Making Sense

There are so many things we hope for – things great and small.  Just saying the phrase, “I hope that…” It’s optimistic, positive, buoyant, and upbeat. But perhaps the three saddest words in our lives, words that we hear in today’s gospel, are. “We had hoped….” For these travelers, it is “we had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel.”   “We had hoped,” but those hopes were dashed upon the wood of the cross and buried in a tomb. Now they are walking away from the rumors of Resurrection in a slow descent into despair. For years, the power of God had seemed so close. The disciples saw the miracles, heard the preaching, saw Lazarus emerge from the tomb, and so much more. Now those hopes lay buried in the tomb. “We had hoped…”

Some chapters in our own stories begin with “we had hoped.” “We had hoped this job would last,” or “our father would recover,” or “this relationship would work out,” or so many more things we had hoped for and yet the story turned out differently. We are not unfamiliar with this moment in the life of these two disciples on the road to Emmaus, walking away from a buried hope. Few things are more painful and disorienting than hopes now lost and left behind. How do we make sense of those moments?

The disciples are disoriented because they fundamentally misunderstood how God was working to save the world. Expecting a God of power, they got one of vulnerability. Expecting a warrior God, they got a suffering servant. Expecting a royal court and throne, they got a tomb and a crown of thorns. It all seemed to end in the tomb. But as they will discover, Hope is not in the tomb, it is there on that dirt road with them.

Out there on the dirt paths and trails where refugees pass. They had hoped the civil war would not destroy their homes and lives. But we know history. We remember their homes: Cuba, Bangladeshis, Yugoslavia, Angola.  We remember their loss: Darfur, Sudan, Syria, and Rwanda. As for me, I remember Rwanda most of all. The Rwandan refugees I knew in East Africa were like you and me, they had hopes; But all lay buried in the past that remained ever with them, in the tombs of the victims of genocide.

Yet the Rwandans I knew were hopeful people. It made me wonder what they understood that I did not so easily grasp? During the long journey across the dirt roads of East Africa, in the refugee camps along the way, they were witnesses to life with and without Hope. They knew that the ones who had no hope passed away well after the genocide. The ones who possessed hope, even intuitively, survived.

Before he became the first president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel offered these reflections on hope: “Hope is a state of mind, not of the world….; it is a dimension of the soul…an orientation of the spirit;…it is not the same thing as joy that things are going well…but rather an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed…. Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”

What is the “something” that made sense to my Rwandan friends? The answer for them was simply, the life that Christ proclaimed – that makes sense to them. A life lived in love, even love unto death. They found that Hope arose from their loving care for each other and their children. Along the refugee road and the camps, the Rwandans that I knew discovered what Christian mystics have long understood. It is on the Cross that the glory of the love of God for all humanity is revealed. God so loved the world that He held back nothing, not even His Only Son from the jaws of death.  His Son who accepted even death on a Cross – because of love. Love without limits. That made sense.

The disciples on the road to Emmaus have that lesson ahead of them. “And he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the Scriptures.”  Then it began to make sense to them. Before they experienced the Resurrection, they began to understand the glory of the Cross. They began to understand that in all the history of the chosen people, God ever hoped that the people would accept salvation. Even when it made no sense, God again reached out to his hard-hearted people, holding nothing back, not even his only Son.

And disciples began to understand that the Glory of God was displayed on the cross. Jesus, arms open wide between heaven and earth. Arms opened in Hope that we would embrace the offer of Life and Love. Hoping that it would make sense to us.

We all take the next step on the road, before the answers are known. Before it all makes sense. The disciples allowed the Word of God to move them ahead to the inn for a rest and a meal – the discovery of fully recognizing Christ still in their future. The Rwandans trekked the dirt roads and along the way discovered the depths of love for their children, their future; their country. A future many would not see. They held nothing back because of love. Their Hope was nourished in the soil of love.

Our crosses do not always make sense. It is not what we hoped for. The Crucifixion was not the hope of the two walking to Emmaus, or any of the disciples. But it is love that keeps them walking when they should have already fallen down. In love, it turns out well. Only in love, does it make sense.

And now, like those disciples, we have heard the Word. Let us continue our journey. Let us prepare ourselves to recognize the God of unbounded Love in the breaking of the bread.

Image credit: James Tissot, 1900, The Pilgrims of Emmaus on the Road (Les pèlerins d’Emmaüs en chemin), Public Domain

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