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We Had Hoped - Rev. Jennifer Gleichauf

Posted on May 3, 2020 by Kathy Miller

We Had Hoped

(4th Sunday of Easter)

One of the things I’ve seen a lot this past month is the phrase “we’re all in this together.”  Which is true in many ways, and not true in plenty of ways too.  Yes, we are all experiencing a global pandemic together.  And yes, it is also true that we are experiencing it differently.  Some are busier than ever trying to work jobs that suddenly have all kinds of new demands.  Some are trying to balance work and homeschooling at the same time.  Others are finding themselves with more time on their hands than they’ve ever had, perhaps taking on all the projects they’ve been wanting to do for ages, or finding they don’t have the motivation to do much of anything.  Some are financially fine, secure in jobs that haven’t changed, others far from it.  Some of us know people who are sick, some of us know no one, yet, at least.  And there are surely other ways this experience is different for us, but, there are many things about this we share.

We all spend more time on Zoom than we ever did before.  We all use words like pandemic and isolation and social distancing more than we ever have before.  We all are trying to manage a great deal of uncertainty about what the future holds for our health, our economy, our politics, our various systems and institutions.  And I imagine we all miss being able to be together - to sit in the same place with one another again.  And it’s not everyone, but I know the huggers among us are really suffering. 

And no one from the Bible could have more empathy for us, than the disciples in our scripture today whose own lives have gone through a massive upheaval.  When the stranger on the road asks them what they are talking about, they say, “Are you the only one who has not heard?”  Imagine meeting someone right now who had never heard of the corona virus.  We would wonder if they had amnesia or had been in a cave somewhere for the past several months.  The disciples that day were shocked to find someone who didn’t know that Jesus had been arrested and crucified.  How could anyone not know?

And the last week of their life must have felt like a whirlwind of emotion.  Maybe, like so many of us, they weren’t sure what day it was either.  Maybe they had been talking on their walk saying things like, “Can you believe it was just a week ago he rode in on the donkey? Do you remember which day he turned over the tables in the temple? Do you remember what we thought would happen?” Grief and worry do that to people – make it hard to remember, hard to keep track of things, hard to think about how different you thought things would be.  

All of Jesus’ followers had just been launched into total uncertainty about their future.  They may all have had different reactions and different decisions to make about how to go forward with their lives, but they all shared this deep grief in the awful death of their teacher and all he had meant for their future.  You can hear their grief when they tell Jesus the story of what has happened.  They say one of the saddest lines in scripture.  They say, “We had hoped he would be the one to redeem Israel.” 

They had hoped and their hope had been dashed into pieces.  They had hoped the world was about to change.  Like really, really change.  They had hoped the powers of injustice and oppression were going to be overturned and that there would be a world of greater equality and peace and love once Jesus defeated the Romans.  But, that Sunday night, all they had hoped had come to a crushing end. 

That painful phrase “we had hoped” is one we are all familiar with in different ways in our lives.  We too have hoped things would turn out differently.  We have hoped we’d have accomplished more or gotten that job.  We’ve hoped our marriage would be better or our children happier or that our family would change.  We’ve hoped our loved one would live through the disease or our own illness wouldn’t return. We’ve hoped we would do better this time or we’d finally be forgiven.  We have all hoped only to find our hopes unfulfilled.  We have all hoped our life was going to turn out one way, only to find that it would not.

And right now, I am certain we are all dealing with some amount of this feeling.  We could all complete the sentence “I had hoped” with at least one, and often many things, for what we had hoped would be happening in May 2020.

None of us hoped for social distancing and cancelled plans and isolation and cancelled school and changed jobs and the inability to be with our family and friends for 6 weeks.  None of us hoped for the death and sickness and economic upheaval.  And none of us hope for the next four weeks ahead of us.  And none of us hope for the continued uncertainty of what comes after that.

So, with plenty of our own hopes dashed or put on hold or held with the greatest uncertainty, we, like the disciples, wonder what we should try to hope for now? Do we hope for things to return to how they were; to go “back to normal?”  That seems hard when we’ve seen all that has been exposed about inequality and who in this country and abroad is suffering most.  But if we don’t want things to go back to exactly how they were, then what do we hope for, what will it mean for us personally and how do we go about it?

