Bread

Can you smell it? The flour, the butter, the yeast? My husband and I were proud of ourselves for successfully baking this bread yesterday. It was buttery, crusty, chewy, and aromatic. It was all things a bread should be. And we ate it lustily with bowls of bean and lentil soup. All the kudos for this wonderful peasant bread goes to Alexandra Cooks where we pulled the recipe offline. Although I love cooking, (usually beginning with making a paste or sautéing garlic, onion, peppers, etc) I don’t have that much baking experience, especially baking bread, but this was easy. And it turned out gorgeous. It is easy to see from these photos why this crispy, flaky crust and cushiony center could be the epitome of homeyness, nourishment, and comfort for much of the world.

Baking bread seems to have been a popular pastime these last several months for many during quarantine. As we reflect back on 2020, what will stand out in our memory of the year? Searching for toilet paper? Binge watching Netflix? Better dinner conversation with family?

“Give us this day, our daily bread.”

It is not difficult to to understand why Jesus would equate himself with such a basic necessity. Nor is it hard to see how we might conjure up warm, happy feelings of nourishment and safety, acceptance and provision and savory pleasure when we hear him proclaim,

“Yes, I am the bread of life.” John 6:48 (NLT)

Bread, fresh from the oven, butter melting in rivulets down a thick slice. Bread, long awaited, as it slowly rises.

Bread, his body we hold in our hand, as we take it into our mouths. We, as His body, accept it as we wait again for him.

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and this bread, which I will offer so the world may live, is my flesh.” John 6:51 (NLT)

Isn’t it extraordinary that Jesus would choose for us to participate fully at his table? We are not only guests, but also active members preparing the feast. The bread and the wine do not appear magically, mystically, but come from seed and vine, tended by human hands. Threshed, sifted, pressed, fermented, baked, waiting, waiting until the Lord appears with us. He is always present, but we are the ones who bring the bread, and he shows himself to be among us.

Like the boy by the Sеа оf Galilee whom Andrew led to Jesus, we also bring the staple of life. The boy turned his contribution in to God, a plain lunch, but in the hands of the Manna from heaven, a sacramental mystery. Was it with more pride or astonishment that he watched as Jesus fed thousands of people with his familiar food? Did he think it tasted unusual that day?

Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks to God, and distributed them to the people…And they all ate as much as they wanted. John 6:11

This bread was broken yesterday at home within our family and eaten with soup. It could only have been better had you been present. Once we emerge from COVID limitations and social distancing, you are invited to join us. We will break bread, give thanks to God, and hopefully, eat as much as we want.

I have only now noticed that my last several posts have been about bread, and specifically about the food of the Eucharist. I can only explain this unnoticed perseveration by saying that I believe the Holy Spirit has been trying to speak and teach me things regarding food and drink and holiness and communion. Pray with me that we hear, then listen.

An Advent Lament

This week we lit the candle of joy for Advent. However, I am fixed in a season of lament. I am not in despair, nor am I enduring any particular suffering personally, but I know many who are. Among family and friends, there are those who have lost loved ones to COVID. Some are dealing with job loss, divorce, and yet more are spiritually discouraged. The political distractions have weighed us down and we are disheartened by the public discourse so full of vitriol. It is a heavy season.

We are isolated.

Lonely.

Deeply discouraged.

Or maybe it’s just me. But I suspect not.

What does it look like to wait for His glorious appearance as His church while not fully in community? What does it mean to remain faithful while at home, sheltering in place?

Does this resemble your home communion? The Eucharist can take on different forms in different places, but during this season of quarantine, I am interested in how individualized and “homey” the forms of Christ’s body and blood have become.

More of our worship times have gone to Zoom with the colder weather and spikes of COVID cases. While our family’s participation in the Eucharist looks like the photo above, I know the truest story is that we are still being lifted up to the heavens week after week as we take in the body and blood of Christ. The heavens and the earth yet rejoice.

Although it is difficult for me to muster the emotion, my faith knows the hope of joy and peace we will one day experience fully.

Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.

Romans 5:1-5 (NLT)

Does God feel far away as we are in the midst of a pandemic-induced isolation? Does he seem distant from our political and social strife, or personal sadness?

Because our Creator created us for community, it hurts when we are without the physical presence of others. In truth, we are created in his own communal, trinitarian image. We most often experience God through others.

This beautiful commemorative 2020 ornament of the Holy Family is the artwork of Clarey ClayWorks in Carmel, Indiana.

