Suffering and Hope

Suffering and Hope

Suffering and Hope                                                 April 26, 2020

Acts 2:14, 36-41, 1 Peter 1:17-25, Luke 24:13-35

              “Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all –

              And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –

And sore must be the storm –

That could abash the little Bird

That kept so many warm –

              I’ve heard it in the chilliest land –

And on the strangest Sea –

Yet – never – in Extremity,

It asked a crumb – of me.

Emily Dickenson sees hope as a bird that lives within the human soul; this bird sings come rain or shine, gale or storm, good times or bad.

Alexander Pope in An Essay on Man writes:

Hope humbly then; with trembling pinions soar; 

Wait the great teacher Death; and God adore! 

What future bliss, he gives not thee to know, 

But gives that hope to be thy blessing now. 

Hope springs eternal in the human breast:

The Psalmist proclaims (Ps. 42:11):

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

              And then of course in 1 Corinthians 13, the Apostle Paul includes hope, with faith and love and he says these three abide.

Hope springs eternal! Hope is the thing with feathers! Hope, with faith and love abide.

              And yet, sometimes people lose hope! They become hopeless! Why do people lose hope?

              Scholars agree that the prime reason why people lose hope has to do with their expectations.  We all know that unrealistic expectations always bring disappointment.  If your expectations is unrealistically high, you’ll end up getting disappointed. If your expectations of a vacation is unrealistic, you will end up being disappointed.

               A decade ago a group of missionaries went to South Africa and in our planning meetings, I constantly reminded people: “keep your expectations low”. I said this not because I did not believe that the trip would be a transformational experience. No, I wanted people to have realistic expectations.  If your expectations of the future, of life are unrealistic you may lose hope.

              Today’s Gospel reading is fascinating. Luke’s Gospel is the only Gospel that includes the story about two friends of Jesus on their walk to Emmaus. It is packed with information and to understand this story, one has to unpack the information carefully.

              On that first Easter Sunday two of the Disciples were walking to a village called Emmaus, about 7 miles from Jerusalem. They were discussing the events of the previous few days: Jesus being arrested and being crucified. The reason why they were going to Emmaus is not given. However, they were discussing recent events that disturbed them greatly!

              Suddenly, a stranger joined them on their way. It was Jesus but they did not recognize him. “What are you discussing?” Jesus asked.

              Luke shares with us that they stopped, looking sad. The recent events shocked them and saddened them. They stopped! Their lives were interrupted! They were troubled, they were confused, they were uncertain about what would happen next. The disciples’ lives were turned upside down. Their friend and teacher was brutally executed, they abandoned their old lives, they gave up their jobs to follow Jesus and they were full of expectations and hope of a new era. And now they don’t really know what to make of it. Their hopes were dashed!

              This year all of us can relate to how they must have felt: Lives turned upside down! Not understanding what everything meant? Struggling to make sense of it all!

What are you discussing?” the stranger asked.  

Where have you been? Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem? You don’t know what happened?”

              The stranger responded: “What things?” Of course, Jesus knew! However, he gave them the opportunity to share with him that what is bothering them! He does what every compassion person would do: “Tell me, share with me your concerns!”

              And then they tell him! In verse 21 we see the main reason why they were so devastated and down, why they were so sad and disappointed: “We had hoped that he was the one..” We had hoped! But now their hope was shattered.

              I have mentioned it before but here it is again: If you have never experienced your hope being shattered, just wait. At some point all of us will experience what the Disciples put in words: “We had hoped… but…..” They were disappointed, they were devastated, they reached the end of their rope!  If you have never felt this way or if you think that you will never feel this way, then you don’t have to listen further. However, if you can relate, if you feel or have ever felt disappointment, devastation, hopelessness or felt that your world came tumbling down then I think that the Gospel message is for you.

               “We had hoped” the Disciples said. The stranger said: “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared.” The stranger goes on to explain to them that it was necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things. “The Messiah would suffer and then enter into his glory – according to God’s plan.”

              Remember that the prime reason people lose hope has to do with their expectation. The two Disciples’ expectations did not include the fact that the Messiah was to suffer! The reality of Jesus’ suffering apparently blinded the Disciples to understand the events, for they did not expect or did not want to recognize that the Messiah would suffer.

              One scholar says it this way:  The Disciples’ fixed views about the Messiah made it impossible for them to see that Jesus was the Messiah. Their view of the Messiah was one of glory and power and suffering was not part of their expectation! The result? They did not see the Messiah! They missed the One that God sent!  And their hope was dashed.

              Now, no one is comfortable with suffering. The normal and human response is to either ignore suffering or to pretend that it will never happen to me. And yet, suffering is very much part of our world, part of life. And when God’s Son became flesh, he suffered for us!

              There are actually Christian branches that proclaim that when you are a Christian, a faithful Christian, you will prosper, you will be happy and healthy, wealthy and cheerful. And when bad things happen to you, it is because your faith is not strong enough, or you don’t trust God enough.  This is not Biblical theology!

              I don’t know how people with such a theology would deal with our world right now. People are suffering, people are dying. Good, faithful people are included in the statistics of victims of COVID-19.

              People all over the world are worried and anxious about their lives right now. Many are struggling to sleep at night, some are experiencing depression and panic attacks. Most of us feel unsettled and uneasy. If our expectations have been that everything will always be fine then we will feel kind of hopeless now. If our expectations are that I deserve that my life should always be intact and that suffering are for others, then I will feel abandoned and disappointed.

              However, if I realize that Jesus entered this world, the Messiah, the Son of God, and he suffered, then faith and hope will abide! When I read the Bible and I see that our Lord and Savior suffered then I can find hope that I will never be alone. When I remember that it was through suffering and death that the Messiah entered into his glory I will find strength and courage to continue in spite of what the world throws at me. In other words, Jesus brought life through his suffering and his death.

              When they reached the village, the disciples urged the stranger to stay and have dinner with them. And then, at dinner, the stranger broke bread, blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened.

              Some theologians say that the breaking of the bread refers to communion. Others say no it does not imply communion. However, when Jesus, explained Scriptures  to them, and pointed out that the Messiah suffered, when he was sitting at the table with them, and he blessed and broke bread they saw and recognized Jesus.

              And their faith and hope returned! And faith and hope abode in spite of the physical Jesus vanishing from them.

They immediately went to Jerusalem and told the other disciples: “The Lord has risen indeed!”

              The paragraph about the Disciples on their way to Emmaus, opens with them being sad, hopeless, perhaps afraid and uncertain about their future. It ends with them proclaiming the Lord is risen indeed! It ends with them having hope and joy for they realized that the Messiah suffered, died but was resurrected. We too can have hope of new life. We too have faith in the Lord who is in control of the future. We too find joy knowing that our comfort in life and in death is that we belong to the Lord of life.

The prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 40:31) invites everyone with these words:

Those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint
. Amen!