Best of Daily Reflections: Finding God in All the Wrong Places: In the Midst of Hopelessness
And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked, “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, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”
It’s Sunday evening, the third day since Jesus of Nazareth was crucified in Jerusalem. Cleopas and his friend had been in Jerusalem during those days, and now they are traveling from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus, seven miles away. Had they witnessed the crucifixion? Were they standing with Mary at the foot of the cross? We do not know, but what we do know is that they have been deeply affected and saddened by it. They had placed all their hopes in this man called Jesus. They thought he was going to be the one to redeem Israel—the one who would free their people from Roman oppression, from invading armies and foreign taxation. But now Jesus was dead, and their hopes were shattered.
As they walk along the road from Jerusalem, a stranger joins them. He asks them what they have been discussing as they are walking. In response to his question they stop, stand still in the road, and Luke tells us, they look sad. How can this person be unaware of the recent events in the capital city, they ask? And furthermore, they wonder, why doesn’t he understand how disappointed we are, how hopeless we now feel?
But the stranger walks along with them, telling them of Moses and the prophets, interpreting to them how Scripture is being fulfilled. When they come to the place they are staying, they invite him in. When he sits at the table and takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to them, the guest becomes the host. Then their eyes are opened to the presence of Jesus in their midst.
Their response to this news is that they immediately return to Jerusalem (even though it was near the end of the day). They walked seven miles back to the city to find the disciples and share with them this news that they have seen the risen Jesus. Their hope has been restored! They are doing what we all do when we have good news. We want to share it with others! The word “gospel” means “good news.” Even when we feel no hope for the future, Christ will meet us where we are. He will journey with us and offer us new life through the gift of his presence in the communion of saints and at his Table. Thanks be to God!
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: Christians are people of memory and hope. Memory anchors us to the past to help us remember and give thanks for the lives and witness of those who have gone before us. Hope leads us into the future that God has in store for us. Who in your life has been a witness of the “good news” and given you hope for the future? If they are still living, have you written them a note or given them a call recently to express your appreciation to them?
PRAYER: God of the past, present, and future, we know that you hold us in the palm of your hand—that you will never leave us nor forsake us. We thank you for your steadfast love that carried your people through the wilderness and brought them into the Promised Land. We praise you for the gift of your Son who led those grieving disciples out of their wilderness on the road to Emmaus and gave them a new future proclaiming your good news. We know and trust that you will be with us today in whatever wilderness we find ourselves and that through your great love, our hope will be renewed. Thank you for giving us a future that we will share with you eternally. We pray through Christ our Lord. Amen.
P.S. from Mark Roberts: Today, Rev. Susan Pendleton Jones concludes a five-day series of Finding God in All the Wrong Places: In the Midst of Fear, Lack, Grief, Shame, and Hopelessness. All of us experience these places of pain and struggle at different times in our lives. Isn’t it wonderful that, as we read the stories of Jesus, we discover anew that God is already there in these hard places? He will not only walk with us through life’s most difficult times but will see us through—in unexpected and unimaginable ways. I'm delighted to welcome her as this week's "guest reflector," and I commend her reflections to you with enthusiasm. In her "day job," Susan is the Associate Dean for United Methodist Initiatives at Duke Divinity School. She and her husband, Greg, are great friends and partners of The High Calling.
Image courtesy of Laity Lodge, one of our sister programs in the Foundations for Laity Renewal.