On disappointment, coronavirus, & the third Sunday of Easter

Yesterday’s lectionary gospel text, assigned for the third Sunday of Easter, has long been a favorite of mine. Ever since 2012 or so when I came across this blog post by Andrew Byers, author of Faith Without Illusions: Following Jesus as a Cynic-Saint, which draws attention to this phrase: “We had hoped.”

“We had hoped that he [Jesus] was the one to redeem Israel,” two of the disciples say as they trudge away from Jerusalem toward Emmaus. I can imagine them heads down, hands in pockets, kicking the dirt.

“We had hoped.”

A little (just a little) like those disciples, I too went on a walk yesterday. I walked from my home, down the mostly-empty street, and onto the now-quiet campus of the university where I’ve recently spent some of the most formative years of my life working on a master’s degree, forming relationships, and impacting how I understand much about my world. I walked to the chapel, sat on the steps, and tried to pray. Before long, the tiniest drops of moisture fell onto my shirt, then a few more, and a few more as I picked myself up and headed home.

It probably won’t be too much. It’ll be over soon, I thought about the rain as I walked.

And it occurred to me that’s exactly how many of us had understood the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic when we were first learning of it. Like a few raindrops hitting our consciousness, we assumed it probably won’t be too much. It’ll be over soon.

But how wrong we were. And how wrong I was last night.

I had hoped for a nice evening walk.

We had hoped for COVID-19 to be smaller and more swiftly managed.

We had hoped for graduations, weddings, funerals, birthdays, classes, jobs, Easter celebrations, and myriad other milestones to carry on as normal (though of course, what is “normal” anyway?). Before these things changed, we had assumed they would carry on more or less in their default ways, like they have day after day, year after year. We had little reason not to.

But then…the rain kept picking up until it was a steady downpour and I was very awkwardly half-jogging the last few minutes of my journey home (I’m humorously not a runner).

Here’s the deal: We had hoped for x. But sometimes we get y. And somehow, usually in ways we don’t understand for a long time if at all, God shows up in the y anyways. (Pun intended. God shows up in the “why?“)

The disciples of Jesus understand disappointment deeply. They had expected a king and what they saw was a crucifixion.

Then when, unbeknownst to them, the resurrected Jesus sidles up to them on the road to Emmaus, that Jesus does not — at least not first — jump to correct, criticize, or cut short their disappointment. He listens. He walks alongside them.

I remember hearing a sermon on this same passage once, probably 3 years ago, and it too centered on this theme of disappointment. After the sermon, during the “passing of the peace,” an older woman two rows back tapped me on the shoulder, reached out and held my hand in both of hers, and said, “That sermon was for you.” She knew a bit about my story at the time, and she was right.

Well, reader, this story is for you, too. For whatever it may be that you had hoped for. For what you had assumed would happen that is now happening differently or not at all — perhaps devastatingly so. And for the hope of resurrection, the hope of glimpsing God in the blessing and breaking of bread (Luke 24:30-31, 35), the blessing and breaking and sharing of mundane meals and modified milestones in whatever ways we can find. 



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