That hymn and the Thomas Merton prayer were the two things which saw me through seminary. This isn’t a hymn I knew from my youth – it wasn’t in the 1940 or 1982 Hymnals (it is in Lift Every Voice and Sing, though). This hymn is one I go back to when everything seems to fall apart and I need reminding of where to place my hope. Where do you place your hope?
Today’s Gospel reading takes us back in time. This story from Luke’s Gospel, commonly known as the Walk to Emmaus, is one which informs our weekly liturgy. We hear about the disciples being met by Jesus on the road and hearing the scriptures and having them opened through teaching – this is the first half of our worship each Sunday. This is followed by the Eucharist where Christ is known to us in the breaking of the bread. So if you think about it, each week we journey on the Emmaus road to find the risen Christ in this community which empowers us to take the good news of Christ into the world.
This is a joyous story of the appearance of the risen Christ which takes place on evening of the Resurrection. But there was something in the story this week which stuck with me – in fact, it haunted me. Luke tells us that the disciples were very sad as they walked towards Emmaus. They were depressed after all that had happened – their hopes were dashed. When Jesus comes alongside and asks what they are talking about, the disciple named Cleopas basically asks if he’s the only one in Jerusalem without a clue about what has happened. Jesus plays along and Cleopas tells him about himself – that he was a prophet, mighty in word and deed before God and all the people and how the chief priests and elders turned him over to the authorities to be crucified. He then says, “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” But we had hoped …
The disciples were Jews who had a very well formed idea of what the redemption of Israel would look like. It would be when a descendent of King David would rise up, drive out the Roman occupiers, and reestablish the Kingdom of Israel under their own autonomous control. This redemption plan had a very earthly and concrete set of expectations as to how it would happen. A suffering and dying Messiah just wasn’t in the equation! They had pinned their hopes on a vision of a preferred outcome and the loss of that outcome depressed them. They couldn’t see another way.
We are not so different from these disciples, are we? We can get caught up in our visions of preferred outcomes to situations. Don’t get me wrong, having a vision for the future is not inherently a bad thing. But when we set our hope on a preferred outcome instead of the risen Christ who is there regardless of the results, it is devastating and becomes idolatrous.
We have had many hopes dashed since the beginning of this year, haven’t we? Those haunting words of Cleopas, “but we had hoped,” are in our hearts too. But we had hoped … to avoid the layoff. But we had hoped … to get the job and didn’t. But we had hoped … at least one of those bids would have come through. But we had hoped … the chemo would have worked and Lila would still be here. But we had hoped …
Today we bring those dashed hopes to Christ here at Grace. We bring them to this altar in this community. We will be offering the sacrament of unction shortly, right here in front of this altar. I invite you all to come forward with those shattered hopes, your hurt and brokenness to meet the risen Christ, be anointed in his name, and to receive his spirit in touch and the oil. And then, may our eyes be opened to see the risen Christ in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of his Body and Blood.
“His oath, his covenant, and blood sustain me in the raging flood. When all supports are washed away, he then is all my hope and stay. On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand. All other ground is sinking sand.”