Hope: Lost and Found
Years ago, the producers of Sesame Street faced a dilemma. Will Lee, the actor who played Mr. Hooper, passed away, and the producers had to decide how to communicate the concept of death to the 10 million children who watched the show.
Child psychologists suggested they NOT say, “Mr. Hooper got sick and died,” because children get sick and they didn’t want them to think that they would automatically die. They also suggested NOT to say, “Mr. Hooper got old and died,” because little children think of their parents as being old.
The PBS execs wanted them to avoid religious issues and NOT say, “Mr. Hooper died and went to Heaven.”
So the show’s producers decided to say just a few basics: He’s gone, he won’t be back, and he’ll be missed. And they decided to use Big Bird to gently set the matter before the children. The show was aired on Thanksgiving Day so parents could watch it with their children.
Big Bird came out and said he had a picture for Mr. Hooper and he couldn’t wait to see him.
One of the cast said, “Big Bird, remember, we told you that Mr. Hooper died.”
And Big Bird said, “Oh yeah, I forgot.” Then he said, “Well, I’ll give it to him when he comes back.”
And the cast member put an arm around Big Bird and said, “Big Bird, Mr. Hooper isn’t coming back.”
“Why not,” Big Bird asked innocently.
“Because Big Bird, when people die, they don’t come back.”
And normally, that’s how it works, and it bothers a lot of folks.
Sigmund Freud famously said: “And finally there is the painful riddle of death, for which no remedy at all has yet been found, nor probably will ever be!”
Aristotle called death the thing to be feared most because “it appears to be the end of everything.”
Jean-Paul Sartre asserted that death “removes all meaning from life.”
And as he was dying, French philosopher Francois Rabelais said: “I am going to the great Perhaps.”
That brings us to this morning’s gospel reading. Now here we have two men walking from Jerusalem to their home town of Emmaus. They had seen the tragedy that took place in Jerusalem – Jesus being arrested, tried, beaten, spat on, insulted, and ultimately they saw Him die a cruel death on a cross. But they had also heard the stories of an empty tomb and of angels proclaiming He’d risen from the dead. And we might think they would have been encouraged – that they would have believed Jesus had risen from the dead. But that’s not what happened.
They can’t seem to wrap their minds around this idea. And why should they? After all, the dead don’t come back. Peter heard the same story they did. He got up, ran to the tomb, and when he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, he went away, WONDERING to himself what had happened.”
Mary Magdalene stood by the empty tomb, and when the angels asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? She replied “They have taken my Lord away, and I don’t know where they have put him.” John 20:13
And for these men, who were on the road to Emmaus, it was the only logical conclusion. Somebody had taken the body. So, their hearts were heavy and their faces were downcast. But then they encounter this stranger on the road and He asks them what they’ve been talking about.
So, they tell Him all about Jesus – a powerful prophet who did many miracles – how He’d been arrested and crucified – what the women said about the empty tomb and the angels. But then they say one of the saddest things:
“… we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel…” Luke 24:21
“We had hoped …” What they were really saying was this; “We don’t expect it now… but once we did. We had this thing called hope – but now… it’s gone.” Jesus HAD BEEN our hope. But now He’s dead. He’s been executed.
He’s dead and the dead don’t come back!”
This is why people are afraid of death. Because they don’t know where they are going and they know they aren’t coming back. And the producers of Sesame Street wanted to protect the children from this FEAR. But they offered them NOTHING to deal with that fear. All they said was that Mr. Hooper’s not coming back. They might as well have said; “when you die they’re going to put you in a 6 foot deep hole, cover you with dirt, and that is where you’ll stay – forever. You’re not coming back.”
And this is what our travelers on the road to Emmaus had to work with – an open hole. A place where once you are in there, there is no coming back. But the stranger had a different story – a story of resurrection – a story of hope.
It’s the very foundation of why we are Christians. We take the Resurrection of Christ out of Christianity – and we’ve got nothing! In 1 Cor. 15 Paul wrote: “how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.”
No one can dispute that Christ lived and then died for our sins. Even the Jewish historian, Josephus, wrote an account of it. So, why would it be so hard to believe in the resurrection?
Consider the eye-witnesses:
First to Peter,
Then to the Twelve.
Then to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time,
Then he appeared to James,
Then to all the apostles,
And finally to the hater of the new Way, Paul.
How could this possibly be made up? And we drive this home every time we baptize someone into Christ. We proclaim that we are dying with Christ so that we might one day also be risen with Christ – because that’s why Jesus came.
