“We had hoped he was the one.” “We had hoped.”
Our Gospel story begins in dejection.
Clopas and his companion had seen sorrow all their days.
The nameless disciple is probably nameless because she was a woman.
It wasn’t the greatest time and place especially for women.
She and Clopas lived in a poor country where life was short and hard.
Their ancestors had been a great empire,
but the empire feuded, then split,
and in its weakened state, it was conquered.
10 of Israel’s 12 tribes had been deported and scattered,
The remaining two were overrun by Assyrians,
then Babylonians, then Persians,
then Greeks, and finally Rome.
They were a defeated, disgraced people,
living under foreign rule, which respected
neither their culture nor their God.
Then along came Jesus and gave them hope.
They had hoped Jesus would drive out the Romans
and restore the independent kingdom of David,
that he would feed all the hungry, heal all the sick, cast out all the demons.
“We had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel,” they said.
“We had hoped.” A poignant past perfect tense.
Then came Good Friday.
The bloody humiliation of their hero
showed how wrong they had been,
how foolish to have hoped
that things could be different.
The world is as it is.
They were as they were.
Hope dashed and discarded.
They walked back home as the sun was going down.
Maybe you know how they felt.
We may not live in a conquered nation.
But we know that life is often disappointing to say the least.
We know full well what Coleridge meant by
“the tears in the nature of things.”
So many of us have at one time or another
found some kind of deliverance.
It may have been a relationship with another person
we thought could make everything ok
like in the love songs.
Or maybe we thought we could make it ok for our children
even if it hadn’t been so great for us,
and they would become the people we should have been.
We may have found our hope in a new psychology
or diet or exercise plan or investment strategy.
There are as many paths to redemption
as there are slot machines in the Las Vegas Valley.
So we have placed our hope in this or that redemption.
We may even have tried the Christian faith,
but if we tried to practice it on our own,
we found out pretty quickly, that doesn’t work.
Christianity is a team sport. It’s a family meal.
So to place our faith in Jesus, we had to place our faith in a church.
And maybe we found one
where the worship felt holy, the sermon was uplifting,
and the people were friendly.
And we thought, “I am home now.
This is a safe place.”
But before long,
we discovered that even the best of churches
all have the same problem.
They are infested with people,
and human frailty does not disappear
at the narthex door.
Our church may have done something
unjust, insensitive, or morally wrong.
Maybe the priest said something or did something
that a priest should never say or do.
The people may have resorted to power politics
or character assassination.
The church we thought was the Body of Christ,
the demonstration model for the Kingdom of God,
turned out to human, all too human.
Each of us has our own version of this story.
Each of us has found our path to redemption
and has seen it come to a dead end.
That’s how it was for Clopas and his companion,
on the road to Emmaus.
It was on that road they met Jesus,
but they didn’t recognize him.
He wasn’t the same old Jesus as before.
When we have been deeply disappointed
it’s hard, it’s very hard, to open our hearts again.
Disappointment falls over our eyes like cataracts.
That may be why it took the disciples all day
and into the night to even recognize their Savior.
But let’s give them credit.
Even in their despondent mood,
they were willing to walk the road with a stranger.
Better yet, they were willing to open their minds
and to study the Scripture.
Many of us are so sure we already know what the Bible says
about this or that –
so sure we know the Bible’s basic themes.
But the deeper I go into the Holy Scriptures,
the more wild, wonderful, and surprising they become.
If we assume we know what the Bible says,
if we stop with a simple literal reading,
it closes our minds.
The simple literal meaning of the texts
Jesus was teaching Clopas and his friend that day
did not// point to a crucified messiah.
It took a bold new way of reading the Bible
to open these people’s hearts.
Jesus gave them a new creative, imaginative interpretation,
and to their credit, they listened.
And to their credit,
they welcomed the stranger into their home.
How often do we come to a church or any path of redemption,
wanting to be healed and consoled ourselves?
But the healing and consolation don’t happen
until we drop that agenda for self,
and serve or welcome someone else.
So the disciples and Jesus broke bread together.
It was a Eucharist.
They hadn’t expected it to be a Eucharist.
But there it was.
After hearing the good news from Scripture –
the blessing, the breaking, the giving of bread.
They joined innocently in this simple domestic ritual
– with no expectation.
In that moment, their eyes were opened and they recognized the Lord.
Then Clopas and his friend got it right again.
They hurried by night back to Jerusalem
to share the good news with the other disciples.
But Jesus had been meeting with them too – at the same time.
Stop. How did that happen?
Jesus was now appearing to people in different places at once.
Wonders just keep multiplying when broken hearted people
share good news with each other.
So what can we learn from our story?
The first lesson is about dejection.
It is a common part of the spiritual life
maybe even a necessary part of the spiritual life.
Masters like St. Ignatius Loyola and St. John of the Cross thought so.
Necessary because dejection is the opportunity
to open our hearts to grace in a new way,
perhaps a deeper redemption
than we had hoped for to begin with.
Disappointment is the opportunity to open our hearts and minds
to grace from the lips of a stranger,
grace showing us the Bible means something
quite different from what we had thought,
grace that slips into our lives through the back door
while we were helping or befriending someone else.
The eyes of these disciples were opened
when Jesus broke the bread.
“Open” is one of the most frequently used verbs
in the Gospels for what Jesus does.
He opens eyes. He opens ears. He opens graves.
May Jesus open our minds to his truth
and our hearts to each other.
“Be present, be present Lord Jesus,
as you were present to the disciples,
and be known to us in the breaking of the bread.”