The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


Sermon - 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 ahead.

     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?  Not always.

     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 gain. 

     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.