Hope on the Road to Emmaus

Easter 3 – April 26, 2020: ‘Hope on the Road to Emmaus’

Acts 2:14a,36-41

1 Peter 1:17-23

Luke 24:13-35

As I continue to grow in my faith and ministry, I find that I come to love the season of Eastertide more each year. With every new season I come to greater appreciation of the early church and the struggles it faced, the stories of Peter, Paul and the disciples (now apostles) as they grew and spread the Good News of the Risen Christ. This new church faced great conflict, it had to wrestle with the issues of doctrine that we take for granted and it also had to contend with deadly persecution. Christianity could well have died in infancy if not for the bold and brave convictions of the early apostles.

Over the next few weeks, we will be reading various parts of Acts and all of 1 Peter (hint- hint…if you have got some time and a Bible!). These readings speak to new beginnings, fresh starts for Peter and Paul and the gatherings of the first church; all underpinned with a sense of hope and purpose. My hope is that we can see links between then and now.

Where is our Hope?

The Road to Emmaus is a familiar story. Luke includes it in his account of that first Easter Day and there are many threads one can pull out of this story. If you remember the Seriously Surprising Story video that we showed last week, it was a fairly cheery telling of the story. While it does end well, the start – well – was not as cheery.

Cleopas and the other unnamed disciple are walking away from Jerusalem, walking away from the disciples, walking away from their faith, their beliefs, potentially their families, jobs. They are without hope and they are sad. To be a fly on the shoulder of Cleopas for that conversation! There was such overwhelming grief that when Jesus came near to them their eyes were kept from recognizing him. I think that many Christians might be confident that they would recognize Jesus if/when he comes to them. But here we have disciples, who were with him all the time, who did not recognize him!   

As I read and re-read this passage, the same five words from verses 21 kept leaping off the page at me: ‘But we had hoped that…´ Notice the past tense of hope – they had hoped. Their hope, whatever it was in, was gone. When Jesus died, so did their hope.

I think that many people right now are without hope, ‘but we had hoped that…’ What about you? Have you hoped in something, someone that will not now come through? Where is your hope today?

As Easter people, we are to be people of hope even in the most trying of times. As impossible as that might seem right now! If you find that you have lost or are losing hope – take comfort and take heart. Jesus understands. He wants nothing more than to restore our hope.

How do we know that Jesus understands? His actions towards Cleopas and the other disciple tell us. Before he died, Jesus had expressly told the disciples that He would send the counsellor, the Holy Spirit to be with them forever. All they had to do was wait. It could be assumed that the disciples were meant to wait together. These two have seemingly forgot about this promise; so instead of waiting are walking away.  

Now, Jesus could have washed his hands of them, let them go. But he doesn’t. He goes after them. Not in an aggressive or pushy way, He does not chase them down or yell and scream. He meets them where they are at – going the wrong way, down the wrong road. As the disciples talk to Jesus, listen to him, they begin to see beyond themselves, they decentre from their own issues and problems.  

In that meeting with Jesus, Cleopas and the other disciple turn around and head back the right way, back on the right road, back to life. Hope is restored, hearts are burning in the breaking of the bread. Many people need to have their hope restored. Some of us might need to be turned around in our thinking, some might need to ask for strength in the waiting, and many likely need to find their hope again.

How can we find our Hope again?

One of the things I love about Eastertide is the renewal of baptismal vows. I would have done this on Easter Sunday in whichever service I would have taken. I would love to do this on our first Sunday back in churches. There is something in the renewal of promises and the sprinkling of water that makes all things new again and restores hope. For those of us baptised as babies, we didn’t have the opportunity to make those promises for ourselves, although maybe in confirmation we did. Either way – it is a restorative thing to do.

Peter, in Acts 2, is calling for people to repent and be baptized. Our sins have been forgiven and the gift of the Holy Spirit has been given! This is the great Christian hope! Wonderful news and a wonderful starting point for reclaiming any lost hope. The first step, according to Peter, is to repent and be baptised. Remember the promises made:

Do you reject the devil and all rebellion against God?              I reject them.

Do you renounce the deceit and corruption of evil?                 I renounce them.

Do you repent of the sins that separate us from God and neighbour?       I repent of them.

Do you turn to Christ as Saviour?             I turn to Christ.

Do you submit to Christ as Lord?              I submit to Christ.

Do you come to Christ, the way, the truth and the life?           I come to Christ.

In his first letter, Peter was writing to the scattered Christians throughout the middle East who were facing persecution. I am sure they needed to know that they were not forgotten or beyond the reach of God. Peter is imploring these Christians to love each other deeply from the heart, they have been born anew and nothing can take away the hope of the final redemption and resurrection.

Peter knew this first-hand – Peter the one who denied Jesus three times and was restored three times. If anyone thought they were beyond hope, Peter is a prime example. Yet Jesus meets Peter on that first Easter, on the shores of Galilee as Peter too is attempting to go back to his previous life as a fisher of fish. In a conversation with Jesus, Peter is restored.

Remembering our baptismal vows, the forgiveness of sin, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the great love and long reach of God for each of us seems to me a place where we can recover our hope.

It was in the breaking of the bread that Cleopas and the other disciple had their eyes opened and recognized Jesus. Although we cannot be together in the traditional way when the bread is broken this morning, my prayer is that we will each recognize Jesus once again in the situations and circumstances we find ourselves today so that we too can be restored and have our hope renewed.