The Word Among Us

Easter 2008 Issue

A Journey Toward Hope

This Easter, let Jesus rekindle your heart.

A woman stands looking at her reflection in the mirror. So much had changed in the year since she got married: a new home, a loving husband, and now, a baby about to be born. She knows that many countless challenges lie ahead, but she also knows that many joys and new discoveries await her as well. And the thought of these challenges energizes her.

A man sits at his desk and stares out the window of his new office. He has just received a prestigious promotion, and he is excited at the prospects. He has a much heavier workload, and he is now in charge of far bigger projects than he had ever managed before. But he doesn’t worry about the new pressures. Rather, he feels ready to tackle whatever comes his way.

Now, by contrast, imagine the following:

A widow in a nursing home learns that she has terminal cancer. Her children no longer visit, and she must now face her final months all alone.

A fifty-year-old man with two children in college gets fired from his job, and is unable to find work because he is too old.

A woman discovers that her husband has just left her with no explanation. He just emptied their bank account and abandoned the family.

What is the difference? The first two stories tell of people filled with hope. The future holds out promise, and they are looking forward to the challenges ahead. The last three stories depict people who have lost hope. Their future looks either menacing or depressing, and so they dread the coming days and find it hard to muster the energy to deal with them.

We all know people who have lost their hope. Maybe we ourselves have felt hopeless at different times. But whether we have felt this way for a day or a decade, Jesus wants us to know that there is always hope, and that he himself can give it to us. This is something that two of his own disciples learned on Easter Sunday, so let’s look at their story and see what we can learn. It’s the story of the two travelers on the road to Emmaus, told in Luke 24:13-35.

A Heavenly Visitor. It was Easter Sunday, and two of Jesus’ followers were walking along the road to Emmaus, a small village outside Jerusalem. They had been disciples for a while, and Jesus’ preaching and miracles had captured their hearts. But all that changed when their beloved Master was arrested, beaten, and crucified. They had believed that Jesus was the chosen one. They thought that God had sent him to redeem Israel. But on Good Friday, they were devastated—and perhaps even felt betrayed. They decided to return home and resume their former lives.

Along the way, they met a stranger on the road—Jesus in disguise! For the rest of the journey, this stranger explained how it was God’s plan that the Messiah would suffer and die, but that this Messiah would rise again to glory. So compelling were his words that the two disciples invited him to dinner so that they could hear more. It wasn’t until their guest blessed the bread that they saw that he really was Jesus.

So it was true after all: Jesus really was the Messiah. He had risen! Everything he had said and done was real, and they were right to believe in him. Amazed and excited, they rushed back to Jerusalem to tell Peter and the others the good news.

How Does the Future Look? This beautiful story shows us just how powerful hope can be. Before they recognized Jesus, these two disciples were walking away from Jerusalem. They separated themselves from the small faith community that had formed around Jesus and his message. They left the people who had prayed with them; the people who had experienced God’s love and mercy with them; the people with whom they had seen so many miracles and healings. It is as if, by leaving this little band of believers, they were walking away from Jesus himself and everything he had taught them.

But Jesus didn’t let them go so easily. He sought them out. Like the good shepherd in the parable, he didn’t just abandon them and hope for the best; he went after them and tried to bring them home. And how did he do it? Not by overwhelming them with more miraculous acts of power. Not by begging and pleading with them to come back. And not by trying to convince them that they were making a terrible mistake. Rather, he did it simply by rekindling their hope. By telling them about God’s plan of salvation, he showed them that his death was not an accident. God hadn’t abandoned him to fate—and Jesus would not abandon them, either.

As Jesus spoke, the promises of God began to set their hearts on fire. The future looked brighter because the promises of the past were coming true before their eyes.

This is where the stories at the start of our article differ. The first two tell about people who see the future in a good light, and the last three tell about people who can see no hope for their time ahead. Like these last three, the Emmaus disciples felt that they had no future in Jerusalem. Jesus’ promises—all the good news of his preaching—had been overshadowed by his death. And so, Jesus spent time with them, giving them new eyes to see the road ahead and to help them choose the future that he had mapped out for them.

This is exactly what Jesus wants to do for us whenever we lose our hope. He wants to join us on our journey—even if we are walking “away from Jerusalem”—and convince us that he has a plan for our lives. He wants to help us look at our present situation through the eyes of faith and hope so that we will see that his hand is still upon us and that he can help us. He wants to lift our eyes to heaven and show us that we are part of a much bigger story. And by doing that, he wants to give us a larger, more heavenly perspective on our challenges and trials. He wants to convince us—even against all human logic—that there is always room for hope and that brighter days really do lie ahead for us.

From Words to Revelation. Still, words weren’t enough to turn the disciples around. Yes, their hearts were stirred and they began to look at the future with new eyes. But they were still facing the wrong direction—away from Jerusalem. It wasn’t until they recognized Jesus that they saw that new future and hurried back to the other disciples. They needed this personal encounter with Jesus to help them embrace the dreams that had begun to stir in their hearts. And that personal encounter came at dinner, as Jesus blessed the bread.

At that instant, they knew that the kingdom of God had come. What’s more, they saw that they had a part to play in God’s plan. They had a sense of purpose, a sense of mission, that was exciting and empowering. And knowing that Jesus was with them gave them the courage they needed to face the challenges of the future—whatever they might be—with hope, excitement, and trust.

Emmaus tells us that all the preaching in the world isn’t enough to move us to action. It can stir our hope, but that hope needs to find some sense of fulfillment, or it will remain powerless to change us. That’s why the Mass has both a Liturgy of the Word and a Liturgy of the Eucharist. Having had our hearts stirred by the readings at Mass, we still need to have our spiritual eyes opened so that we can see Jesus, welcome him into our hearts, and experience his transforming power.

What Is True Hope? It can be very easy to find ourselves on our own “road to Emmaus”—sometimes without even knowing how we got there. Maybe we have let the demands of the day overshadow Jesus’ promises. Maybe we have given in to temptation and allowed sin to cloud our closeness with the Lord. Maybe we have allowed discouragement or anxiety to overwhelm us. Whatever the cause, we have lost our hope, and we are left sad or frustrated.

But we don’t have to give in! Jesus can open our eyes to the signs of hope all around us. He can stir our hearts again, reminding us about his promises. He can take us out of our isolation and help us reconnect with our brothers and sisters in Christ. But above all, he can reveal himself to us so that we will run into his arms, happy to be home again with him.

So whether you are hopeful right now or burdened by fear or anxiety, let Jesus come to you. Let him show you that your future can be just as glorious as his. Let him excite you with the prospects of new life so that you are energized to face whatever challenges life may throw at you. He is with you every step of the way, even when you don’t recognize him. Let him heal you, encourage you, open your eyes, and feed you with his own bread of life.