Acts 2:14a, 36-41+Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17+1 Peter 1:17-23+Luke 24:13-35
We had hoped.
I’m not sure there are any more poignant words in scripture.
“We had hoped that he was the one…” (Luke 24:21).
Whether we know it or not, we have all been on the Emmaus Road.
We had hoped she would recover.
We had hoped for a different diagnosis.
We had hoped to carry to term.
We had hoped to get that job.
Loss and grief are our companions as we make our way through life, and we all, at some time or another, have walked along a road with an ache in our hearts and an emptiness in our gut.
I know that I am not the only one who has lost a family member, and who has looked around as the world continues about its business and wanted to shout at the top of my lungs, “Stop it! Don’t you know that a light has gone out of my life? That my heart is breaking? How can you act as if nothing has changed?”
Two disciples walking along a road, heading home, filled with sorrow, talking it through as if to try to make sense of it. And a stranger joins them and asks, “What’s up?” Luke tells us they stopped in their tracks, “looking sad” (24:17). And then one of them, Cleopas, unloads on him, “Are you kidding me? Dude, have you been living under a rock? This Jesus who we thought was here to redeem us all was handed over to the authorities and was executed and this morning some women came and told us he was missing from his tomb and an angel said he was risen from the dead and we don’t know what to think and it’s all so scary confusing so we’re getting out of town.”
And then it’s Jesus’s turn. “Have you not been paying attention? You know by now what the scriptures teach, from Moses until now, that the messiah will come but will be rejected? You know this, right? Don’t let your grief or your fear or your confusion make you forget who and whose you are.”
When they get where they’re going and invite this stranger in, it is only then that they recognize him, when he takes bread, blesses, breaks, and gives it to them.
Maybe they were part of the crowd of 5,000+ way back in the 9th chapter of Luke. Jesus did the same thing there: he took five loaves and two fish, blessed and broke them, and then gave them to the disciples to give to the people.
Maybe that’s why they recognized him. This is the Jesus who spent a lot of time sharing meals, breaking bread, enjoying the company of others. This was also the Jesus who worked miraculous signs and wonders. Could this Jesus also be one who trampled death under his feet? Could that have been his most spectacular miracle?
And then they remembered how their hearts burned within them along the road. At the moment when all seemed lost, when grief threatened to overwhelm them, Jesus was there to set their hearts on fire with words of scripture and with his presence.
John and Charles Wesley are probably best known to us as the founders of Methodism back in the 18th century. They were, however, lifelong Anglicans. The movement they started did not become the Methodist Church until after their deaths. In the 1730s, the brothers sailed to America to serve as missionaries in Georgia but returned home after a brief time (Charles after one year and John after two), discouraged and disheartened at what they deemed a failure of their mission. Charles later became gravely ill and experienced a conversion that he described as “a strange palpitation of the heart” and found himself “at peace with God, and rejoiced in hope of loving Christ.” A few days later, his brother John experienced a similar conversion (the Aldersgate experience) and wrote that his heart felt “strangely warmed.” Both of these men were Anglican priests, both had served faithfully and were diligent in study of scripture and in prayer, and yet it was in adversity that each felt a presence of God through the Holy Spirit. Like the two along the Emmaus Road, they felt a presence, a burning, in their hearts.
Charles Wesley, the writer of more than 6,500 hymn texts, wrote of this on the anniversary of his conversion. The hymn has come down to us as “O, for a thousand tongues to sing,” but those words actually don’t come until verse seven in the original. The first six stanzas (out of 18!) speak of his conversion. It goes like this:
1. Glory to God, and praise and love,
Be ever, ever given;
By saints below and saints above,
The Church in earth and heaven. (note: this is now our final stanza.)
2. On this glad day the glorious Sun
Of righteousness arose,
On my benighted soul he shone,
And filled it with repose.
3. Sudden expired the legal strife;
‘Twas then I ceased to grieve.
My second, real, living life,
I then began to live.
4. Then with my heart I first believed,
Believed with faith divine;
Power with the Holy Ghost received
To call the Saviour mine.
5. I felt my Lord’s atoning blood
Close to my soul applied;
Me, me he loved – the Son of God
For me, for me he died!
6. I found and owned his promise true,
Ascertained of my part,
My pardon passed in heaven I know,
When written on my heart.
7. O For a thousand tongues to sing
My dear Redeemer’s praise!
The glories of my God and King,
The triumphs of His grace!
The Wesley brothers had hoped to spark a revival in the American colonies. They had hoped this was the mission to which God called them. Disappointed with the results of that and following their conversion experiences, their respective ministries gained new focus as they became the leaders of a revival movement in England, moving out of buildings and into fields and streets and parks where crowds of people gathered to listen. And Charles left us with all of those glorious hymns, 24 of which appear in our own hymnal.
Luke describes Cleopas and his companion as disciples (two of them). What they experienced might also be called a conversion. Jesus was revealed to them at an unexpected place in an unexpected way, but their hearts burned, and they rushed back to Jerusalem to tell the others. There they learned that Jesus had appeared to Simon Peter, and they shared their good news.
These are stories of lost hope flaming to life again. Of the presence of Jesus in the midst of our sorrows and uncertainties, walking with us along the road, sitting with us at the dinner table, sharing bread with us, giving his life for us.
Many of us are grieving right now, yes, even in the season of resurrection and joy. We grieve changed circumstances, lost opportunities, trips cancelled, school milestones deferred, bank accounts shrinking, frayed nerves straining relationships. We had hoped for something different. And yet Jesus comes alongside us right here where we are, in the midst of all of this, and offers us bread and blessing. Give us, oh Lord, our daily bread. Set our hearts on fire with love for you.