How did Mary, the mother of the Christ, endure? Did she feel God was far away with every sideways glance at her growing belly? She was likely shunned. Her life had changed drastically. And yet, when she may have felt the loneliest, there were Elizabeth and faithful Joseph, and God drawing closer to her, growing inside her, the closest he had ever been.

So he is with us, just as he promised.

He doesn’t necessarily carry us out of our grief and hardships, but sits with us in them. Entangled with our moments of sadness, we also have the joy of hope. We have Christ Himself.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted;

he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.

Psalms 34:18 (NLT)

Red Stew: a thanksgiving post

Most of us will be feasting tomorrow on turkey, maybe some mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie. More than likely we will have a simpler day than in past years with fewer family members. This may cause some stress and disappointment, some regret or sadness. We can choose to remember, however, that, although 2020 is a difficult year, full of trials that would seek to undo us, it is temporary. We are yet alive to the blessings of God, of family, of friends, of this beautiful, broken world.

Thousands of years ago one very different man came in from hunting in the fields. He was tired and “famished,” and although he wasn’t in any particular danger, he chose to focus on the one thing he did not have – the red vegetarian concoction simmering in front of him.

And Jacob prepared a stew and Esau came from the field, and he was famished. And Esau said to Jacob, “Let me gulp down some of this red red stuff, for I am famished.” Therefore is his name Edom. And Jacob said, “Sell now your birthright to me.” And Esau said, “Look, I am at the point of death, so why do I need a birthright?” And Jacob said, “Swear to me now,” and he swore to him, and he sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and he drank and he rose and he went off, and Esau spurned the birthright.

Genesis 25:29-34

Here, I make use of Robert Alter’s masterful 2019 translation of the Hebrew Bible. Esau’s crude speech and desperate manner reveal something to me of my own tendencies toward ingratitude. Esau gulps down his food, sneering at his birthright. He doesn’t even appreciate the responsibilities and privileges he does have. So distracted by his present hunger, he will not see the temporary nature of his troubles, nor will he see the good of his family and fields and the love of his father and the closeness of his brother.

He lacks gratitude. So there is no thanksgiving. Only hunger.

Esau exaggerates his hunger, and his troubles enlarge exponentially. Because of his myopia and thanklessness, he becomes vulnerable prey for his brother, a trickster and an opportunist, as he sets him a trap. When we are focused primarily on our hardships, we open ourselves up to the temptations and deceit of sin and stealth, even in the guise of a bowl of red stew. As much as I enjoy a hearty serving of spiced lentils, I am determined to hang on to my birthright.

By longing for something that is presently beyond my grasp, that perhaps is not even in God’s plan for me, what am I potentially forfeiting? Am I grasping for something arbitrarily, simply because I am ungrateful for what my arms already hold? Many of us have lost much this year. I don’t dare to neglect that fact. However, God is still good. He continues to give bowls of red stew, but also relationships, beauty, nature, his goodness, his promises of better futures, and as I look around, worlds of wonder that should never drive me to despair.

May I still recognize my troubles rightly, but not forget to be grateful for the abundance of good persistently in my life.

Esau ate and drank and rose and went off. Did he even taste the red stuff which cost him so much? May our gratitude be ever before us so we savor every good blessing. God longs to give us so many good things; let’s not look down on any of them.

Making Room – book quotes

“People view hospitality as quaint and tame partly because they do not understand the power of recognition… Hospitality can begin a journey toward visibility and respect.”

-Christine D. Pohl in Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition, p. 62

The year 2020 will be long remembered. It will be known as the year of the pandemic, contentious politics and race relations, as well as the year of deepening isolation for many. Yet as believers in a God who is unconditionally faithful and perpetually active, we are confident He is using even the chaos of the year’s events toward his own good. This isn’t to say he caused the pandemic, or the social unrest, but nothing is hopeless while under his gaze. And be assured, he sees all. And cares.

I have used this year to curate carefully what I have been reading. More than any other time in my life, I am choosing books that will encourage personal growth, while allowing me to appreciate the good, true and beautiful. My most recent read is Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition (1999) by Christine D. Pohl.

“Strangers without resources need more than the minimal food, clothing, and shelter that might come through institutional provision. They need friendships and opportunities to contribute their gifts to a community.” p. 92

My deep prayer is that, as followers of Jesus, we will tire of a mindset of fear and exclusion and remember Christ’s constant warm welcome to others. My prayer is that I will begin leaving marginal space for those politically different, linguistically strange, culturally other, and instead, see each person both individually unique and collectively as a Christ-before-me. What a vastly different year 2021 could be if we put others’ needs before our own! What could we create in our communities if we were grateful for the commonality of our humanness?

