Three Sad Words

Easter 3 Sermon

“We had hoped.” Perhaps the three saddest words in the Gospels- and our own lives.

“We had hoped…”

When the stranger on the road asked them what they were talking about, they stopped still on the road, and with downcast faces, looked at each other with eyes full of grief, knowing and remembering and recounting what happened…

“We had hoped…”

For the last three years of Jesus’ ministry, despite what Jesus told them, they had hoped he was the messiah, the one, at last, to redeem Israel, overthrow their oppressors and sit on the throne of David, restoring Israel to glory.

But, instead of a warrior, they received a servant

Instead of a judge, they witnessed a loving healer of sinners

Instead of defeating the oppressive Roman rule he taught forgiveness and love for their enemies

Instead of a king, they saw him crucified as a criminal

Crucified on a cross, the symbol of Rome around the world to anyone who would dare to defy their domination and oppression: a sign that “this will be your painful, brutal fate if you dare cross the line”.

A feared and hated symbol.

Christ dying on the cross broadcasted a message to everyone following Jesus; “We crucified him, put him to death, there would be no “kingdom come”. Your Jesus is no king, no messiah and never was”.

They had hoped “he was the one to redeem Israel…” Yet when Jesus was crucified, every single disciple knew what it meant; they thought, “We had put our hopes in Jesus. ‘We saw him as a prophet, mighty in deed and word before God and all the people’ … but he was crucified. We got it all wrong, he wasn’t the One. We “backed the wrong horse”[1], they confessed to the stranger.  All their expectations were demolished…their hope in those expectations died with Jesus on the cross.

They had seen him dead and wouldn’t even believe the women of their community when they insisted he was alive and they’d seen him the very morning they had started to walk to Emmaus.  This, to them was their new reality. They expected a very different outcome.

Their expectations blinded them. Expectations of their own personal and political redemption. Expectations SO much smaller than what GOD intends. They totally misunderstood how God was working to save the world.

Their eyes were so blinded by their own personal expectations they didn’t see the risen Christ, in the flesh, on the same dusty road to Emmaus, walking beside them.

Then Jesus, the resurrected Jesus, himself, as Luke tells us, begins to tell the entire story of God and Israel, and God and the WORLD in a new way to the disciples; in the glowing light of his resurrection.

The story re-told in the light of Christ’s resurrection…brought awareness of God’s presence and God’s all-encompassing, unsurpassable love for the world…From Genesis -right down to those two on that dusty road.  

Then they asked him to stay with them, have dinner with them at a stop in Emmaus. 

“He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him…” They see!

They see God’s grace freely given …faith restored. They were blind, now they see! “

Their personal expectations could no longer match what God had done. Instead of their hope being confined by their expectations, hope soared to the heavens. This new reality was more than they expected. Much more.


Hope restored. Hope not just for those two disciples on their way to Emmaus…but for the world. For US.

Most of us have been on that dusty road to Emmaus at one time or another…walking slowly, with downcast faces. Our hopes crushed, our fears paralyzing us, our hearts broken.  There are some here today who are walking on that road…

“We had hoped she would recover,” “We had hoped to save our marriage”, “We had hoped the cancer was in remission,” “We had hoped …”

We are disappointed because we don’t see God doing what we expect him to do. We feel lost and without the presence of God near.

We might feel like those two disciples, and say, “How could you let that happen, GOD?!”

But remember what Jesus does first in his walk alongside the two disciples? He asks questions…he asks them to tell him what is making them so sad, and then he listens.

Jesus knows their pain and grief are real…But he invites them to “name” their pain and grief so it would be possible to move beyond it on the road; to create room in their hearts for God’s grace, (“were not our hearts burning?”) room for them to believe God would show up in their lives – just where they least expected it. [2]

Some of us only need seven miles on that dusty road to find Jesus walking beside us, others may feel like it’s 70 or 700. Some never get to Emmaus. It takes time to move from despair, doubt, grief and fear to faith, hope, and love-

I believe this congregation is willing and ready (as some already have) to travel on that road to Emmaus with those of us who are feeling crushed, paralyzed and broken by events in our lives …events in our lives we don’t understand…events that leave us longing for a different outcome…events our own small expectation of GOD just didn’t live up to.

We can take a cue from our Lord Jesus…We can walk alongside those who are walking on that road with downcast faces, and ask them to name what is troubling them, ask them to “confess” all the difficult elements in their lives out loud; instead of keeping them all bottled up inside…and help them allow God’s grace, forgiveness and acceptance make a space in their lives for a new reality; A reality filled with joy for God’s amazing grace and love.

We can take that journey together from the cross to empty grave and from death to life. We can turn each other’s disappointment into joy. We can help open eyes to the Risen Savior walking next to us…

Throwing our own small, limited expectations of God aside, knowing God will exceed our expectations and surprise us with his love… and be willing to trust God and each other with our hearts.

I’d like to end with a quote from William Gurnall, author and clergyman in the 17th century:

“Hope fills the afflicted soul with such joy and consolation that it can laugh while tears are in the eye, sigh and sing all in a breath”

Open your hearts to Joy. Open your hearts to Grace. Open your hearts to God’s incredible Love. All these are right next to you on the road to Emmaus.




[1] N.T. Wright, Surprised by Joy pg. 40-41

[2] David Lose, In the Meantime

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