Monday, April 24, 2023

We Had Hoped


Luke 24:13-35

Easter 3 / Year A

Two of Jesus’s followers decide to leave Jerusalem on the day it is discerned Jesus’ body is no longer in the tomb where it had been interred.  One is identified as Cleopas, a disciple who appears nowhere else in the gospels.  Some traditions hold he is the brother of Joseph the carpenter.  It is possible the other disciple is Mary, who is identified in John’s gospel as the wife of Clopas (a slightly different spelling, but within the realm of possibility).  There are a lot of women named Mary mentioned in and around the events the Resurrection and there are a lot of “other” – unnamed – women in the text as well.  So, if the second disciple on the way to Emmaus is Mary the wife of Clopas, it is possible she had gone to the tomb at the break of dawn with the other women and found it empty.  This, of course is conjecture.

Now, if you find that interesting, you love this pure speculation.  James Tabor, who teaches religious studies at U.N.C.–Charlotte, picks up on the tradition Cleopas is Joseph’s brother.  Most scholars assume Joseph dies sometime before Jesus launches his public ministry because he never appears in any of the gospels after Jesus is a boy.  Tabor takes this possibility and combines it with the Jewish custom of having a bother of the deceased marry the widow, and posits Mary, the wife of Clopas, is also Mary, the mother of Jesus.  (I’ll never get you attention back as you ponder that one!)

So, back to the morning of the Resurrection.  Luke tells us Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James (by the way, Jesus had a brother named James), and the other the women go to the tomb and find it empty.  An angel appears to them and tells them Jesus is risen.  They go and report this to the men.  Simon Peter rushes to the tomb, looks around, but doesn’t find anything.  Though not reported, it is possible Cleopas joins him in this inspection.  After all of this Cleopas and his companion (most likely his wife, possibly Jesus’ mother) make the decision to leave town.  Hopeful people don’t leave town.

Along the way they are talking about all that has happened.  The Greek word for talking infers they are “examining the evidence”.  They are trying to make sense of all that has happened when they are joined on the way by a stranger.  It is Jesus, but they do not recognize him.  He asks what they are talking about and they go through the details with him. 

At one point Cleopas admits “we had hoped Jesus was going to be the one who would redeem Israel.”  The verb here – had hoped – is in the present imperfect tense.  It means something had happened repeatedly in the past but is no longer happening in the present.

Think about all the different ways we might use the verb hope in the present imperfect:

·    We had hoped this job opportunity might really turn into something.

·    We had hoped the entire family could be together last Christmas.

·    We had hoped to be retired by now.

·    We had hoped there would be no more senseless mass shootings.

·    We had hoped he could stay off drugs after the last rehab stint.

·    We had hoped this doctor’s special treatment would put the cancer in remission.

Each of these statements indicates something of a flicker of light in the darkness has been extinguished and now it is just dark.  If you have ever experienced something like this then you know exactly how Cleopas and Mary feel in this reading.  The sun has set on their hopes and there is, for them, no possibility of a future dawn.  All they can do now is walk to Emmaus and try to make sense of it all.

Alexander Pope once said, “Blessed is the person who has no expectations because he will never be disappointed.”  I guess the most jaded among us can live this way, but most of us possess within our soul an enduring sense of hope.  We know things will not always work out exactly the way we would like, but we most often sense they work out for the best.  But there are crushing moments which try and test us to the core; the “we had hoped” moments when our dreams come crashing down and can no longer carry us forward.

From the beginning of this story, Luke gives us some inside information Cleopas and Mary do not have.  He tells us the stranger is Jesus and throughout we expect a big reveal is coming.  Many great artists have painted the moment when the two disciples first realize Jesus is with them.  Diego Velazques’ painting of a kitchen maid is notable.  It depicts a woman tending to pots and jars and in of its own rights is a masterpiece.  Only after restoration was it discovered in the left-hand corner of the painting three people are sitting at table.  The maid catches a glimpse of the scene in the reflection of a kettle and discerns before two of the guests the third person is the Risen Lord.  This discovery of this detail changed the entire meaning of the work and put into context the reaction on the maid’s startled face.

It is terribly significant Luke tells us this recognition comes through a Eucharistic moment.  Only then are they fully able to reflect back on the bible study Jesus led them through as they were walking.  I don’t believe it restores their hope to what it was before.  I think it transforms their hope in light of a new reality: Jesus is risen and he is with us to the end.

Paulo Coelho writes about this transformation in his book By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept:

“Joy is sometimes a blessing, but it is often a conquest.  Our magic moments help us to change and sends us off in search of our dreams.  Yes, we are going to suffer, we will have difficult times, and we will experience many disappointments — but all of this is transitory it leaves no permanent mark.  And one day we will look back with pride and faith at the journey we have taken.”

There is something about the experiences of loss and resurrection which transforms us from “we had hoped” to “we now believe.”  We gain insight and wisdom and translate it into a sense of peace and joy.  And it is all made possible as we experience Jesus’ victory every time we break bread.