Third Sunday of Easter, May 8, 2011
But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Luke 24:21
How often have you heard the words â€œwe had hopedâ€ used in church circles? They are usually accompanied by a sigh and language such as â€œWe had hoped that giving would be better this year.â€ â€œWe had hoped to have some new members.â€ â€œWe had hoped our youth program would take off.â€ â€œWe had hoped to start a contemporary service.â€
Unfortunately, the verbiage â€œwe had hopedâ€ is most often accompanied by the coordinating conjunction â€œbutâ€ followed by an explanation, rationalization, or theory about why what was hoped for did not come to pass. â€œWe had hoped that giving would be better this year, but with the economy, you know.â€ â€œWe had hoped to have some new members, but nobody came back after the first visit.â€ â€œWe had hoped our youth program would take off, but weâ€™re just too small to have critical mass.â€ â€œWe had hoped to start a contemporary worship service, but we donâ€™t have the musicians to do it.â€
If similar sad tales emit from the mouths of the good church folk you know, rest assured that you are dealing with a case of â€œPast Tense Hopeâ€ Syndrome. Youâ€™ll find it manifests itself in symptoms such as hang dog looks, defeatist attitudes, and flagging interest. It is an all too common malady among mainline churches today. People with this syndrome also tend to experience a lack of vision and clear sight. Sometimes they canâ€™t see the answer right in front of their noses. The good news is that while this syndrome is serious, it does not have to be fatal if treated quickly and properly.
The gospel reading for this week contains a prime example of â€œPast Tense Hopeâ€ Syndrome. Cleopas and his friend entered Jerusalem full of dreams and high hopes; now they are headed to Emmaus with heavy hearts and muddied vision. In fact, their vision is so unclear and their focus so cloudy that they fail to recognize Jesus is right there with them. It is only when they see him in the most obvious of actsâ€”breaking of breadâ€”that they realize through past-tense hindsight what has just happened. The good news is that Jesusâ€™ making himself known to them in this act enables them to find new hope and enthusiasm. Realizing their hearts have been afire all along, they head back to Jerusalem to share their good news.
How should one treat a case of â€œPast Tense Hopeâ€ Syndrome today? Begin with the obvious: Word and Sacrament. Encourage those manifesting signs and symptoms of this malady to come into frequent contact with Godâ€™s word and Christâ€™s meal. Then, like Jesus did with Cleopas and his pal, unpack scripture by retelling and explaining the great faith narrative. Once a person begins to see him or herself as woven into the fabric of Godâ€™s people, a sense of vision and a glimmer of hope should break through the darkness. Finally, provide the syndrome sufferer with an opportunity for â€œpresent tense action.â€
There is no better cure for â€œPast Tense Hopeâ€ Syndrome than opening oneâ€™s eyes to catch a glimpse of the holy in everyday life. Once that happens, it is much easier to get back to discipleship by transferring that â€œPast Tense Hopeâ€ into â€œFuture Tense Visionâ€ through â€œpresent-tense action.â€ You see, Jesus is still right there with us. We are not orphaned and left to despair. We always have hopeâ€”even when we fail to see it.
Hey, was not your heart burning within you as you thought about how God just might be at work in your context turning those â€œpast tense hopesâ€ into reality? If so, I bet you are out of danger when it comes to â€œPast-Tense Hopeâ€ Syndrome. I pray you see the risen Christ in all you do and in everyone you see. Blessings on your preaching and teaching this week!
Here’s a meditation on the song “In the Breaking of the Bread” sung by Kitty Cleveland and posted on YouTube.
Share Lost & Found’s 1995 song “Hearts” with your youth group.Â A YouTube version is available here. Talk about what it means to have “hearts on fire” for the gospel. What did Cleopas and his friend mean when they asked 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?”
Take children on a walk around your church building and ask them where they see Jesus.Â If you do this during a children’s sermon time, simply walk around or look around the sanctuary. The children may point to pictures, crucifixes, etc. Point out the elements of the Eucharist as a place where we meet Jesus. Make sure to note that we see the face of Christ in one another.