“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.”
Cleopas and the other disciple were in the midst of disappointment, after all. They’d invested a lot in Jesus. They saw in him and his ministry all their hopes for a restored and righteous Israel, a king who would kick out the hated Romans, humble the self-righteous Jewish leaders, lift up the poor and lowly, and enact God’s own kingdom on earth. And then the events of Holy Week happened. Jesus was arrested. He was taken into the governor’s headquarters. He was marched outside the city and nailed to a cross. All that hope the disciples had died with him.
And now here they are, three days later, and they’ve packed up to go home. I think the uncertainty, the disappointment, even the frustration they felt would be very familiar to us. What do we do now? How do you adjust to suddenly not getting to work, not getting to see relatives, not getting to enjoy the future you’d thought was coming? Life has gone so completely off-course from where we thought it was going, and we don’t have a roadmap for what this new future will look like.
Then came this clueless man on the road so completely oblivious to the struggles the disciples were going through that they had to spell it out, bit by bit, the enormity of how completely their teacher and leader, Jesus, had failed them. Luke, the gospel writer, gives us the highlights, but I’m certain there was a lot more the two of them said to vent out all the big feelings they were having. They’d dedicated three years of their lives to this man. They’d staked their hopes on him doing what they believed he had promised: restore Israel. And it all came to nothing in an instant. You don’t come away from that without strong opinions.
But what Jesus does in this is what fascinates me.
He listens. He lets them vent out all their frustration, all their disappointment, all of the pain and heartbreak and sadness they felt about what could have been but wasn’t. He hears out the whole story from their perspective, letting them get all their words in about what they were feeling. He doesn’t interrupt. He doesn’t cut them off. He doesn’t say, “let me stop you right there and tell you what’s really up.” He gives them all the space they need to name their reality.
How desperately do we need someone to listen to us name our frustrations? Our worries? Our disappointments in how this pandemic keeps getting longer and longer in the tooth? And how quickly do we feel shut down when we try to voice those feelings? I’ve seen it a lot online, but there is so much talking past each other going on.
When we name the fear of how we’ll keep food on the table—keeping the economy afloat—or our worries about our neighbor who owns a small business, or our friend who lives alone and hasn’t had human contact since this started, the reaction so quickly turns to vitriolic name-calling and shaming for thinking anything but staying home until this is over is acceptable.
And when we name the fear of getting sick, or getting others sick; when we voice our worries about extending the time we need to stay home by lifting the bans too early or overwhelming the healthcare system if people start going to the movies or gathering in restaurants again, the reaction quickly goes to accusations of being sheep and panicky worrywarts, willing to collapse the economy over a flu.
What if we modeled our reactions more on how Jesus reacted? After all, he knew exactly what was up. He had the bursting joy of the good news in his back pocket, ready to share it with the disciples and lift the sadness and disappointment from their hearts. But he didn’t stop them from sharing their feelings. He didn’t shame them for carrying disappointment. He let them speak their peace because he knew, better than anyone, that we as human beings need to be heard. We need to be heard and know that we’re heard before we can listen to any kind of good news.
Like the disciples, we’re grieving right now. I miss y’all. I’ll name that. We haven’t seen each other for seven weeks. Today was supposed to be Confirmation Sunday, and now we’re going to need to postpone that till the Fall. You each have your own disappointments and frustrations, worries and letdowns. And like any grief, we have to make room for it. We have to look at the dark clouds of our lives so we can process what they are.
Because the thing is, if you look at the clouds long enough, eventually they clear up, and you can see the sunny blue sky show up. Jesus has hope for us. He holds it, like a child’s present, behind his back as we grieve. He gives us space to grieve, and that is important. We need to be heard. And, when we realize we’re grieving, we also can recognize we need hope. And Jesus is ready to provide that.
Because he showed up for the disciples on the road. He walked with them and heard their truth. And then he helped them reframe their vision, to see the hope through the disappointment. He gave them the gift of the good news that breaks through the gloom and shows us that God is working to redeem the world, to make all things right, to heal the sick and feed the hungry, to release the imprisoned and lift up the oppressed. Our disappointments are real, but so is the good news we cling to.
So take the time to listen to each other’s truth. Look at those dark clouds of disappointment. Know that it is okay to be frustrated, impatient, tired, lonely, worried, angry, or sad. Jesus listens. Let’s listen too. And know on the other side of those dark clouds is a bright blue sky. We can still have hope. Jesus is with you, even if you don’t recognize him right now.
Thanks be to God. Amen.