“We Had Hoped…”
Easter, April 4, 2021
August 1, 1980, the first time I had an up close and personal glimpse into death. Just 7 weeks before, at the start of summer, I drove my dad to an appointment at the hospital in town, where he’d met with his doctor after the test results were in. It was cancer. Esophageal. I was not quite 21. He was 71. I couldn’t breathe, hearing those words. I doubt that he could either. Within days, he and my mom went to St Paul where he would start treatment at the University of Minnesota hospitals. I stayed in Brainerd because I had to work. And because I couldn’t be there.
Phone calls were brief, always from my mom. He had a good doctor, a team of doctors. They were trying to shrink the tumor. He agreed to an experimental drug. We were longing for a miracle. We were waiting him to get better. We were wanting him to come home. When word came that the cancer had spread to his lungs, his liver, that they were trying to make him comfortable while knowing they couldn’t cure him, the decision was made for him to return home. Hospice was called.
We had hoped. We had hoped the chemo and radiation would have worked. We had hoped that surgery was a possibility. We had hoped to soon be out fishing with him again, hearing his table saw singing as he worked on his latest project. We had hoped. And then on the morning of August 1, after an all night vigil at the hospital, we were with him when he breathed his last breath. And hope was lost.
It was a sacred time, being there. It was a devastating time, losing him. With so many lives lost to this virus this past year, it has seemed more devastating than sacred. All those beloved people, unable to hold the hands of their loved ones, kiss them one last time, hold vigil at their bedsides and offer comforting embraces to one another. We haven’t been able to do any of that. We had hoped. We had hoped that by now this thing would have been contained. That the masses of people would be fully immune after a seamless roll out of vaccinations. We had hoped new treatment would work, that the variants would not jump from overseas to our country. We had hoped that we could get back to our lives the way they once were.
It can be hard to find the sacred when faced with devastation and loss. The disciples knew this all too well. They had hoped and, from all appearances, their hopes were dashed. For grammar lovers, the tense used in this phrase, “had hoped,” means in the past hope had happened repeatedly, but it no longer happens in the present. It is what the two disciples, Cleopas and Simon, talked about on their walk to Emmaus. We had hoped….
After my dad died that morning and I took my mother home, I didn’t know what to do. I called my friend Ginger. We met up in town. We walked. I recall being astounded that the world was going on as if nothing had happened. My dad just died. These people were driving around, going to stores, talking to each other. Like nothing had ever happened. I walked and walked that day. And the day after. I walked into my last year at college. I walked through the days, the weeks, the months. And slowly I began to notice that life was happening all around. The walking was restorative. Like the walks I know many of you have been able to do lately.
Sena and I were on a new trail last week. The skunk cabbage is coming up, tiny trillium plants are growing, other wildflowers and woody plants are beginning to emerge. I was tired when we started, and then noticed as we got further along the trail, there was a reset. There is something about going for a walk outside. Even if you are trapped in what WITBO, “wishing it to be otherwise,” nature just does its thing. We may be wishing it would be sunnier and warm, we wish our knees and backs didn’t ache, we wish for this and that, some big, some small, we may be saying “we had hoped…” for this, or for that, and nature, well, it just bursts forth with all this life, it reserves everything for beauty. “Let’s go into the woods and see what is happening there,” I used to say to the kids. Cleopas and Simon said, “let’s go for a long walk and see if we can figure things out.”
It was just the two of them, restoration was the last thing on their minds, and then, this stranger joins them. They are astounded that he is just going about his business. Jesus had just died. They look at him, wide eyed, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” Rather than answering the question for them, he let them tell the story. WITBO. They were wishing it had been otherwise. Wishing the prophet, the spirit filled leader, the organizer and orator, Todd Weir says, of course, they silenced him. It was all legal, but there is no justice in this. We had hoped he was the one who would redeem Israel. We had hoped.
And as they walked, without yet being aware of it, life began to burst forth. Not only was something stirring in their souls right then, he took them on a journey through the past, he revisited the story of how God brought the people out of slavery and suffering, into the wilderness. How they walked and walked for 40 years. How they searched for the Promised Land and, God heard them and led them and restored them. How that God is still leading them and hearing the cries of the people and bringing good news to the poor. Feeding the hungry, restoring sight to the blind.
As they stopped for the evening, they invited Jesus to stay. And as he did those very things with them, as he brought them good news and broke bread for them, he restored their sight. Life just does its thing. Love just keeps on growing. It does stop because of our moods, the depth of our grief, the loss of our dreams, the suffering of the innocent. It just bursts forth. Sneaks up alongside us. Blooms into love.
We need only hang in there. Ask God to open your eyes to the life and love God promises are there, and in here. Life and love, like daffodils and tulips, don’t ask if they can grow, they don’t wonder or pause, they just come up, faithfully, beautifully, every spring. Jesus is still walking with us on the road.
We are invited to walk with him, to follow in the path of love. We are quick to want to hold on to the first soft sightings of the sacred, to cling to the newly risen Lord, or want to return to the way things were in the past, when it seemed easier and more contained. But love and hope rise and grow and we cannot, must not, try to stop the spread or limit the growth. The risen Lord knew no boundaries. Once they recognized him by the fire that evening, he disappeared. He went on before them. They went back to Jerusalem. They walked out of the story. They are never heard from again. But we know that love continued to grow and spread as Luke records the stories in his second book, the Acts of the Apostles. Life and love spread on the day of Pentecost. It was passed along to Phillip, who passes it to a eunuch on the road, who asks for baptism. It meets Saul on the road and so transforms him he becomes a world traveler, taking it further. Sometimes love propagates and grows in ways that may feel overwhelming, or uncomfortable. It may call us down paths that are unfamiliar, or uncomfortable. It may slip from our sight as we go into a deep valley. And yet it is still there. Let’s take a little walk together. And, “May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face; the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again, May God hold you in the palm of Her hand.”