Hebrews 2:14-15 tells us “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he (Jesus) himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”
A poet, and lover of Christ, named Calvin Miller once wrote this poem:
“I once scorned ev’ry fearful thought of death,
when it was but the end of pulse and breath,
But now my eyes have seen that – past the pain –
there is a world that’s waiting to be claimed.
Earthmaker, Holy, let me now depart,
for living’s such a temporary art,
And dying is but getting dressed for God,
our graves are merely doorways cut in sod.”
So, let us return to our story and how Jesus dealt with these two men on the road to Emmaus. They’re filled with despair. Their faces are downcast.
They’ve given up and they’re going home. And what does Jesus do? Does He tell them WHO He is? No, He doesn’t does He? Luke tells us that, “they were kept from recognizing him.”
So the two men begin to tell the stranger what took place over the last couple of days and then what does Jesus do? He rebukes them! He says: “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!”
And if this were a mob boss speaking, instead of Jesus, the conversation might have sounded something like this:
“Hey, whats a matta wit you? You need me to slap you up the side of your head a few times? Ain’t you studying the Scriptures? Ain’t you supposed to know what was happening? Whats a matta wit you?”
Of course, this isn’t REALLY how Jesus would have treated these men. It was said of Jesus that He wouldn’t “break a bruised reed or put out a smoldering wick”. In other words He wouldn’t treat people roughly if they were struggling or hurting. On the other hand, if they thought they were something special or treated others with disrespect, He just might slap them upside the head. Anyway, He had compassion for those filled with grief – as these men were. These men were hurting. They’d just seen Jesus die on the cross. It literally hurt them to think about how Jesus had been treated. And now they’re filled with despair.
So how did Jesus deal with these men? He dealt with them the same way He deals with us. And He dealt with them the same way we should deal with those around us – those who are struggling. Remember He didn’t reveal himself because that would have ruined the approach He took with them:
First He listened to them. He asked them what they were talking about. Now, He KNEW what they’d been saying but He wanted to hear their story. He wanted them to talk it out. He WANTED to listen to them. And when WE are dealing with people who struggle – the first thing we need to do is let them tell their story. We need to listen to them.
Next, Jesus reminded them of the promises from Scripture. “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Lk. 24:27 ESV) Too often, we make the mistake of trying to offer people our opinion – our viewpoint – how we see things – rather than turning to what God has to say. Now, our opinions and views have value, but they don’t have the same power as God’s written word. Without knowing the promises of God – people have no hope. Unless we can share the hope of God’s promises – we are probably not helping.
Lastly, He gave them something physical to hang their faith on. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. (Lk. 24:30-31 ESV)
Immediately after WW II, the Allies gathered hungry, homeless children and placed them in large camps. There they tried to feed and care for the children. But at night the children did not sleep well. They seemed restless and afraid.
Finally, a psychologist hit upon a solution. He said: When they put the children to bed, they were to give each one a slice of bread to hold. If they wanted more to eat, more was provided. But that special slice of bread was not to be eaten – it was just to be held. And it was like magic.
The children started sleeping, because subconsciously they knew they’d have something to eat tomorrow. And that assurance alone gave the children the HOPE they needed to make it through the night.
In just a few more minutes we too will have something to hang our faith on. In this piece of bread and this cup of wine – that Jesus gives us – we hang our hope that we too can make it through the night without fear or doubt. We call it the Lord’s Supper.
I have to be honest with you, I don’t know how each of us thinks about the Lord’s Supper. As a congregational body we think of it as a sacrament – something ordained and directed by Jesus. And typically we celebrate this sacrament together. But we need to realize that even if we were in this room all by ourselves – if we were the only ones here – we still wouldn’t be partaking of the Lord’s Supper – all by ourselves. And I am sure you know why.
That’s right – because Jesus would be here, eating the meal with us. It is why we bother to pray before taking this meal – in the hope that Jesus will join us – and he assured us that He always would.
As the two men walked down the road to Emmaus, they didn’t realize that Jesus was walking right there beside them all the time. And I am sure that we sometimes have this problem – that we just don’t realize Jesus is right there beside us.
It was only in the breaking of the bread that their eyes were opened – and then they realized He’d been there all the time. I hope and pray that when each of us comes to the table this morning that if we didn’t realize that Jesus was right beside us – that in this meal – He will open our eyes. Open our eyes to the realization that He is with us not just on Sunday, but on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and all the rest of the week. He’s always there beside us providing hope – when in our darkened world there is little or no hope.