as “the greatest crowd,” the biggest Jerusalem had ever seen. The whole city was in an uproar about Jesus showing up as pilgrims across the Jewish world, there for the Passover, were curious about who was being hailed as the Messiah.
This is one of the few passages from Ezekiel that most of us have ever heard. It’s the story of the prophet being taken in a vision to a valley filled with dry, long-dead bones. It’s a story of God’s promised hope of resurrection, of Israel being restored, and the inspiration for the hit classic “Dem Bones.” But like any time we hear only one part of a book as big as Ezekiel, it’s always helpful to know what’s going on around it.
Ezekiel got this vision after a huge disaster—actually the biggest disaster imaginable—had happened in Judah. Jerusalem had fallen to the Babylonians, the Temple was burned to the ground, and the whole population was deported to Babylon, where Ezekiel was living. Four hundred fifty years of the Davidic monarchy came crashing to an end. The people’s whole world had been turned upside down. The way they were used to living was upended, undone, caput in an instant. Suddenly they had to adapt to a completely new way of living in a completely unfamiliar place.