There are many powerful phrases in Scripture. Some are short verses. Others are entire chapters. Several months ago, I heard Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber preach on ministry. Rev. Nadia is a pastor in the Lutheran tradition known for her honest preaching and openness about challenges in life and faith. She shared that to her, the three saddest words in Scripture are from Luke 24 when the disciples said, “We had hoped.”
This reading is right in the middle of the Resurrection narrative in Luke. Two of the disciples were on the road to Emmaus when they encountered the resurrected Christ. At the time, they didn’t realize who he was.
Jesus asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” Luke tells the reader that their faces were downcast as they stood there. They were disappointed.
The disciples had hoped for a victory, for a place of privilege and power. They had hoped for the victory of Christ over Rome, instead the one they followed ended up dead on a tree.
As they continued the conversation, they told Jesus about the things that had happened in Jerusalem. “About Jesus of Nazareth. He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people” they said. “The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.”
“We had hoped.” The disciples continued to hold on to their own expectations, rather than trusting in the movement and work of God. It sounds like they had essentially given up on following Jesus, the hope they placed in him after following for three years, and maybe even life.
If we are honest with ourselves, we probably sound a lot like the disciples at times in our lives too. We had hoped that our lives were like this. We had hoped we would be here in our career. We had hoped that we would have this degree or accomplishment by now. It’s easy to let our own expectations cloud the hopes and dreams that God has for our lives.
Those three words struck me as I heard Rev. Nadia preach. I had read those words countless times, but to place myself into the situation of the disciples helped me connect with the Scripture lesson in a new way. We all place our own expectations on certain things in life. Rev. Nadia shared with a group of church leaders that those are dangerous words. We might say that “We had hoped” this new program, or worship service, or outreach would bring more people in. We had hoped that this would work, but it didn’t.
It’s not that we can’t have expectations or hopes for our own lives and ministry, but we must remain open to the work of God in our lives over all of our expectations.
We’re called then to focus on the resurrected Christ. It wasn’t until that Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them then their eyes were opened to Jesus. Their comment on the road to Emmaus changed from “We had hoped” to simply “We hope”.
There may be times in our lives, careers, family, or ministry where our expectations don’t always pan out. It’s true for everyone. As we break bread, may we hope in the resurrected Christ. As we pray, may we hope in the resurrected Christ. As we live, may we hope in the resurrected Christ. May we align our expectations, our lives, and our hopes in Christ alone.
May our “We had hoped” become “We hope”.
The larger reading from the Gospel of Luke 24: 17-24
17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
19 “What things?” he asked
“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”