“Overcoming strangeness is necessary when our responses are personal and when strangers are welcomed into personal, valued places.” p. 93

Here I offer just a couple more quotes pulled from this book. I am not taking the time right now to write a review. Honestly, I don’t quite feel up to it yet. However, I do highly recommend the book for encouragement in thinking more broadly and generously particularly toward the poor, the disabled, the immigrant and refugee.

Making Room swiftly corrects the definition of hospitality taking us back to its original embodiment – a love and care for the stranger and the other. Christine Pohl, a professor of social ethics at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky, has carefully researched and interviewed Catholic, Protestant, and Evangelical contemporary charities involved directly in long-term hospitality efforts. These groups are specifically working with immigrants, refugees, the homeless, and the disabled.

“…the experience of having been a stranger, or of being a vulnerable person on the margins of society, is often connected with offering hospitality. When hospitality involves more than entertaining family and friends…we often find hosts who see themselves in some way as marginal to the larger society.” pp. 104-105

Pohl gives definition to the long-cherished Christian tradition of hospitality, as well as challenges the reader to see oneself as servant, partner, co-laborer, and not merely charitable worker or minister.

“We offer hospitality within the context of knowing Jesus as both our greater host and our potential guest. The grace we experience in receiving Jesus’ welcome energizes our hospitality, while it undermines our pride and self-righteousness. The possibility of welcoming Christ as our guest strengthens our kindness and fortitude in responding to strangers.” pp. 105-106

Below is a short reading list on loving our neighbors , broadening our understanding of hospitality, snd serving others. The following books range from light, inspirational reads, to practical, community challenges, to more academic approaches on the topic.

What books might you add to the list? What is your definition of hospitality? Could intentionally practicing hospitality soften our isolated, twenty-first century hearts?

Joy is and is not…

Introverted. Analytical. Curious. Reflective. Prone to loneliness and sadness. These are a few of my personality traits. And joyful? Optimistic? Can they be reconciled with the first group mentioned?

Growing up, I heard how Christians should be joyful people, and not morose. Lately, I have been hearing public theologians like Miroslav Volf and Willie James Jennings, or prolific writers like N.T. Wright discuss the theology of joy. According to them, Christians ought to orient themselves toward joy. Jennings describes a theology of joy as a kind of “resistance against despair and death.” While I agree wholeheartedly, I think it is important to explain what we mean by a theology of joy. What does it mean and not mean to be a joyful people?

To be joyful does not necessarily mean we walk around with smiles on our faces, or laughter and jokes on our lips. This may be default behavior for the light-hearted or for extroverts. This describes more of a personality type rather than a person living out their faith based on conscious decisions and full of hope.

Being joyful does not mean we repress feelings of sadness, depression, nor do we ignore pain and suffering in ourselves or others. Mourning is still practiced appropriately by the joyful, and prayers of lament are comfortably in the vocabulary of a theology of joy.

Jennings’ description of a theology of joy is an antidote to the dystopian films and novels of today, as well as to the postmodern aversion to hopefulness. It is a defiance against despair. It is recognizing God. James, in his letter to the early Christians, claims this as counting it all joy when we meet trials of various kinds, even persecution and calamity (James 1:2-4). Paul reminds us that it is possible, even Christ-like, to rejoice always, even in prison, even in dire need (Philippians 4:4). These are not men oblivious to the plight of others or naive in their positivity. Their joy has a hopefulness for the ultimate future; it relies on the truth that once God promises his presence, it is as good as received (Romans 4:17-18). Joy is inextricably linked with hope. Not wishful thinking, but the hope that depends solely on the character and Word of God.

At times, joy may be paired with fear, as when the shepherds witnessed angelic messengers ripping through our skies and proclaiming beauty in such startling terms (Luke 2:8-18). Surely they raced to Bethlehem both rejoicing and struck by fear. Joy may come only after a night of terror and anxiety as when King Darius paced the palace sleepless and Daniel reclined uncertain with lions’ teeth uncomfortably in sight (Daniel 6).

