The road of hope

Luke 24:13-35 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him. 17 He asked them, "What are you discussing together as you walk along?" They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 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?" 19 "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. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 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. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn't find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see." 25 He said to them, "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?" 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. 28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther. 29 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. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 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?" 33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, "It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon." 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.
The teacher who was working in the children’s hospital was asked to visit a boy who was in a burn unit. His regular instructor had said, “We’re studying nouns and adverbs in his class now. I’d be grateful if you could help him with his homework, so he doesn’t fall too far behind the others.”
The teacher went to the boy’s room in the hospital. He was in a clean room. He was wrapped in bandages and in incredible pain. As gently as she could, the teacher introduced herself and the purpose of her visit this way: “I’m the hospital teacher. Your teacher at school asked me to help you with your nouns and adverbs.”
The next day a nurse asked the substitute teacher: “What did you do to that boy?”
Before the teacher could offer any explanation, the nurse continued: “We were worried about him. But ever since you visited him yesterday, his entire outlook has changed. For the first time since he came here, he’s actually fighting. He’s responding. He’s got a new lease on life.”
What had happened? The boy eventually shared he had given up. He felt hopeless and helpless. But when he thought about the teacher who had come to see him, he realized the school wouldn’t waste its time, money and concern by sending someone to work on nouns and adverbs with a dying boy.
Pretty perceptive, don’t you think?
Two disciples are walking down the dusty road to the village of Emmaus, a 7-mile journey from Jerusalem. Their talk concerns the crucified Jesus. They have a dirge-like pace to their feet. Their attitude is like they’ve just come from a funeral – and in essence, they have – Jesus’ funeral.
They walk as if they’ve lost all hope.
The disciples had staked their lives on this Jesus from Nazareth. Everything they had. They thought He was the One. A prophet powerful in word and deed. He made blind men see, the lame to walk, the deaf to hear, the demon-possessed to be dispossessed. He even raised the dead. They hoped He was the Messiah, the promised One who would redeem Israel. And then in one short week their hopes and their world came crashing down around them. Jesus was dead, buried, and now nowhere to be seen. The rumor by the women of a resurrection didn’t provide any comfort. The words of Peter and John about the empty tomb were too confusing.
It all seemed so hopeless.
These two disciples were hoping for a golden throne. Jesus gave them a bloody cross. They were hoping for honor. Jesus bowed His thorn-crowned head in humility. They were hoping for glorious triumph. Jesus gave them dark tomb. They were hoping for the answers to all their prayers. But, they were praying for the wrong results. They were praying for their kingdom to come, but Jesus suffered, died and was laid in the grave so His Kingdom would come.
How foolish they were, and how slow of heart to believe (Luke 24:25).
Their walk is slow, but their questions come quickly. “How could Judas do that?” “Why wasn’t Peter stronger?” “Why did the high priest hate Jesus so much?” “Why couldn’t Pontius Pilate have been more forceful?” “How could Jesus let this happen to Himself?” “What do we do now?”
Just then a stranger comes up from behind and says, “I’m sorry, but I couldn’t help overhearing you. Who are you discussing?” They stop and turn. Other travelers make their way around them as the three stand in silence. Finally, the one named Cleopas asks, “Where have you been the last few days? Haven’t you heard about Jesus of Nazareth?” And he continues to tell what has happened.
This is a fascinating scene – two sincere disciples telling how the last nail was driven into Israel’s coffin. God, in disguise, listens patiently, His wounded hands buried deeply in His robe. He must have been touched by the faithfulness of this pair of disciples. Yet He must also have been a bit chagrined. He had just gone to hell and back to give heaven to earth, and these two were worried about the political situation in Israel.
“But we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.”
But we had hoped. … How often have you heard a phrase like that?
“We’re hoping to get pregnant soon.”
“I was hoping I’d feel better by now.”
“I’m hoping to get back to work.”
“I hope he asks me to the prom.”
“We had hoped the chemo would get all of the tumor.”
“We were hoping to go on vacation, but we can’t afford it now.”
“We were hoping Mom would come home from the hospital, but God had other plans.”
Words painted gray with disappointment. What we wanted didn’t come. What came, we didn’t want. The result? Shattered hope.  Disappointment. Despair. The foundation of our world trembles. When hopes are crushed, the pilot light goes out in our eyes. There is no more deadening feeling than to feel hopeless.
