By Reverend Rob Renfroe –
Just one week earlier the two men had come to Jerusalem. On what would later be called Palm Sunday, they entered the city with Jesus. Their hearts swelled as the crowds shouted his name and called him king.
They watched him enter the Temple as if he owned the place. He called the moneychangers thieves and with fire in his eyes and authority in his voice, he chased them out of his Father’s house with a whip.
For three days he taught in the Temple Courts. Huge crowds hung on his every word.The two men could see it – how Scripture would be fulfilled. The Messiah was here. The time was now. The day of deliverance had come.
But then everything went wrong. Thursday night he was arrested. Friday he was crucified. Saturday he was dead in a tomb. Sunday morning, devastated and confused, Cleopas and his friend left Jerusalem, walking along the road that led to a village called Emmaus.
As they walked, One they didn’t recognize joined them. “What are you talking about?” he asked.
Cleopas answered: “About Jesus of Nazareth, and how our chief priests and rulers had him condemned to death and crucified. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”
Maybe you’ve been on an Emmaus Road of your own. You dared to believe in something almost too good to be true. For a moment, it seemed that your world was going to change. Life would get better. Everything would become right. You could see it and how it would happen.
But then Friday came. Your hopes died on a cross of despair and they were buried in a dark tomb.
You look back on your life and you find yourself saying, “But I had hoped for a marriage that was a blessing, not a battle.” “I had hoped to overcome the pain of my past.” “I had hoped for a life that was more than going to work, putting bread on the table, accumulating some stuff, watching the years go by, and wondering why my life never changes.” “I had hoped. God knows I had hoped for so much more.”
Emily Dickinson wrote: “Hope is the thing with feathers/ That perches in the soul/ And sings the tune without the words/ And never stops at all.”
But sometimes hope does stop singing, doesn’t it? What do you do then?
If you care about The United Methodist Church and are committed to a faithful future for the people called Methodist, you have probably found yourself thinking, “But I had hoped.”
After nearly fifty years of disagreeing about sexual ethics, I had hoped we would be done by now. But it hasn’t happened.
After some vocal centrist leaders made public statements at General Conference 2016 that it was impossible for us to live together and we needed to separate, I had hoped they would join with traditionalists and support a plan that would put an end to our fighting. But it didn’t happen. Instead, these same leaders got behind a proposal that could never pass and that belied their admission that we could not be one church.
At the special General Conference of 2019 when the majority once again affirmed the traditional position, I had hoped that vote would be the end of our disagreement. After all, that’s why the Conference had been called – once and for all to determine the church’s position and settle the matter. Either centrists and progressives would leave the church or accept the results of the vote. Instead, they took out full-page ads in newspapers across the country condemning traditionalists as hard-hearted, mean-spirited homophobes.
After a diverse group of leaders miraculously brought forth the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation, I had hoped General Conference would adopt the plan in 2020, and by now we would be well on our way to forming a new missional church that is Christ-centered and faithful to the Scriptures. But COVID made a physical meeting impossible, and the Commission on General Conference decided that a virtual meeting could not fairly and fully address the Protocol.
So here we are. Some of us personally, looking at our lives. All of us in terms of the church and its future. Here we are, walking down a road to Emmaus, saying to ourselves, “But I had hoped.”
What do you do when even hope is gone? You learn what Cleopas learned.
You learn that on Friday they can crucify your hopes. You learn that on Saturday your dreams can be buried in a cold, dark tomb. But on Sunday you learn no matter what has happened, Jesus Christ is Lord. You learn, wherever you are and however you feel, whether you know it or not, Jesus is walking with you. You learn that, in a way you didn’t see and couldn’t imagine, Jesus was working for your good all the time. You learn that he is the Lord over the past, the present, and the future. You learn that your job is not to understand the plan but to walk in faith and in faithfulness. He will rise. He will overcome. He will be with you. Walk that way. Live that way.
Why has a separation that is so obviously needed been delayed? Why is the future we have worked for, prayed for, and sacrificed for been so long in coming? As understandable as they are, these are the wrong questions to ask.
The question is always: What is Jesus doing and how can I join him? And the right response is always hope. As Emily Dickinson wrote, the right way forward is to sing the tune, even when we don’t have the words. Our eyes may be blinded for a moment, but Jesus is with us. He will make himself and his plans known. He will achieve his will. If a cross and a tomb couldn’t stop him, neither can a General Conference’s postponement.
Do not be discouraged. Do not give up. Jesus will have the last word. And that word will be good.
Rob Renfroe is a United Methodist clergyperson and the president and publisher of Good News.