Joy is not void of troubles. It is not necessarily conditional, but rests on truth. The apostles discovered this, when, threatened by the powers-that-be, they prayed for boldness (Acts 4:29-30). When their prayers were answered, and they were flogged after meeting with the religious legal body, the Sanhedrin, instead of simply mourning, they rejoiced (Acts 5:40-41).Although they suffered, it was because of their greater hope.

Whereas happiness may manifest itself as a visible emotion, joy is quieter, deeper, more constant, steady and fixed. It enjoys a foundation secure, not easily shaken or destroyed. For this reason, Nehemiah bolsters the spirit of the returning remnant with the words, “The joy of the LORD is your strength!” (Nehemiah 8:10). And this, as they were weeping in the face of strife and chaos.

How do we, then, become joyful people? It is through practiced faith and love, by leaning in and acting as if we believed these things. We are both formed by what we believe in, what we consider and think about, and we are even formed by the acting out of these ideas. This partly means in order to become joyful people, we act like joyful people, not in disingenuous ways, but stepping toward God in hope. His Holy Spirit will meet us and guide us the rest of the way.

“There is no suggestion at all that these signs of the world’s darkness will ever be absent. But still, God’s joy can be ours in the midst of it all. It is the joy of belonging to the household of God whose love is stronger than death and who empowers us to be in the world while already belonging to the kingdom of joy.”

– Henri Nouwen in The Return of the Prodigal Son, pp. 116-117

Immanuel: When God Was One of Us

Although I grew up celebrating Christmas, it was not until recently that my family and I began to observe Advent more in earnest. During the last several years, we began reading through the Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament throughout the month of December. Our church annually held candlelight Christmas Eve services. We bought our own wreath with pink, lavender and white candles. We struggled year to year to find a devotional that seemed right for us.

I was eager to write down my own thoughts around the profound gospel message of Advent and Christmas. While my kids worked on math or grammar at the kitchen table during our home school year, I stole fifteen or twenty minutes here and there, delving into Scripture and the unfathomable idea that God would love us so much that he would become human.

This idea of incarnation from a God who loves us and longs deeply for us seems rich with meaning and significance far beyond the scope of one holiday season. It has been a spiritually rewarding experience to attempt to articulate the implications of God being one of us. In living a small, specific life, Jesus shows us he understands, he loves, he walks alongside us. There is so much comfort and challenge in that!

Immanuel: When God Was One Us is available through Amazon both in paperback and Kindle editions. I pray it may be a help during these times of chaos and stress and distraction.

from the Preface:

Christmas is a favorite time of year for many people, and for many, it is the most stressful or depressing. My desire is that this book may be an encouragement to both. In acknowledging both the joy and anguish of the season, we honor our dependence on God in a genuine way. It is my hope that this daily devotional will help quiet and focus our minds and hearts to celebrate and worship the Savior who came down to be one of us….In whatever way you participate, I pray you experience the truth of his presence, and eagerly await with me his final Advent.

For more information, please go to

www.amazon.com/April-Bumgardner/e/B08GX3Q9N5?ref_=pe_1724030_132998060

Arianna’s birthday

This was Labor Day weekend. More than grilled hamburgers or hotdogs, more than backyard games or time off work, I hope you shared moments with people you love. I hope this past weekend you were able to enjoy beautiful weather, but even more I hope you were able to breathe slowly and exhale in gratefulness.

This weekend was also Arianna’s twenty-fourth birthday. She is the eldest daughter of some wonderful people we know. Arianna is sweet-spirited, compassionate, strong in her faith, organized and dependable. We had lunch at the family’s home and I had decided to make a cake for her. Her brother has been on a gluten free diet for several years now, but I found a good recipe using almond flour. It would have been an excellent cake, but I was hesitant about using cooking spray on the cake pans, not knowing if it was a good gluten free option. Here is the birthday cake.

Happy Birthday?

I attempted to frost the first broken layer thinking I could sort of spackle it back together. It obviously didn’t work. In the end, we brought ice cream and ate it scrambled.

No one really seemed concerned. The cake still tasted good. More importantly, however, these are people full of grace. They care about being together more than whether everyone has it all together or not. We all need those people in our lives, don’t we? Some days (or maybe most days) I feel like this cake. A big mess. Scrambled. Certainly not anything I would want unfamiliar people to see.

Jesus is like that too. Full of grace. More likely to be concerned about us spending our time together with him than about us having it all together. He knows we don’t anyway. Some things we bring to him and we can see their beauty. A kind word in an interrupted day. Something sacrificed out of love. Others look like this cake. Impatient words. Petty attitudes from pride. Jesus sees them all through his heart of grace.