We trudge down the long road to Emmaus dragging our sandals in the dust, heads down, shoulders stooped in defeat. We’re wondering what we did to deserve such a plight. “What kind of God would let me down like this? I had hoped it would be better than this.” Our eyes are so tear-filled and our perspective so limited that God could be the fellow walking next to us and we wouldn’t know it.
You see, the problem with our two heavy-hearted friends was not a lack of faith, but a lack of vision. It wasn’t a lack of hope, but a hope in the wrong destination.
Those two disciples, walking to Emmaus that Easter night, had one thing on their minds – the cross. They looked at what happened and compared that to what they had been hoping for, and they came to this conclusion: the cross ruined everything! If it hadn’t been for the cross, things would have been great.
We are not much different than those weak and heavy laden travelers, are we? We roll in the mud of our sin, complaining that we aren’t cleaner. We piously ask for God’s will to be done and then have the audacity to pout if everything doesn’t go our way. We cut ourselves off from God’s Word and Sacrament, and then we wonder why our children misbehave and disbelieve the way they do.
We want to be followers of Christ, but without the cross. We want to be faithful to Christ, as long as we don’t have to suffer. We want the glory, without the humility. We want the blessings without the burdens. Everything would be great … if God would just remove those bothersome crosses.
But God won’t do that. He simply loves you too much to pamper your sin, indulge your idolatry, and raise spoiled children. And so, Jesus came to those two doubting and disappointed disciples and showed them how the cross was not a surprise and was not life spinning out of control – but that the cross was necessary. His death was necessary. Not for ruin, but for good. Not to shatter hope, but to give hope. The cross was not the defeat that it appeared, but was part of God’s plan of victory over sin, death, and the devil. The plan revealed from the very beginning. The plan that He had been speaking of and accomplishing all through the Old Testament. The plan and victory sealed and accomplished in His resurrection that very morning.
They listened. Their hearts were burning within them. But they didn’t quite get it. They were thick-headed and slow-hearted, just like we often are. Because when you’re on that road, when you’re in the thick of the struggle, it’s easy to hear the words, but hard to believe.
Our problem is not so much that God doesn’t give us what we hope for as it is that we don’t know the right thing for which to hope. (You may want to read that sentence again.)
Hope is not what you expect. Hope is not what you would ever dream. Hope is not a Disney princess movie ending. It is Jesus unpacking the Word of God for you, like He did for those disciples, so your heart may burn within you, warming you up, melting your cold heart, putting you on fire for the Lord.
You find this improbable, unbelievable hope when you dig through Scripture and find: the centennial Abraham sitting with his infant son on his lap; Moses standing between two walls of Red Sea water; Joshua walking over the ruined walls of Jericho; David rocking the giant Goliath to sleep; Samson bringing the house down on the Philistines; a teenage virgin pregnant with the Son of God.
Hope is the two Emmaus-bound pilgrims reaching out to take a piece of bread only to see candlelight shining through the holes in the stranger’s hands.
“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” (Luke 24:31). And even though He vanished, they were not sad. For they now knew He was not gone. Their faith was no longer in glory, but in the cross. Their faith was no longer downcast because of the corpse in the grave, but it was now joyful because of the empty grave. They had found His promises in His Word. So, they rushed to Jerusalem. No longer confused, but certain. No longer sad, but joyful. No longer struggling, but on the firm foundation. No longer hopeless, but burning with hope.
And we are, too. For the Good Shepherd has come and found each of us lost and wandering sheep, and has invited us here, to His house, a refuge for weary pilgrims. And He stays with us. He is here, opening the Scriptures, so we may hear and believe. Inviting us to His altar where He is both the priest and the sacrifice. Inviting us to stay and eat at His Table, where He is both host and food.
So, we come to this place weary and we leave refreshed. We come scared and depressed and we leave with our hearts burning with faith. We come without hope, questioning if God really cares and we leave with the hope and assurance that our God is unfettered by time and space, so He comes to sit, dine, teach and care for us. 
As it was at Emmaus, so it is for us here at Epiphany. Scripture and Supper. Teaching and Table fellowship. Word and Sacrament. The Divine Service of our Savior for us poor, sinful, confused, struggling, doubting, fearful, anxious, hopeless disciples every Sunday. Every Sunday, a little Easter, as we travel this life. As we travel to our homes, to our jobs, to our friends and neighbors. Traveling, but never alone. Traveling, but always by faith. Traveling the road of hope.
The road to Emmaus is a fascinating story. It’s a road of hope. Jesus wouldn’t waste His time walking with us along this road if there was no hope. We now have a new lease on life. Pretty perceptive, don’t you think? Amen.


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