It was a once in a life time opportunity. The stars had aligned, and so did the numbers. Eric hit the jack pot, or should I say the North Carolina Powerball. That’s right, thirty some odd million dollars hit his bank account, after tax of course. Excited, Eric thinks to himself, no more over due bills, no more riding the bus, no more eating spam from the can, and no more problems. About three months in, a few more bills start to stack up from his new house, car, and other trinkets he’s bought. He’s not riding the bus any more but he is driving everywhere alone. Yeah he is snacking on caviar on exotic beaches but his friends and loved ones were nowhere to be found.
His problems seem to be increasing with multiple properties, unforeseen taxes, audits, and managing his personal staff. Its been about three months and Eric’s life has gotten worse. At a cross roads Eric stands, in bewilderment, examining his life and he is dismayed. I think the 20th century poet Christopher Wallace, aka Biggie Smalls, got it right when he said, “Mo money, mo problems.” This wasn’t what Eric had hoped for.
Scripture: Luke 24:13-35
13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
Question: What was Cleopas, and his companion, hoping for?
In our text from Luke, it had been thirty-three years and it seemed like nothing changed. Cleopas, and his companion examined all that had happened. On their way to Emmaus they recalled the prophecies told, remembered the shepherds flocked, and had heard the messiah was born. They knew Christ dwelled among them, was crucified, and rose, but it seemed as though nothing was different. Those who followed Him were still being persecuted, the poor still had nothing to eat, the widows were still abused, the ill still died, and the orphans had nowhere to lay their heads. The world as they knew it was in disarray.
Even though they had heard of Jesus’s resurrection, their expectations of their liberation was dashed. They did not see a triumphal entry with steads and armed angels, and the powers of the world weren’t stripped of their control. So on this road to Emmaus, Cleopas and his companion instead jumping for joy, “…[they] stood still, looking sad” because the despair they felt was too great. They couldn’t even recognize the Messiah in their midst.
And for us it as been hundreds years since the prophecies were told, the shepherds flocked, and the messiah was born. Christ has come, dwelled, been crucified, and rose, but more often than not things don’t seem to be different. If we just turn on the news, we hear stories of foreign and domestic terrorism like the threat of Isis, the shooting at Mother Emmanuel AME in Charleston, and the burning of historic black churches in the south. We hear of food deserts in our poorest communities where there aren’t grocery stores for miles, people are still dying of easily preventable diseases, young women and girls are still trafficked as slaves, and too many children have no where to lay their heads. We have heard of the redeeming light that flows form Christ empty tomb, but as we try to walk in the footsteps of Jesus the darkness of this world inhibits our vision, and distorts the One who leads us.
For many we are left standing still on the path looking sad and we respond with the same disappointment of Cleopas, and his companion. “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem…” “We had hoped.”…families [have] used that phrase when they were packing up the things they had brought with them to the ICU. “We had hoped … ,” they say, and then they go home alone.” And we have heard our community members cry out:
…But we had hoped the addiction would be broken.
…But we had hoped the marriage would work.
…But we had hoped the money would last.
…But we had hoped the violence would cease.
…But we had hoped the legislation would pass.
…But we had hoped the children would be fed.
…But we had hoped… But we had hoped… But we had hoped…
I can imagine these are similar words some of you have uttered in the darkness and despair you have walked through on your path. These are human words, a human reality and this is exactly where God connects with us. All the laws, teachings, and prophecies become flesh. Christ enters into our despair and the unrealized expectations of our hopes. It is there in that chaos and darkness, on the way to Emmaus he takes the traveler’s grief and disappointment, melds the two through himself and incorporates them into his story.
As I reflected on this passage from Luke in preparation for today. I was reminded of a week we had some nasty storms in late fall. At Haywood St., Tuesday that week was particularly hectic, it had been raining for a few days and folks were starting to get a little unhinged. That night one of my friends came wobbling in from the storm sopping wet. His speech was jumbled and he stumbled everywhere. Just a few weeks prior he celebrated three months of sobriety, but that night the demons of addiction drew him back in.
For what seemed like an eternity, I held him as we sat on the floor rocking back and forth. Over and over, he cried out, “I never knew love until Haywood St…I don’t know what to do.” Then when asked if we could take him to rehab or find help, you could see the addiction grip him and he would sober up enough to say, “No I don’t need help.” That night I had nothing. None of my training in psychology mattered, the scripture I knew didn’t help, and my prayers had no power. I had nothing and all I could think was, “Where are you Jesus? Nothing is as it should be…I had hoped.”
Wednesday felt even worse. There was tension and squabbling all around and I seemed to exacerbate the conflicts I tried to mediate. As I sat in worship that day Brian preached then I stood to preside over the Lord’s Supper. Standing in front of the congregation with tears streaming down my face I once again realized I had absolutely nothing. But it was there in-between my despair and my unrealized hopes Christ was revealed.
In the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup our eyes are opened. We recognize the Messiah that has been traveling with us. The one who willingly meets us in our disappointments and inadequacies. At the table we learn that we don’t need to search for God because Christ has already found us and is offering himself up again and again. It is here Jesus is revealed and we know that God is with us.
 Richard Swanson, Commentary on Luke 24:13-35. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1992