Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire
- April 30, 2017
Scripture Reading: Luke 24:13-49
The Rev. Robert Vodra
Setting the stage. The passage we read this morning happened just
after the resurrection story we read two weeks ago. The women
went to the tomb and it was empty. They rush back to tell the
disciples, but Luke describes the other disciples as not believing
them. Saying that the disciples felt the women were telling idle
tales. Actually, Luke used the word Lerious, as in
delirious. The disciples believed these women were out of their
minds. Peter does run off, checks the tomb, sees the clothes
laying there as the women described, and goes home amazed. I do
wonder at his amazement, no sign of Jesus, just an empty tomb, but it
had been opened, someone could have taken the body, not really a reason
for being amazed in my mind.
And then we hear about Cleopas and an unnamed
disciple walking toward Emmaus, later that day. The women woke
them up, tell them some crazy story, and well, they don’t see
Jesus. It has been three days, so start the 11 mile walk back
home. Maybe that rising on the 3rd day was not to be. You
would expect it in the morning, but they had places to go, no sense in
hanging around Jerusalem waiting for Jesus. Often when things
don’t happen as quickly as we expect, we are fast to move on.
And then Jesus meets these two on the
road. He could have met them in Jerusalem, he could have gone
ahead to Emmaus and waited for them. But he chooses to meet them
where they are, trudging along the dirty road, headed home. And
they were talking about all the things that had happened. Jesus
was only doing his ministry for one to three years, not totally
clear. But that is not a lot of time. And the disciples
joined him along the way, so we don’t know how long these disciples had
been following Jesus, but certainly not a lifetime. And now it was
over. The tomb was empty, according to those crazy women.
That does not prove that Jesus rose, just proved his body was not there.
As they start talking with Jesus, who they
didn’t recognize yet, perhaps the 3 most important words of the gospel
are spoken. We had hoped. We had hoped he was the one who
would redeem Israel. We had hoped that he was the chosen one, the
messiah. We had hoped that he would have been raised from the dead
like he said he was going to be, that he was still with us.
I find myself often with that feeling of “we
had hoped.” So much is said in those three words, as they speak of
a future that is not to be, a dream that created energy and enthusiasm
but did not materialize, a promise that created faith that proved to be
false. It speaks of a future that is closed off, now irrelevant, dead.
And there are few things more tragic than a dead future. Once challenged
to write a short-story in six words, Ernest Hemingway supposedly
replied by penning on a napkin: “For Sale: Baby shoes, never used.” It’s
not just the tragedy of what happened that hurts, but the gaping hole
of all that could have happened but won’t.
My Sister and Brother in law bought their house
about 20 years ago. They bought it from a man who had moved from
that house into an identical house on the other side of the same
town. He loved the town, he loved his house, but as he and his
wife lived in that house, his wife got cancer and ended up dying.
Didn’t die in that house, but while he was living there. The
thoughts of “we had hoped” were too great for him to live in that house,
so he built an exact copy of that house in the same town, and sold the
other house to my sister and brother in law. We had hoped
that would have lived there until we were both old, we would have hoped
that the lives we built in that house would continue.
Those words, we had hoped, ring true to me.
They are not the only truth, of course; there is much in this life that
is beautiful, daring, confident, inspiring, and more, all of which
deserves our gratitude. But there is also disappointment, heartbreak,
and failure. And all too often we tend to gloss over this in church.
And it makes sense. We are people of the
resurrection. We love the fact that even death could not stop
Jesus. Even in the passage this morning, the disciples recognize
Jesus and go running back, at night, along that dangerous road to tell
the story. A happy ending, full of anticipation of what might lay
We are very good at glossing over that
hurt. When someone dies, what do we say, God needed another
angel? At least you have the memories? Tomorrow things will
be easier? When someone loses a job, there will other doors that
will open? When someone gets divorced, when someone gets a bad
diagnosis from the doctor. Everything happens for a reason?
And this hurt is not a means to an end.
We don’t go through the crucifixion only to get the resurrection.
There is pain that leads to death. There are times in which
nothing good comes out of a bad situation.
Maybe part of it is because of our
culture. In 60 minutes, minus commercials, you can have a murder,
investigation, trial, conviction and the guy goes to jail. When I
was living in North Carolina, we had a murder in our area. Real
estate agent, had been dating a guy but living alone. They found
her dead in her house. Boyfriend had a solid alibi, they had no
leads. In that area you elect a sheriff, who is actually a law
enforcement officer. So the current sheriff came by the Fire
Department one night looking for votes. Someone asked about it and
he was confident that they would solve it, but asked if any of us had
any leads that might help them. They had nothing. As far as I
know that murder is still unsolved today. Not only is there not
resolution in 60 minutes, sometimes there is no resolution ever.
In seminary we were always told to preach the
Gospel, what is the good news in a passage? And this week, that
would be an easy sermon. Jesus meets us where we are, and reveals
himself to us when we least expect it.
But I think it is helpful to sometimes not
preach that. I think that it is helpful to hear the “We had
hoped,” and realize that things are things in our lives not always easy,
and also that they do not always turn out like we want them to.
There is a lot going on in our country right
now. This week I am going into the doctor for my annual physical,
my employer does not provide me insurance so I have a plan I purchase
off the exchange. One of the benefits of that is that I get a
physical every year. I am afraid that they are going to find
something, and that our government is going to pass one of the laws they
are trying to pass now, that will allow insurance companies to charge
more for a pre-existing condition, or deny coverage. I had hoped
that I lived in a country that would provide health care even if, or
when, I develop a condition that needs to be treated.
Our country seems to be showing a lot of
military muscle in the past few weeks. Sending missiles into
Syria, and then dropping a huge bomb in Afghanistan, moving ships closer
to Korea. I remember going to school when the threat of a nuclear
attack from the USSR was a real threat. I had hoped that we might
have learned that sending troops, missiles and bombs into other
countries is not a solution to violence.
Just in the past few days I have gotten several
notices that Carfentanil has been found in New Hampshire. This is
the large animal tranquilizer you may have heard about on the
news. This is approximately 100 times more powerful than
Fentanyl. The lethal dose in humans is not known, but the state
believes that even a tiny amount in the air, inhaled or absorbed through
the skin could be fatal. I had hoped that heroin overdoses were
on the decrease and that in treating others, with normal precautions, I
would not be in danger.
I had hoped that NPR and PBS would continue to
receive the tiny amount of funding that they currently get from our
government. I had hoped that meals on wheels and school lunch
funding would be secure, or at least put at a higher national priority
than a wall. I had hoped that underperforming schools would get
resources to become better, not that the students would get vouchers to
move into a private school providing even less funding to a struggling
school. I had hoped that the native Americans would have been
allowed to preserve their burial lands and that a corporation would not
have been given the rights to destroy their lands for private financial
It is all fine to leave church feeling good,
but I think there is also a real need and purpose to identify areas in
which each of us feel “we had hoped.” Certainly your hopes and
dreams are different than mine. In addition to our private hopes,
we have corporate hopes. We hope the church grows, we hope that
someday we might need to add an addition of Sunday School rooms to hold
all the children, we hope that the Federated Church of Marlborough might
provide a witness to this town. And, of course, we need to work
for those hopes, but there are things beyond our control. Some of
those hopes may become a reality, some will not. Sometimes our
dreams will be left with the feeling of “We had hoped.”
That is something that I really like about our
Bible, there are stories that end with victory, but there are also
stories that are very accurate. Even those closest to Jesus felt
“we had hoped.” Maybe some of the areas of “We had hoped” did come
true, but certainly, for them, as for us, some do not.