Narrative Lectionary Reflection for the Second Sunday of Easter, Year Three
Lessons: Luke 24:13-35
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people are always on the lookout for Jesus at work in the world and among God’s people.
Key Scripture: But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. — Luke 24:21
How often have you heard the words “we had hoped” used in church circles? They are usually accompanied by a sigh and language such as “We had hoped that giving would be better this year.” “We had hoped to have some new members.” “We had hoped our youth program would take off.” “We had hoped to start a contemporary service.”
Unfortunately, the verbiage “we had hoped” is most often accompanied by the coordinating conjunction “but” followed by an explanation, rationalization, or theory about why what was hoped for did not come to pass. “We had hoped that giving would be better this year, but with the economy, you know.” “We had hoped to have some new members, but nobody came back after the first visit.” “We had hoped our youth program would take off, but we’re just too small to have critical mass.” “We had hoped to start a contemporary worship service, but we don’t have the musicians to do it.”
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 “Past Tense Hope” Syndrome. You’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 can’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 “Past Tense Hope” 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. They are definitely NOT headed toward hope. 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 acts–breaking of bread–that they realize through past-tense hindsight what has just happened. The good news is that Jesus’ 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. They now find themselves on a road that does lead to hope.
If it’s true that with Jesus all roads lead to hope, how should one treat a case of “Past Tense Hope” Syndrome today? Begin with the obvious: Word and Sacrament. Encourage those manifesting signs and symptoms of this malady to come into frequent contact with God’s word and Christ’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 God’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 “present tense action.”
There is no better cure for “Past Tense Hope” Syndrome than opening one’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 “Past Tense Hope” into “Future Tense Vision” through “present-tense action.” You see, Jesus is still right there with us. We are not orphaned and left to despair. We always have hope–even when we fail to see it.
Go ahead. Step out in faith. Let the fire in your heart propel you onward. We are all on a journey together, a great cloud of witnesses, walking the discipleship way. Indeed, all roads do lead to hope when you keep your eyes on Jesus.
What are the past tense “we had hoped” in your congregation? Can people in the pews name them without shame or bitterness? It we’re always caught up in the past, there is no way we can see Christ working in our present or leading us into a future of hope. Invite worshipers to be “cured” of “Past Tense Hope Syndrome” by praying into a creative and visionary future. We humans can’t look both directions at once; we have to pick looking back or looking forward. Invite people to brainstorm about where they see Christ leading the congregation and them as individual disciples.
Here’s a lovely 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. 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. 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.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
The story of Cleopas and his friend on the Emmaus road from today’s gospel lesson speaks volumes to us and to our congregations today. Good stewards are aware of and often appreciative of the past but do not cling to it. Good stewards adapt to change and keep their focus on the things that matter most: Telling the stories of faith, sharing the good news, and making disciples. Is your heart burning within you because you have encountered the risen Lord? If so, what are you waiting for? If not, fix your eyes on the horizon. With Jesus, all roads lead to hope.
Stewardship at Home
Invite someone or a group of people into your home to break bread together. Make it a potluck, but be sure to have plenty of good bread to share. Talk about what it means to have real vision for a bright future rather than a morose meandering down the back halls of times past. Explore what ideas, images, and topics make your heart burn within you in a way that calls out for action.
Photos: memyselfmanu and Tom Blackwell, Creative Commons. Thanks!
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