Disappointment & Hope

Luke 24:13-35

Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him. He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?” “What things?” he asked. “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

I’ve always loved this text and as I’ve shared before, it’s probably one of my favorite Biblical stories. There is so much to see and imagine, and focus on in this story – but today …. Just two phrases stand out to me:

1.  We had hoped…. (verse 21) / 望をかけていました、、、

For three years they had walked with Jesus, seen his miracles, listened to his teachings, BELIEVED that he was the long-awaited Messiah who would free them and Israel… They had hoped…. And now that hope was gone – LOST!

Close your eyes and imagine with me:

  • A dream that you used to have, but had to give up along the way
  • Hopes that you once held, but have given up on
  • Plans that you carefully made, that never happened, and will never happen.
  • A loved-one lost…. forever…
  • Can you remember some of the feeling of loss?
  • Do you still feel that loss?
  • It’s the opposite of Hollywood movies…. or of what we tell our kids:  “you can do anything you want – you can be anyone you want – if you believe or just work hard enough. Never give up!”
  • But we had to give up. Circumstances changed, life happened, we got old and our bodies wore out… or our dreams were no longer practical or possible. We had hoped!

Can you now imagine how these two disciples were feeling?

The second phrase that I wish to look at together this morning comes in verse 32:

2.  Were not our hearts burning within us? / 心はうちに燃えていたではないか、、、

In the very middle of their sadness and sense of loss, Jesus joins them on the way. They’re busy discussing the events of the past days and weeks. They don’t recognize Jesus. Eventually, Jesus begins to share with them everything that scripture had to say about the Christ, the Messiah. They reach Emmaus and convince Jesus to stay the night. After Jesus breaks bread, and they recognize him, he disappears. They think back on their discussion on the road – “were not our hearts burning within us??”  “Did you feel it too??” 

When they think back on that walk with Jesus, they can’t really explain it but they can’t deny that they felt something hopeful deep inside. They hadn’t recognized it at the time. But now they see that it was a kind of excitement… a burning. And what had been just a burning and excited heart – was now the incredible joy and belief that in fact, Jesus was alive!

Close your eyes now and imagine with me:

  • A time when you couldn’t really explain it, but you felt excited and hopeful.
  • Maybe a job opportunity? Maybe a plan for something new?
  • Maybe a sense that something good was coming your way?
  • Maybe an actual time when God gave you a very special sense of peace and hope… even in the midst of a crisis?

These moments don’t necessarily come often in our lifetime – but most of us have experienced this feeling at least a few times.

Our story today moves from complete disappointment and loss of hope to a burning heart and a joyful belief. Both of them are real, and both of them are necessary. Resurrection doesn’t make sense unless there is real death. Experiencing death – whether losing a loved one, or the death of a dream – is the gateway to truly understanding resurrection.

Where are you today?   Are you experiencing the “we had hoped” emotion? Or… perhaps you’re feeling more like “were not our hearts burning within us?” Disappointment…or hope? Sometimes I can feel both of them in a single day!

Remember, that it is at the very moment of our deepest despair, our greatest loss of hope, that, in fact, resurrection becomes possible. It becomes possible when the risen Christ joins us…. and begins walking with us. Do you sense it? Can you recognize him? Maybe not at first. But you may look back and realize – YES! Jesus was walking with me. I DID feel a burning and new hope and excitement in my heart.

As a church, as the Japanese Congregational Church (with a history of almost 115 years), I know that we have often felt disappointment – “we had hoped!”. Things didn’t turn out as we had planned. Hoped for stability and growth have instead become shrinking membership and a smaller impact on our neighborhood. And yet… and this is the important part!….when we look back over all of our years and decades, we see that the risen Christ has been continually walking with us. A sense of hope – “were not our hearts burning within us?” has also been part of our JCC experience. Disappointment? Sure. But more profoundly, an inexplicable rebirthing of hope within us.

As a missionary serving in Japan for over 30 years I can say the same thing. In looking back, it’s sometimes hard not to be overwhelmed by the disappointment that we’ve experienced. So many plans, so many dreams, so much work that apparently had so few results….at least that we can easily see and measure. Personal loss and pain that we had NOT planned for or expected. And yet, the constant presence of the risen Christ walking alongside us! The continual promise of new hope and resurrection.

As we share the good news of this resurrection – that Jesus is alive – and seeking a relationship with us – let’s never forget that many people around us are still experiencing hopelessness (We had hoped…).

Because we, too, understand complete hopelessness – we will be able to point them to the resurrected Jesus. To let them know that Jesus is walking with them, too. And that Christ in our lives is really the basis for our hope!

(the above is a summary of the message shared during our zoom worship session on April 18, 2021.)