Luke 24: 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel…
For the past week, I was on vacation. Those who know me well know that I am not the best at “going on vacation.” Instead of vacationing, I tend to use my time off to attend conferences, visit family, or take on other productive endeavors, but this time I knew my heart needed an actual vacation. My soul needed some adventure and some serious thinking space. What I didn’t expect is that my personal road trip would become a walk to Emmaus, where I would encounter Jesus in some pretty unexpected places, unexpected faces, and profound moments of awe.
Right after Easter services, I did what I have always wanted to do: I packed up my dog in my little mini cooper, grabbed my hiking gear, and went up the coast on the PCH (Highway one). The trip had no agenda other than to go for some hikes and see some sights – the top of that list being Big Sur. After a busy Lent, one of the biggest bonuses was that this trip would require me to be out of cell phone range and force me to have alone time disconnected from the outside world.
For Lent, we preached a series on the seven last sayings of Christ. I shared in a previous post how deeply some of these sayings rocked me and how I had been struck with how distant I felt from God. It isn’t good to have personal crises of faith during one of the busiest pastoral seasons, but my faith journey has never been one of ‘good timing.’ Mid-Lent, I began to ask the question, “Does God love me?” So Lent was a personal challenge as well as a busy pastoral season. The good news for my ministry is that I have never doubted that God loves other people unconditionally, so it is easy to maintain my work schedule. When we got to the “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” week, I was wrecked. As I reflected on Christ’s final hours, I understood in a very personal way what abandonment can feel like. Although Christ is quoting a Psalm that ends with the Psalmist feeling God’s presence, I myself wasn’t feeling God’s presence.
On Easter morning, we tied up the sayings series with the first recorded sayings of Christ following the crucifixion and resurrection. We used Luke’s account on the road to Emmaus. In Luke, the first words the resurrected Christ uttered were shared with disappointed disciples at they journeyed to return to their regular lives. Luke tells us that Jesus was a hidden companion unknown to his traveling companions. As I read the scripture to prepare for the sermon, I kept laughing at the imagery of Jesus listening to the disciples share his story as he is standing right there in front of them. It has that sitcom feel – the gag being that the very person they are grieving is standing right in front of them.
As we prepared for the Easter morning sermon, I chatted with the lead pastor at our other site. He pointed out something that I haven’t been able to get out of my head and kept running through my mind as I hiked the beautiful Big Sur trails. Pastor Karl pointed out that as the disciples shared the story of Christ that day on the road to Emmaus, they paused in the middle to say “21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” The disciples recognized that Christ did amazing things, but as they saw it, he had left before accomplishing the one task they wanted him to accomplish. Karl pointed out that there are many places in our lives where we talk about our faith or the ways that we have been blessed, but when we are honest, for many of us, “But we had hoped…” is where we end up. But we had hoped that life would end up differently. I realized as I began to work on the sermon that I felt like the disciples seeing Christ. I can testify to some amazing things, “But I had hoped” things would go a little differently.
As I hiked, I asked myself the question: what had I hoped Christ would do? I felt a huge knot in my stomach. I am a pretty positive person and it felt negative to list the ways that I hoped life would be different. The biggest one is the deep loneliness this season of my life has held. I talked to God about it and shared my list of disappointments as I began my hike: “God, my life is pretty good, ‘but I had hoped’…” As I hiked, I started to laugh as my dog jumped in the river while still on the leash and I laughed at my mini cooper parked beside all of the serious outdoor vehicles – I realized that this is pretty fitting for me to have the car that doesn’t fit in. I am defiantly a walking dichotomy. I noticed the way that life isn’t perfect by any means, but it continues to be a wild adventure. I noticed that everywhere I stopped, I would get into great conversations with strangers. I noticed that I never once felt lonely on my solo journey. I don’t know how you feel about how your life has turned out, but I think if you are honest with yourself and others, there are “But I had hoped…” places. I think the challenge for us, as it was for the disciples, is to see where the kingdom is present in the midst of that. So where do you see God when things aren’t as you hoped?