“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Luke 5:31-32

I hope the next time I bake a gluten free cake I will do a better job. Maybe I will just use the baking spray. It is reassuring to know, however, that I was able to bring what I had and it was good. It was made good by the company. What is it that Jesus does with our contributions? How much better is he able to use a scrambled life! Our efforts are made good by his graciousness.

And, by the way, I also brought a small, round bakery cake beautifully decorated with white chocolate curls. But that had nothing to do with me.

Happy Birthday, Arianna!

A connecting bridge or a dividing wall

Last week my husband took some vacation time from work, and although we didn’t travel, we spent more time outdoors with our guys. One day we hiked at Turkey Run State Park in central Indiana. Now, if your image of Indiana is of cornfields, you are imagining something accurately. However, if it is exclusively of cornfields, you might be surprised by the lushness and other-worldliness of this picture.


It is our favorite place in Indiana. I have a sense that a hobbit hole is around the corner or a pointed elfin ear will emerge above a rock.

Here stands one of the largest species of trees in Indiana. The solidness of this growing thing is always so humbling and impressive to me. This giant American Sycamore reaches her massive arms heavenward recognizing her dependence on the Creator. It is a sure reminder of how much I rely on God’s graciousness. It is a specific embodiment of so many of the psalms that describe trees growing strong “planted by streams of water,” (Psalm 1:3) or even the gentle reminder that “all the trees of the forest sing for joy.” (Psalm 96:12)

As our path narrowed and followed closely alongside Sugar Creek, the red slats of this bridge built in 1883 caught our eye. We backtracked a bit in order to get a better view of it downstream. We usually cross the suspension bridge at the beginning of our hikes here. It was interesting walking across this one as well. I thought about different times in my life when I have been a connecting bridge. I have a history of connecting different types of people together. This is a good thing and sometimes a lonely thing. Many of you may understand this. If you are often bridging the gap between groups, it may mean you never fully belong to any one place. The bridge is not on any one side of the creek but straddles it.

I thought about how the apostle Paul describes Christ. Not as our bridge exactly, but as our reconciler, our peace, the one through whom we have access to the Father. (Ephesians 2:11-18) And we are not only reconciled to God, but also to one another. Bridging any distance, foreignness, and animosity, Jesus brings us closer to one another.

Lately, however, I feel I have pushed people away, not brought them near. I have fought hard against it. I feel I have unintentionally added bricks on to that “dividing wall of hostility.” It is a sobering thought. If Christ destroyed the wall, why do we continue to put up barriers? Walls and bridges can both be lonely things, but I would rather sit back and admire the role I play in connecting rather than dividing.

“In the breaking of the bread”

This is my final post on my thoughts from Luke 24:1-35. With a simple meal, surprisingly hosted by Jesus, we read how the gospel story ties those of us in the modern world to antiquity, as well as to eternity. Christ is with the disciples who were traveling on to Emmaus after his crucifixion and resurrection. Hurt and scared, discouraged and uncertain, the disciples are struggling for meaning in these new events.

They came near the village where they were going, and he gave the impression that he was going farther. But they urged him, “Stay with us, because it’s almost evening, and now the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

It was as he reclined at the table with them that he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight. They said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts burning within us while he was talking with us on the road and explaining the Scriptures to us?” That very hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem. They found the Eleven and those with them gathered together, who said, “The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!” Then they began to describe what had happened on the road and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread. (Luke 24:28-35, CSB)

Bread and wine, photo taken by my son A.

For whatever reason the disciples did not recognize Jesus. Was his post-resurrection body so much sturdier? Was it altered like an old friend appearing after ten years clean shaven when he had previously worn a beard? Did they see him from some new perspective? Did the Holy Spirit simply prevent them from recognizing him immediately?

As they walked along with him, he trained them in preaching the gospel. They spoke of the facts and events that led to their grief. They shared their past joys and aspirations. They did not get the ending right. They just didn’t understand. Not yet. But Jesus, patient, loving, author of their stories, gently corrects them.

Can you imagine having the experience of retelling the gospel story to God? How did it help them improve it the next time they told it? And the next?

Jesus deepened their understanding using Scripture, that is the Law, the Psalms and the Prophets. He spoke authoritatively but also endearingly, for they did not want him to leave. His message “burned in their hearts.” Did it ignite in them because of its beauty, or its truth, or both?