The disciples walking to Emmaus surely didn’t know what to hope for either.  What comes after the death of the person you thought would change the world?  When everything you’ve built your life around comes crashing down?  What do we do when all we can know is that “we had hoped” and now our hopes have been deeply changed.

The disciples on the way to Emmaus offer one example of what we can do.  They meet this strange man and even in their grief and uncertainty and confusion about what will come next, they still find it in themselves to offer him hospitality.  When they show up at their destination, since it is late already, they welcome this stranger into their home for the night.  And perhaps this is where we see the mark of discipleship on them most – they, who had watched Jesus welcome strangers and misfits and undesirables to come and eat with him, now had the opportunity to make that offer to a stranger themselves.

“Come in and eat with us, stranger, we’ll cook up some extra and we’ll make some room for you to sleep.”  They may have missed all the times Jesus had tried to explain that he was going to die and be resurrected, but it seems they did learn something.

And having found a way to care for someone else, even while grieving themselves, the stranger is revealed as Jesus as they break bread together and they finally, finally see him for who he is.  And just as they see, he is gone.  It seems that Jesus never stays as long as anyone wants, but does stay just as long as we need.

Jesus came these disciples in their deepest grief, in the moment when all hope seemed lost, but when they opened their hearts just a little bit to someone in need, they found all they needed.  In that moment of communion and community, they found Jesus again.

And that small gesture, that moment of grace, was enough to rekindle the fire in their hearts, to inspire them and give them back their hope – the greatest hope in the greatest promise of all - that God had not deserted them; that resurrection and redemption, were truly possible, even out of the most desperate and awful suffering.

Preacher Nadia Bolz Weber says, “The Easter hope we have, brothers and sisters, the hope that never disappoints has nothing to do with optimism or the avoidance of suffering, is a hope that can only come from a God who has experienced birth, and love and friendship and lepers and prostitutes and betrayal and suffering and death and burial and a decent into hell itself. Only a God who has born suffering himself can bring us any real hope of resurrection…the Christian faith is one that does not pretend things aren’t bad. This is a faith that does not offer platitudes …This…is a faith that produces a defiant hope that God is still writing the story and that despite darkness a light shines…and that despite every disappointing thing we have ever done or that we have ever endured, that there is no hell from which resurrection is impossible. The Christian faith is one that kicks at the darkness until it bleeds daylight.*”[1]

This is the Easter story.  When we aren’t sure what comes next and our hope for the future has been shaken, Jesus comes to walk alongside us to remind us that no matter what is happening in our lives, or on the face of the earth, God’s promise hasn’t changed.  God will be found in the breaking of bread, in the gathering of God’s disciples. God will reveal Godself when we open our hearts enough to one another so we can finally see God right there with us. The promise we place our hope in is that God will make a way where there is no way; that God will give us the strength and courage to endure, to persevere, to love; that God will kindle the fire of hope in our hearts again and again even when we are sure the flame has gone out.  God will keep showing up with resurrection power in the places we’ve given up as dead. God is ready to turn our “we had hoped” into “we hope.” 

Our God is a God of hope.  It is healthy for all of us to feel the grief and sadness we have over the things we had hoped for, the things we have lost. It is normal for us to have concerns and fears for our future.  Those things are true.  But it is also true that God invites us to have hope again, hope anew, hope for a better world and a more loving world.  And we can dare to have that hope because God promises to be with us. 

In earlier times, people would say God abides with us. Abides with us and for us and in us.  When we find ourselves saying “we had hoped” totally uncertain of what comes next, God is already there, abiding, preparing to turn our hopes a new way.  And that is why we proclaim the invitation, with those who have gone before us and those who will go after - “In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.”  (song for reflection – Abide with Me)



[1] Weber, Bolz. “Sermon on Why Hope and Vapid Optimism Are Not The Same Thing.” Nadia Bolz-Weber, Patheos Explore the World's Faith through Different Perspectives on Religion and Spirituality! Patheos Has the Views of the Prevalent Religions and Spiritualities of the World., 28 May 2013, www.patheos.com/blogs/nadiabolzweber/2013/05/sermon-on-why-hope-and-vapid-optimism-are-not-the-same-thing/.

 

 

 
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