If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past ten years or so, it’s that the internet is a strange place.
Since the emergence of various social media outlets, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and many others, these various kinds of “online communities,” have been redefining what our relationships with others looks like.
I’ll give you an example.
For most of my time at Asbury, I was an online student, and I had class online with lots of other folks. Most of our coursework involved reading, and then discussion, so us online students would get to know one another pretty well.
For me, specifically, two of the closest friends I made during my time in seminary came from taking classes with them. And so, it became this strange thing, where I felt like I knew these people pretty well.
Even in spite of the fact that I had never met them in person before. And, when I did, it didn’t feel like meeting someone for the first time ever, because it felt more like being reunited with a close friend who you haven’t seen in a while.
Some of my fondest memories of on campus classes was walking and talking with these classmates, these friends of mine, either going to lunch, or to the student union, or just walking and talking because we had been sitting in class all day.
And that’s where we pick up our text for this morning, from Luke 24, the Road to Emmaus.
It starts with two men, two followers of Jesus, walking on the road heading towards Emmaus. And they’re talking about “all these things that had happened.”
Almost like they’re processing, trying to understand what’s taken place by talking it out. And while they’re walking and talking it out, Jesus shows up, and starts walking with them, but, just like last week, “their eyes were kept from recognizing him.”
So He asks them, “what are you discussing with each other while you walk along? They stood still, looking sad.”
Which is interesting in itself- because it’s Jesus. And just because the disciples don’t recognize him doesn’t change the fact that Jesus already knew what had happened.
But he asks anyway.
I wonder if this is a bit of a “call to prayer,” as it were. Since God knows us at our deepest levels, knows who we are, knows what we need, and yet we are still called to be a people who pray. And maybe the bigger point isn’t about telling God what he already knows, but about the connection, the communion we experience with God in prayer, and being able to be our honest selves with Him.
And so, we see that the disciples look sad.
They’re grieving, trying to grapple with all of this uncertainty, and probably the “what now?” question the other disciples were wrestling with from last week’s text. And they’re trying to figure it out, but they just don’t know what’s going to happen next.
You see, grief manifests itself in different ways, and they were trying to talk it out as a way of coping with it. So they tell him: “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?”
Now remember, this is all happening on the same day as the Resurrection, so it’s still fresh in their minds, and they’re trying to process, to understand, to make sense of it all.
And people would have been talking about it. But Jesus presses them again: “what things?”
So they spell it out for him: “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him.”
Now, here’s where it gets interesting, is the very next thing they say to Jesus: “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”
So, let’s track this a bit:
These two followers of Jesus, disciples, two men (the Greek is masculine), are walking towards Emmaus later that Sunday, talking about what’s happened, trying to process their sadness with one another.
You can just imagine the kinds of questions that these two had swirling around in their minds, as they try to make sense of it all.
And it’s in the midst of that uncertainty, that Jesus comes.
And this story reminds us that our God is a relational God, that God cares about our well being, at the deepest levels of who we are.
But, you see, the thing is, these disciples, they had placed their hope into life circumstance. We get the sense from the way they tell Jesus that they’re at least familiar with Jewish law and prophecy, because they told him that “we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”
Well, Jesus did come to do that, but not in the way that the disciples thought that he would. And, while the Jews were looking for a political leader, Jesus came as a spiritual one.
You see, that’s the problem we run into when we try to put our hope into the circumstances of our lives, instead of in God.
Because when we hope in circumstance, we miss what God has placed before us.
When we hope in circumstance, we forsake communion with God.
When we hope in circumstance, we’re only setting ourselves up for a let down.
When we hope in circumstance we miss the bigger picture.
So, for example, when we say: “I hope that: (fill in the blank here)” we’re putting conditions on the way in which God can work in our lives, and that doesn’t work, because we are the created, not the Creator.
We don’t get to tell God how to work in our lives, because what we’re also doing is setting up the conditions of our happiness apart from God.
And like C.S. Lewis said in Mere Christianity: “God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing,” (Mere Christianity, p. 50)
And so, instead, the alternative is to simply say: “I hope!” and to place our faith in the Trinity. And we move from expectation, to anticipation.
Because when we place our hope in circumstance, we will always be let down, for the simple fact that circumstance is worldly.
But when we put our hope in God, we align ourselves with something greater.
When we put our hope in God, we can weather the storms of life, come what may.
When we put our hope in God, we can have grace and peace abundantly.
When we put out hope in God, we begin to see, more fully, God at work in ourselves, and see Him at work in others.
When we put our hope in God, we begin to see the world not as something that has been condemned, and going to hell in a hand basket.
But as a place for us to partner with God in ministry so that we can become agents of change in our communities, and to begin building the Kingdom of God here in Earth.
And so, instead of following in the way of these Emmaus disciples, who put their hope in circumstance at first, we are called to place our hope in God.
A God who calms the storms, and will answer our questions, or instead invite us into the mystery of faith, that somehow, some way:
Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again.
Julian of Norwich once wrote that: “We really cannot fully comprehend heaven without stepping into the reality of the now. Heaven actually begins here, in knowledge of his love.”
And, you see, “the knowledge of his love,” is what gives us hope.
And like Paul tells us: “hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts…”