The featured image above was the work of Rowan LeCompte (American, 1925–2014) and Irene Matz LeCompte (American, 1926–1970), Third Station of the Resurrection: The Walk to Emmaus (detail), 1970. Mosaic, Resurrection Chapel, National Cathedral, Washington, DC. Photo by Victoria Emily Jones. 
But we had hoped ……………
The BBC Radio 4 Sunday Service on 26th April was led by Revd. Prof. Jennifer Strawbridge and the Revd. Dr Steve Nolan. . The theme was: “But We Had Hoped ……“
I have been reflecting on that short phrase over the past few days. I don’t think I have ever really noticed that little phrase before Sunday.
“But we had hoped …” is an expression of lament. As Professor Strawbridge explained, these are among “the most heart-breaking and realistic words in all of Scripture: … ‘But we had hoped’.”
But we had hoped. …
Everthing has changed for these two people on the road to Emmaus. As Professor Strawbridge explained in the service on Sunday, “Jesus, who they thought was their Lord, was crucified and with his death, their hope for redemption and restoration has died as well. Moreover, the tomb of this hoped-for saviour is empty, his body is gone, and while rumours are flying around that he is alive, they have seen nothing to suggest this is true and they are going home.”
These two friends have lost hope. Hope has withered and died and they are bereft, sad and confused. Going home is all they have left to do.
Professor Strawbridge went on to say that “the words, ‘but we had hoped’, linger in the air. … So much is contained in those four words which speak of a future that is now irrelevant. And pain stems, not only from the tragedy of what has happened, but the empty space of all that could have happened but won’t.”
She continues,” ‘But we had hoped’ are words that speak to each of us still. Not because we enjoy wallowing in dark and sentimental emotions, but because they are true. …
- But we hoped to celebrate Easter with our communities in person.
- But we had hoped not to get ill.
- But we had hoped to be so productive in our isolation.
- But we had hoped not to feel lonely.
- But we had hoped we could do more to help.
- But we had hoped for one final hug.
‘But we had hoped’ infuses our days and our lives in ways big and small.”
‘But we had hoped ….’ is an expression of lament which must for many, if not all of us, say something, at least, about what we feel at this time. It may become a growing and significant element of our feelings as the next month or two unfolds.
“But we had hoped ……”
What we longed for is no longer going to happen! What we longed for has already gone! We cannot get it back! What does life hold for us now? ……
Professor Strawbridge went on to say that, “with this story on the road to Emmaus, more often than not we jump over these first bits to the recognition of resurrection and the burning hearts in the disciples, without recognizing that the same hearts that are burning within them have also been broken.”
It seems to me the most important part of this story of the “Road to Emmaus” is not so much an amazing truth of resurrection breaking into the lives of Jesus’ friends but the darkest of statement of loss which is expressed by the two friends to the stranger who meets them on the road. “But we had hoped ….,” and all that we had hoped for has gone for ever. Deep, dark depression. All hope is gone.
The distance from Jerusalem to Emmaus was about 7 miles. ….
How long does it take to walk 7 miles?
I guess it depends on our age and state of health. The most able of us might walk it in under two hours, for some of us 7 miles is an impossibly long distance to walk, for most of us it will probably take us around 3 to 3.5 hours.
The darkest times for all of us, when we experience them, do last a long time. But how long? The time will vary, it will be different for each of us. Throughout these darkest times, expressing our lost hopes will be so very important. Whether in anger or grief, sorrow or sighing, throughout the darkest times are these … “But Lord, we had hoped ……….”
Jesus himself draws near to us. His Spirit lives with us and in us. But we probably cannot recognise the Lord’s presence in the middle of what we face. Walking this road, for us, will take a while. As we walk this road, we will have to take our own time. And throughout the journey, our faith will probably only be expressed in the reality of loss, “But we had hoped ……”
Our faith somehow keeps us engaging with God, even when what we say to God cannot possibly be expressed to others but it is so full of doubt, anger, hatred and lament. …
“But we had hoped ….”
“We had really hoped, Lord. We had believed in you for the future and you seem to have taken it all away and left us with nothing. How can we possibly continue to believe in you? How?” ….
Professor Strawbridge said in that broadcast, that if we fail to recognise in the story of the Emmaus Road, “that the people filled with overwhelming joy are the same ones who were filled with fear and despair.” If we do not grasp, “that throughout their fear and despair, whether those disciples recognized it or not, they were not alone.” Then, in our rush to get to the news of the resurrection, we miss the crucial reality, “that even in the place of confusion and despair, the Risen Lord walked alongside the disciples.”
We can see that Jesus’ presence with those friends on the Road to Emmaus is robust and challenging. But the challenges come from someone who is walking with them on the road. And he continues to walk with them, whatever the length of the journey, until they reach their place of safety, their home. It is also a presence which does not impose on them. It does not, ultimately, intrude. For Jesus would have continued on the road had they not invited him into their home.
And it is in their home, in the middle of all that is normal, in the simplest of ways, as they share that evening meal together, that finally they recognise their Lord.
Jesus walks with each of us: ahead of us, behind us, but most definitely with us, into all that we fear, into the unknown daily present, into a shrouded, frightening, confusing and uncertain future.
- https://artandtheology.org/2017/04/28/the-unnamed-emmaus-disciple-mary-wife-of-cleopas, accessed on 30th April 2020.
- https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000hmx2, available to listen to until the 25th May 2020, although the transcript should be available via the hyperlink for some time, accessed on 26th April 2020.