Hope, Disappointment, and An Appointment
Hopes and dreams are the things that give this life meaning, purpose, and direction. For instance, people dream of starting a business. They pour themselves, body and soul, into the work. They lay their plans, create their product or service, hire personnel, secure a promising location, set a launch date, and begin marketing the business. They hope for success. Through a combination of hard work, long hours, and good fortune, the business succeeds, expands, and becomes profitable. Dreams and hopes are realized. Expectations are fulfilled.
Or perhaps a person longs to marry and start a family. He or she finds a compatible mate, marries, and has children. The couple works at communication, kindness, and forgiveness, at managing their finances, and raising the children to the best of their ability. In due time, the children grow up, marry, and start families of their own. The years fly by, and the couple is blessed with grandchildren, and even great grandchildren. Hopes and dreams are realized. Expectations are fulfilled.
Similar scenarios of success can be imagined for almost every dimension of human life from individual self-help projects to national politics. As I said at the outset, hopes and dreams give meaning, purpose, and direction to our lives.
But the opposite is also true. Hopes and dreams that fail lead to disappointment, dejection, and even despair. Take the examples of starting a business or a family. A person establishes a successful business, but a series of unfortunate and unforeseeable events causes it to fail. I think of the people who poured their lives into their small business, and then the pandemic struck, forcing them to close shop. In some cases where the business was in a large city, the pandemic was followed by riots, looting, and arson. As a result, the entrepreneurs lost everything. Their hopes and dreams were literally destroyed. A similar scenario might be envisioned for a family. Because of poor communication, a lack of kindness and forgiveness, financial pressures, and problematic children, a family can implode and break apart. A business or a family can fail to realize its hopes and dreams leading to dejection, despondency, and despair.
Cleopas and the other unnamed follower of Jesus were in the throes of failed hopes, dreams, and expectations. They had followed Jesus to Jerusalem to observe the Passover. They were most likely in the crowd that spread their cloaks on the road before Jesus and hailed him as the coming king with their joyful praise.
But all their hopes, dreams, and expectations came crashing down around them when Jesus was betrayed, falsely tried, tortured, and executed by the Romans. Now the two were returning to their village, Emmaus. What else was left to do?
When a fellow traveler approached them and inquired about what they were passionately discussing, they stood still looking sad and replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see him” (vs. 19b-24).
Verse 21 distills all their anguish. “We had hoped that Jesus was the one to redeem Israel,” but we were wrong. No doubt their hopes and dreams were both political and religious in nature. They expected God to unleash the angel armies of heaven to crush the hated Romans, depose evil King Herod, and establish Jesus as the true king of Israel. They expected God’s kingdom to come and God's will to be done on earth. Instead, evil triumphed yet again.
Their deep disappointment might have caused them to miss an unexpected appointment but for the steadfast love of God. The fellow traveler asked them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” Cleopas responded, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” (vs. 18b). Essentially, Cleopas suggested that the man was a clueless idiot! Notice Cleopas also called the man a stranger. The Greek word Luke uses is paroikos. Oikos is the Greek word for "house." Literally the word is translated "outside the house.” It means an immigrant or a foreigner. Cleopas was saying to the man, “You are an outsider. You are not one of us.”
But the stranger was not rebuffed by Cleopas’ insulting words. Instead, he further inquired, “What things?” Indeed, the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. God’s mercies never come to an end. The story is dripping with irony because the stranger, of course, is none other than the risen Christ.
God kept Cleopas and the other disciples from recognizing Jesus on the road. Apparently, they were not ready to receive a sudden visitation from the risen Lord, or God had a larger purpose at work. The risen Jesus bore with their frailty. After the two rehearsed all that had transpired in Jerusalem, including the idle talk of the women who discovered Jesus’ empty tomb, Jesus returned the favor of their disparaging response to his inquiry. “Oh, how foolish you are, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared” (vs. 25).
Thankfully, Jesus does not end speaking with a rebuke. Suddenly the stranger becomes the teacher. “'Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?' Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures” (vs. 26-27). How I wish I could have listened to Jesus expound the scriptures for their benefit!
In addition, Jesus gave Cleopas and his companion the opportunity to exercise the gift of hospitality. “As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, 'Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.' So he went in to stay with them" (vs. 28-29).
Jesus accepted their invitation. He shared a meal with them, and when he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them, the veil that obscured their vision was lifted, and they recognized the risen Christ seated before them! They must have been startled and not a little embarrassed. Jesus’ manifest presence lasted only a moment. He vanished from before their eyes. Still, a momentary glimpse of the risen Christ was more than enough. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” (vs. 32). Now they understood.
Their enlightenment sent them back to Jerusalem from whence they had come. This was where they were supposed to be, waiting with the eleven, the women, and the others. In Jerusalem, reunited with their brothers and sisters, they discovered that Jesus had risen indeed and had appeared to Simon Peter. Then they revealed to the others their own experience of the risen Christ.
To harken back to Easter Sunday’s sermon, the absent God was revealing the divine self as still present. Although Jesus had disappeared again, new hopes and dreams and expectations flooded their burning hearts with excitement and joy that totally transformed them from dejected travelers to empowered followers of the risen Christ.
This is a powerful story filled with pathos and possibilities for disciples of Jesus Christ in every age. The ways that the risen Christ was present with and revealed to Cleopas and his unnamed companion are the same ways the risen Jesus is present and revealed to us.
Jesus does not thrust himself upon us, but he does travel alongside of us through all of life’s wonderful highs and terrible lows. If we can discern his still small voice, we will hear him asking us, “What are you discussing with each other?” What are you focused on? What are your hopes and dreams and expectations? What is crushing you with dejection, disappointment, and despair? And if we open ourselves to his gentle inquiries, we will discover that He really is the way, the truth, and the life. Jesus will come to us and teach from the holy scriptures and commune with us through the Holy Spirit.
Although the risen Christ is without limitations, one of the places, perhaps the primary place, where he comes to us is in the church which is his earthly body. When we gather to break bread together, when we search the scriptures together looking for Jesus, when we gather to worship the risen Christ, when we listen to God’s written word read and proclaimed, when we celebrate the joyful feast of the people of God in the Lord’s Supper, then Jesus Christ, crucified, dead, and buried for our sin and risen from the dead for our mortality, is present and accessible to us. We are not left with only the distant memory of his resurrection appearances long ago.
Today the risen Christ is among us. Today he inquires after our welfare. Today he opens the scriptures to disclose all the things about his suffering and glory contained therein. Today he stands at the door of our beings knocking, and if we open ourselves to him, he will come into us and commune with us.
So today I ask you, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along? What are you focused on? What are your hopes and dreams and expectations? What are the causes of your dejection, disappointment and despair?” I tell you: you have an appointment with the risen Christ. Do not miss it! In him all the hopes and fears of all the years find their focal point and resolution. Today our hearts can burn within us with the fire of the risen Christ.
So let us return again and again to Jerusalem, to the church which is Christ’s earthly body, that united with our brothers and sisters in Christ, our eyes may be opened to recognize Jesus in our midst.
The risen Lord will surely use us to come alongside of others as they walk slowly and hopelessly through this vale of tears. Through us, the risen Christ will disclose himself to them, and the slow footsteps of despair will become the hasty and hopefully running of the race of faith in the resurrected Son of God.
O Lord, make it so for us and for all!
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen.