Sermon: “Longing for Hope”
St. Paul’s Episcopal – Brookings
Fr. Larry Ort
Acts 2.14a, 36-41; Psalm 116.1-3, 10-17; 1 Peter 1.17-23; Luke 24.13-35
Last Sunday we focused on our longing for evidence. We considered Thomas’ assertion: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe” (John 20.25b; NRSV). I ended the sermon as follows, “Our quest for evidence, I believe, expresses something even more fundamental – a longing for hope. In these times, and in all times, let us be prepared to share the hope that is within us!”
Considerable evidence suggests survival is imperiled in the absence of hope. Viktor Frankl, a Jewish holocaust survivor and the author of Man’s Search for Meaning, noted that between Christmas 1944 and New Year’s 1945 the death rate in the camp’s sick ward was unprecedented. Conditions had not changed – the food, or lack of it, and the housing were just as miserable as always. As Frankl notes, “the majority of prisoners had live in the naïve hope that they would be home again by Christmas.” When those hopes were dashed, they had no reason for hanging on. Frankl stated , “Those who know how close the connection is between the state of mind of a man, his courage and hope, or lack of them and the state of immunity of his body will understand that sudden loss of hope and courage can have a deadly effect” (Man’s Search for Meaning).
Let’s look at some references to hope that appear in the lectionary readings. But before we do, permit me to sketch the broader context. Last week’s gospel reading came from John; this week’s reading is from Luke 24. The gospel lesson begins, “Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem” (Luke 24.13; NRSV). What day are we talking about? Luke 24 begins with these words: “But on the first day of the week (i.e., Sunday), at early dawn, they came to the tomb . . .” (Vs. 1; NRSV). The Emmaus Road event, which we consider today, occurred the afternoon of the same day the women from Galilee who had followed Jesus visited the tomb; Jesus’ appearance to the disciples occurred later that evening.
The Emmaus Road story tells of two disciples who were walking along discussing the events of the last few days in Jerusalem – they may have talked of Jesus’ triumphal entry, his cleansing of the Temple, his arrest, trial, crucifixion, and the story of the empty tomb. As they were talking, Jesus drew near and began to walk with them (although they did not recognize Jesus). Jesus asked what they were discussing. They were a bit incredulous and asked Jesus, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” Jesus asked, “What things?”
Note their reply: “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” (Luke 24.19-21; NRSV). They had hoped, but their hope was unrealized.
The two disciples further related how the women had visited the tomb that very morning but had found it empty. They had seen a vision of angels who told them Jesus was alive. Some of the disciples had rushed to the tomb, found it empty, but did not encounter Jesus.
Think of it. As theses disciple walked along, they must have been asking, “What of our hope? What now? If Jesus is alive, what happens next? Where do we go from here?”
Jesus then exclaimed, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory” (Luke 24.25-26; NRSV)? Luke further tells us that Jesus, beginning with Moses, interpreted all the things the scriptures had to say about him. Imagine what it must have been like to have received such a lesson in salvation history. I suspect some of you have attended a lecture that riveted your attention in a somewhat electrifying manner. There is a sense in which one recognizes when deep truth is being revealed. I tend to think this is the work of the Spirit. The two disciples must have experienced this as they “said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us’” (Luke 24.32; NRSV).
Upon reaching Emmaus, Jesus acted as though he was going to travel on, but the disciples encouraged him to stay with them, after all, it was getting late. Jesus agreed to do so. When they sat down to eat, Jesus “took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them . . . their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight” (Luke 24.30-31; NRSV). Luke tells us the disciples then returned to Jerusalem where they found Jesus’ disciples rejoicing and saying, “The lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon.” The two disciples then related their experience on the road to Emmaus and how Jesus “had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24. 34-35; NRSV).
Our Lord Jesus Christ is fully known to us in the breaking of the bread. When we gather at Christ’s table to partake of the bread and wine, the body and blood, in remembrance of our Lord Jesus Christ, we experience Christ’s presence and the joy that comes with being a member of the body of Christ, a member of God’s family.
What about our reading from 1 Peter? Scholars largely agree that 1 Peter was written by an elder in Rome who wrote using Peter’s name. Although we would frown on this practice today, it was a fairly common practice and was even viewed as paying tribute to the person whose name one was using. At any rate, writing to the exiles of the Dispersion, 1 Peter encourages them to discipline themselves and to remain true to their faith. The exiles are to “live in reverent fear” during their exile for they have been “ransomed … with the precious blood of Christ” who was “destined before the foundation of the world” for their sake. The author writes, “Through him (Jesus) you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God” (1 Peter 1.17-21; NRSV). When we know Christ, our faith and hope are found in God!
Further, the exiles are to have purified their souls by obedience to the truth such that they share “genuine mutual love“ for one another which comes from the heart. This love comes from having been born anew in our baptism with Jesus Christ through which we have received the gift and power of the Holy Spirit.
Oh, how often we place our hopes in someone or something other than God. We may place our hope in another person only to have that person injure us deeply. We may place our hope in material goods and success only to discover how truly transient they are. Through the grace and mercy of God, our misplaced hopes are realigned when we encounter Jesus in the breaking of the bread, for here, like the disciples who sat down to eat with Jesus after walking on the road to Emmaus, our eyes are opened and we come to recognize our Lord and Savior. The breaking of the bread, the sharing of communion reveals the love, mercy, and grace of God. It is here we find our hope! As the old hymn proclaims, “Our hope is found in nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.”