The Christ appeared to them as a hitchhiker along a country road, but soon they accepted him as their host. It was not until they sat down to a meal together that they knew who he was. When he broke the bread they saw him. Finally, as he picked up the loaf of bread – and broke it -(had they previously witnessed the miracle with the five thousand?) they saw Jesus, their Lord and Friend. Was it sight given by the Holy Spirit? Was it the ordinariness of the daily bread that helped them to connect the dots? How many times must they have relived that moment in their minds and through their stories to others! Would we ever stop retelling such a story? Do we ever tire of encountering his presence in the breaking of the bread? Do we recognize him there? Whether we partake daily, weekly, monthly, do we ever have enough of his presence?

Tucked away in a quiet room at a small meal, Jesus’ once-broken body broke the emblem of his body and shared it with those who would soon also be referred to as “the body of Christ.” Is it any wonder this is the moment his identity and the gospel became clear to them?

If we look around our ordinary homes, churches, lives, we see ordinary people. It might be easy to see the Eucharist or communion as just a ritual. We eat bread or a cracker and drink juice or wine bought at a grocery store. It seems too ordinary to have real meaning. Do we recognize Jesus with us? He is here. In the bread, in the brother and sister next to us, in, and through, and among us. If we do this every Sunday will we recognize that Jesus is real and present and powerfully with us, among us in the breaking of the bread?

He is here.

***

After jotting down these thoughts, a song I have not recently sung has floated back into my mind with its beauty and mystery. And now I realize it retells this part of the gospel story in a much more beautiful way. I invite you to read or sing the words with me. Simply follow the link.

Come Share the Lord.

But we were hoping

Hope is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all –

– opening stanza of poem by Emily Dickinson

“Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, since he who promised is faithful.” (Hebrews 10:23, CSB)

In my last post we imagined what it might have been like for the women visiting Jesus’ grave early in the morning. Before the world was turned upside down, when death still held irreversible sway, the angels proclaimed a disquieting message. “He is not here.”

Sometime later that day, two different friends, traveling a country road, quietly conversed and struggled through all the “what-could-have-beens.”

Now that same day two of them were on their way to a village called Emmaus, which was about seven miles from Jerusalem. Together they were discussing everything that had taken place. And while they were discussing and arguing, Jesus himself came near and began to walk along with them. But they were prevented from recognizing him. Then he asked them, “What is this dispute that you’re having with each other as you are walking?” And they stopped walking and looked discouraged.

The one named Cleopas answered him, “Are you the only visitor in Jerusalem who doesn’t know the things that happened there in these days?”

“What things?” he asked them.

So they said to him, “The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet powerful in action and speech before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they cruciifed him. But we were hoping that he was the one who was about to redeem Israel. Besides all this, it’s the third day since these things happened.” (Luke 24:13-21)

These followers shared loyalty to the Nazarene. Had one of them been healed by Jesus? What did that matter now since he had been executed? Were they awaiting the retaking of Jerusalem, the Roman dispersion? Could a prophet be defeated? Did they belong anywhere anymore? How to make sense of a world in which your hopes had been utterly destroyed?

“But we were hoping…”

We all have disappointments, either personal or collective, either recent or suppressed deep in our past, that have shaken us and our beliefs. On that road to Emmaus, Jesus’ friends were devastated and lacking in confidence. At this point in the narrative they grappled with what to do. Not only had the Passover ended, but their plans for a new future. I wonder how you feel this morning? this evening? Have we lost hope? With so much brokenness and disillusionment around us it is difficult to see where that country road might lead. Obviously things are not happening as we might have expected. The way seems discouraging and we quietly talk with one another (or is it resentfully) about how things were supposed to be different.

Have we forgotten the promises of Jesus, that he will always be with us? Are we tempted to throw away the narrative in exchange for a harsher, grittier, more jaded one? Or can we stick with him to allow the Christ to redefine for us what it means to “redeem Israel?”

Unemployment, COVID, sickness, spiritual and social isolation, political strife, racially-based and economically-based injustices. Our world is hurting and desperate for hope. How could Jesus redeem our situation?

Can we hope in something we don’t understand? We may not be able to retell the story’s climax or predict the resolution, but the reason for our hope has been told to us once before. Two friends on the road to Emmaus held on to a ragged hope. We don’t understand where we are in our story, but we hold firmly onto the one in whom we have placed our hope, our confession, our beautiful inheritance.

Lord, you are my portion

and my cup of blessing;

you hold my future.

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;

indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance. (Psalm 16:5-6)