This last Sunday, I had the treat of preaching at Holy Trinity Church in Costa Mesa on hope. Since my nickname has sometimes been "Eeyore" (not my favorite one), speaking on hope was as much for me as it was for the community. It was the third Sunday of the Easter Season. I love that in the Anglican tradition we take seven weeks to remember and celebrate the resurrection. A truth that potent needs more than one week a year, right?
My sermon was based on two of the lectionary readings for Sunday: Luke 24:13-35 (the story of two disciples walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus) and Acts 2:36-41 (part of Peter’s Pentecost sermon). Last week, our pastor Todd Hunter spoke on resurrection as a basis for peace. I was drawn to talk about resurrection as a basis of hope.
Resurrection and Hope
Often, when I’ve heard a message connecting resurrection and hope, the focus has been on the more distant future of hope after death. I appreciate this truth, but I wanted to talk about resurrection as a basis of hope in this life—as the basis of a hope-filled life.
Dallas Willard defined hope as “joyous anticipation of good that is not yet here or is ‘unseen.’” Hope looks ahead with trust and joy for a future that, thanks to the goodness and power of God, will be a good place for us even if we can’t quite see yet how it will be good.
A Sunday Afternoon Walk
So the majority of what I spoke about was rooted in the Emmaus story in Luke 24. It’s a familiar one. Two disciples are walking home from Jerusalem on a Sunday afternoon. It’s not just any Sunday afternoon. It’s the Sunday after a Thursday night when Jesus was arrested and abused. It’s the Sunday after a Friday when Jesus Christ was crucified and died. It’s the Sunday after a Saturday in which Jesus was gone and buried in a tomb. They’d heard rumors that the tomb was empty that morning, but they aren’t quite sure yet what exactly that means.
So as they walk and talk with one another about the events of the weekend, they are joined by a stranger. (The stranger turns out to be Jesus, but they don’t realize that yet). Aren’t there times when, looking back, you realize now that Jesus was with you but you hadn’t realized it? That experience is not a new one.
This stranger asks them questions about their conversation that lead them to wonder if he was the only visitor in Jerusalem over the weekend who was clueless about all that had happened. They go on to unpack their perspective on these things. Jesus was a powerful prophet in all he said and did (notice the past tense). Jewish leaders handed Jesus over to the Roman authorities and he was put to a shameful death.
When Hope Dies
But the line that grabbed me in their description of the weekend was this: “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” We had hoped. Can you hear the despair, the sadness, the dashed hopes in those three words? Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever said words like those, “We had hoped?”
These two, God bless them, are walking from Jerusalem with a Jesus they do not yet recognize. They are talking to Jesus about Jesus and they don’t even know it. They are talking to the resurrection and the life about death and the end of hope. The resurrected one is with them but their awareness is still rooted in their unimaginable loss of Jesus to death. Ironic right?
But haven’t you and I done the same thing? Haven’t we had dreams that died, leaving us with only “we had hoped” in our hearts? Haven’t we faced losses that provoke us to give up hope? Jesus is with us there. That death invites a resurrection.
As they pour out their hearts to Jesus who is still a stranger to them, Jesus calls them “slow to believe the prophets.” He takes time to walk through the Old Testament scriptures to show them from beginning to end that what happened had to happen. I’ve tried to imagine what it would have been like to be a fourth journeyer from Jerusalem to Emmaus that day. What an amazing conversation to have witnessed!
These three reach Emmaus and, after the stranger begins to continue walking out of town, they invite him to dinner and to spend the night. As the time for the evening meal arrives, the stranger sits at the table with them. The text says, “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them” At this very moment they recognize the stranger is Jesus, but risen.
The Jesus they finally recognize disappears, and they begin reflecting together on the walk they had shared with him all afternoon. “Weren’t our hearts burning when the stranger who was actually Jesus spoke to us?” They return immediately to Jerusalem to share their story with the Eleven, only to discover that others have made the same discovery as they have. Jesus is alive!
Hope comes to these two—and to us—as we come to recognize Jesus risen. We become hopeless when we fail to recognize that Jesus is alive, here and now, and is walking with us in our ordinary day-to-day life. But that hope grows out of the seed of death. That’s what resurrection is—life out of death. Solid, rooted hope grows in the soil of loss, patient waiting, even death. But hope looks ahead expectant of good—resurrection good.
I wonder where in your life you've felt (or feel) more death than life, more loss than abundance, more a deep pit than a lofty mountaintop?
- What hopes did you have before that now feel gone?
- What losses have you experienced that have tempted you to despair?
- What wounds have you received?
- What doors have closed?
- What dreams have died?
What might resurrection look like in those very places? How might you come to recognize Jesus as a substantial and real hope for you right here?
Like our two friends in the Emmaus story, where are you tempted to say, “We had hoped…” Where has it felt like hope was dying or even died? What might resurrection look like right there? What has resurrection looked like in your journey so far?
(You can listen to my whole sermon on the church podcast).
A New Podcast
P.S. - By the way, we just launched our Unhurried Living podcast this week. This first season of eight episodes will prepare for the launch of my new book, An Unhurried Leader: The Lasting Fruit of Daily Influence (which can be pre-ordered at Amazon, Barnes & Noble or IVPress.com). You can listen to the podcast on iTunes or Stitcher (Android compatible). We’d love if you subscribed and maybe even left a comment or rating.