I read today what seems to be to be about the saddest sentence in the Bible. It comes from Luke 24:21, on the walk to Emmaus where two disciples encounter a 'stranger' on the road and tell him about what had happened to Jesus. They explain how he was crucified and then say: "But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel."
Imagine the way they had said that. "But we had hoped..." The same way that somebody might say: "But we had hoped the chemo would work." "But we had hoped the accident wasn't so bad." "But we had hoped she would lead a full life..." The sense of loss is staggering. Hope and faith are kind of friends that walk hand in hand, and if you lose one, the other tends to fade away. For these disciples who had probably walked with Jesus and seen his miracles and hoped that things would change, this was an expression of the deepest despair. "We had hoped things would change. We had hoped things could be fixed. We had hoped... but now we don't."
The thing that catches me again and again about this passage is God's response to this hopelessness. He doesn't leave them because they lacked faith, but instead he gently scolds them for still seeing the world how they had always seen it when the point of Jesus was that things would be different. Their hope had been lost and their faith was dying--or perhaps their faith was in something more real to them, more easily verifiable: death. So what was his answer? It was to walk with them. It was to reveal himself by teaching them, by being present with them and enduring their faithlessness and calling them back to belief. It was to make himself known in a new way--in the breaking of the bread.
Jesus didn't suddenly appear and they didn't immediately recognize him. Instead, he appeared to them but they didn't get it so Jesus stuck around, and it was only in looking back that they realized their hearts had been burning the whole time. Where has Jesus been in your hopelessness? Where might God be injecting hope in your life? The Lord is risen indeed, and he has appeared... to Simon, to the disciples on the road, to the eleven, to Mary Magdelene, and to you. He is risen, and he is with you. Amen.