“But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” “But we had hoped…”—such forlorn words of sadness, disappointment, and dashed dreams. Jesus of Nazareth was supposed to be the one to redeem Israel, he was supposed to bring liberation to God’s people, but he was crucified instead, and with him all of their hopes and dreams for a new and different life had died. “But we had hoped…”
There has been no greater time in our lives when we too, share the forlorn sadness, the disappointment and the dashed dreams of Cleopas and the other disciple on their way, not so much as they walk to Emmaus, but more as they run away from Jerusalem. We have had to let go of many hopes this spring—
• We had hoped for a festival Easter worship in the sanctuary
• We had hoped to attend a graduation
• We had hoped to go on vacation
• We had hoped to finish our school year with our friends, or our semester abroad
• We had hoped to go to prom or play in our spring concert
• We had hoped to look for a new job
• We had hoped to celebrate our anniversary on a cruise
• We had hoped to hold our new grandchild
• We had hoped to visit our family member at their care facility
• We had hoped to visit our friend in the hospital
• We had hoped…
These disappointments and the grief that accompanies them, are very real. We understand why these two disciples decided to head out of town, trying to leave the bad news and the sadness behind. Would that we could also walk away, head to a different place, have a new beginning, but the most we can do is go on a walk around the neighborhood—with a mask on at that—which is why it is so important to just let the feelings come. Feel the sadness and allow it to move through us and then it will pass on, like a storm.
Jesus does not dismiss their sadness, but instead, he invites them to see that suffering and salvation have always been intertwined throughout the story of our faith. Suffering and loss is not antithetical to God’s plan and God’s power, but the very place we experience it most intimately. Jesus explains this truth to the two traveling disciples starting from with tongue-tied Moses and on through prophets with feet of clay. God’s power comes to us in our weakness, so the Messiah also comes to be victorious through suffering.
This story is so strange because we cannot imagine why the disciples do not recognize Jesus. Perhaps their vision was clouded by their own suffering—by their grief and sadness; perhaps it was simply disbelief that the resurrection could actually happen; perhaps it was Jesus’ own desire to wait for them to be ready to receive the good news…whatever it was, they were kept from seeing the Christ who was right beside them.
As the evening draws near and they arrive at the village, the disciples stop for the night. Their traveling companion does not stop with them but continues down the road. Even though their hearts are broken, and they are suffering grief and confusion, they are moved with compassion and hospitality for this fellow traveler. Their suffering opens their hearts.
So, Cleopas and his companion implore this new traveler to stay with them—they invite Jesus into their dwelling, to join them at the table, to come into their lives. And that is when everything changes. As Jesus gives thanks and breaks the bread with them—just like he broke the bread as he fed the 5,000, just like he broke the bread at so many meals, and just like he broke the bread at the last supper before he was crucified, they recognize Jesus as their risen Lord and Savior.
Jesus always remains alongside us, but to really see him revealed as our Lord and Savior, and to deepen our relationship with him, we must to invite him in—into our home, into our heart, to our table, and to come into our lives. We experience this more clearly right now than ever before. We are worshipping in our homes, making an altar of our dining room, and worshipping with our family in new ways—making real that our home is a sanctuary where we meet Jesus at our table, whether we eat alone or with others. We meet Jesus in our family, in our shared meals, and when we give Communion to ourselves or to one another in the very same place where we eat or pass the bread or tortillas at mealtime.
Jesus spent all that time on the road with them, but he never pushed himself on these confused and hurting disciples. We serve a patient God—always available, always present, and always waiting for the invitation to enter our life.
This is an invitation we can offer anew each morning in prayer—Martin Luther encouraged this as daily remembering our Baptism into Christ. We can invite Jesus in again each week as we receive Communion, as he is revealed in the breaking of the bread. We can invite Jesus in again especially in this time of difficulty and suffering—to remember that we do not have to wait until we are at our wit’s end to ask for help. But to remember that Jesus is constantly with us, walking beside us, always ready and waiting, moment by moment to be part of our life, our fears, our sadness, and also the solutions we seek—be it with work, with our family or just dealing with the grief over what we have lost.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says, “For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” Jesus waits to be invited in. So if you have not specifically asked Jesus to come to your aid and comfort, help and guidance during this crisis, this is your moment—remember to always ask Jesus for what you need, always invite Jesus in, always seek the help of the Lord in all things. For Jesus reveals more of himself to us when we ask him to come into our lives and hearts.
When you invite Jesus into your everyday life, your daily decisions, your work, your home, your family, your dinner table, your heart and your life—be ready for the Spirit to move you! The disciple’s plans in Emmaus changed when they invited Jesus in! Cleopas and his companion immediately got up and headed straight back to Jerusalem! They had to stop running away and had to start running toward their mission; they had to let go of their fear and sadness and they had to embrace hope and joy.
Their story of meeting Jesus inspired the other disciples to tell their stories of what Jesus had done for them, and how he was appearing to them. Their witness gave others the opportunity to invite the risen Lord into their life. Because those first disciples shared their story, we can invite Jesus into our lives today! When we invite Jesus in, the Spirit will move and change our directions because Jesus will give us a new story to tell! The Spirit will also move us to share our story, so others will be moved to invite Jesus into their hearts and lives as well! And the mission of the church continues from this altar to the altar in your home and heart, to the altars in the world where Jesus can enter because you told your story and you shared your experience of what Jesus has done to get you through this time right now.
So ask Jesus to come into your life and heart, not just today, not just on Sundays, not just at church, but every day—ask him anew. Hold fast to the truth that he is beside you and within you and will never forsake you, and that he is risen from the dead with power beyond fear and death unimaginable—and ask him to fill you with that Spirit every day and see what the Spirit does in your life and heart.
God’s power over death in Jesus Christ alive in the hearts of believers got the Gospel to us 2,000 years after the resurrection—and that’s the power that will see us through today and every tomorrow.
Image: An altar at home which we were encouraged to make in the Children's Message