Have you ever felt hopeless and despairing?
At its worst, having no hope for the future is frighteningly debilitating. It robs people of their sense of self-worth. It robs people of their drive to succeed. It robs people of their will to live. It instigates drug and alcohol abuse. It instigates self-neglect, or worse, self-destructive behavior. It instigates an unraveling of supportive relationships.
After Jesus was crucified… his followers were crushed mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. They were afraid of what might happen to them. They were grieving the loss of their friend and rabbi. And, on top of it all… the future that they thought looked so bright (the coming Kingdom of God, freedom from Roman oppression, Jesus as the Messiah and King) seemed broken and utterly lost.
Then… they get some news…
The first Good News that they get is that the women couldn’t find the body in the tomb.
Think about that for a moment… not from the vantage point of we who know how the Easter story ends… but from the perspective of these despairing disciples. Before Jesus appeared to anyone… The only GOOD news is that the tomb was empty. It seems like a desperate stretch. Any number of things could result in an empty tomb: a theft of the body, or mistakenly going to the wrong tomb are two things. That he was alive!? Very difficult to believe.
This is exactly the condition in which we find two of Jesus’ disciples as they travel to Emmaus on Easter night:
13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven milesfrom Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
This is a long passage of Scripture with lots of things to reflect upon. I would like to simply focus on how the hopelessness and despair of these disciples robs them of their ability to perceive and recognize Jesus present with them. It robs them of the wherewithal to interpret and trust the Scriptures. It instigates them to leave the rest of the disciples (as Passover ends) and, presumably, go back to whatever they were doing before… in isolation, without hope for a future, without success, without a will to continue.
It’s only when their journey comes to an end, and they extend themselves beyond their hopelessness and despair in order to offer hospitality to this ‘stranger’, that Jesus is reveled in the meal they share together.
He was there the whole time… present with them, journeying with them.
The promise of the Scriptures was there the whole time… bearing witness to the truth.
They couldn’t see it because their hopelessness and despair had robbed them. But, in the act of extending hospitality and sharing a meal… Jesus reveals himself in the breaking of the bread. Then, the blindness is broken and they recognized Jesus. And, they could see in hindsight that he was there the whole time.
And this is so for all of us who put our faith in the Risen Jesus. Even though we may endure seasons of hopelessness and despair. Even though we may feel spiritually blind and without the presence of Jesus. He is there.
So, let’s continue to open the Scriptures and invite Jesus to open our hearts. Let’s continue to gather together and share the wondrous story of his resurrection. Let’s continue to extend hospitality, act generously, and break bread together.
And, let's trust that Jesus will continue break down our blindness and reveal himself to us, set our hearts on fire, and inspire us for the journey and mission ahead.