Daily Devotional for Monday, April 5, 2021 from Rev. Eric Douglass

Meditations for Easter: Hope

Luke 24:13-17: Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven milesfrom Jerusalem.They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” They stood still, their faces downcast. 

The road is dry and dusty at this time of year. The road always is. Walking to Emmaus is one of my least favorite things to do. It is seven miles of desert misery. The sand and dirt billow up like clouds behind you. It gets into your nose and down throat. I can’t think of a more appropriate thing to do. Yes, this makes no sense. But it is how I feel. Like a desert wasteland where nothing grows…nothing blooms.

It all started three years ago, when I chanced upon a man named Jesus. He spoke about the dawn of a new age…where God walked with us…where people were kind to each other…where people were treated with respect. It was nothing short of a vision of a new world. Jesus made me see it as if it was just within reach. I felt something that I had not felt in years: hope. Hope of a new better way. Hope of seeing God.

But all that ended a week ago. We came to Jerusalem with such high hopes. We would change the priesthood. We would show them that the path to God was open to all, let them see the deeper realities of a loving God. We threw out cloaks down before Jesus’ feet, and waved palm branches, and shouted: “Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” We flipped over the tables in the temple, where priests got rich by plundering the worshippers, and proclaimed it as a place of prayer for all peoples. Our actions and our vision became one.

But it was not to be.

First, Judas came to us one windy evening, with a crowd carrying torches and swords. He gave Jesus a kiss…a kiss! The sign of friendship. Of family. Then he smiled, even as the soldiers grabbed Jesus’ hands and bound them with twine, and marched him down the hill into the dark city. How could things have gone so terribly wrong?

Next the priesthood refused to listen to Jesus…or see his vision of a better world. They spit on him. They called him a blasphemer of God. They had their own vision of the world, where they were the leaders of tradition and religion…and everyone else had to get in line and follow. Carbon copies following carbon copies, empty lives begetting empty lives. How could they be so blind?

Finally, the soldiers crucified Jesus. They never heard him talk about helping others, even if they were one’s enemies. They never heard him talk about respecting those who are different. They only saw their job as enforcing submission, breaking the backs of people in service to Rome. They had no vision. They saw no light. How could they love the world as it is?

And then he died.

Now, here I am, an old man with a failed vision and no friends. I jump at noises, fearing betrayal, sure that soldiers will come for me next. My hope is gone. Like a desert wilderness, full of dust and blowing sand…traveling the path to Emmaus, not because I want anything there, but only that it is far from Jerusalem.

That was when a stranger turned onto our path. We saw him from a distance, the same choking dust billowing up behind his steps. He was slower than us, and so we eventually caught up with him. In the desert, talking is the only thing that keeps you occupied, keeps you sane. And so we talked about the weather…and the day…and we shared our water…and we raised more dust…and the sun began to set…and we came to the inn in Emmaus.

The evening was already beginning to cool down, and the stranger wanted to press on, but that is foolish in the desert. Wild animals come out at dusk, and thieves hide in the roadway. So we begged him to have some sense and stay with us. The innkeeper brought us a meal, with bread and wine, cheese and a small amount of fruit. The stranger seemed to rise up and took the bread in his calloused hands. He raised it up to heaven, and he blessed it, and he broke it…and our eyes were opened…and we saw Him. But it was only for a moment. The vision seeped away in the darkness. But for a moment—just a moment—I again saw the dawn of a new age, a vision of God with us, and I was at peace.

That night we left Emmaus, crossing the desert path to Jerusalem, retracing out steps in the dark city, gathering with the disciples in the upper room, and telling a story of new hope. Later that night, when I went outside, it was raining in the desert.

Our Lord:
At times, it feels like we live
in the desert of our lives.
That our hope has dwindled,
That our vision is gone,
That the dawn never comes.
It is at these times that you come to us
with bread and wine in hand,
letting us see and feel, just for a moment,
that you are just as present with us now
as with the disciples of old.
And so you renew our hope,
and restore our vision,
and give us the dawn.
And we find, with surprise and wonder,
that the desert is being transformed.

About the Author
Eric Douglass is the covenant pastor at New Hanover Presbyterian Church, where his work emphasizes adult education. Writing meditations is a natural extension of this. During the current pandemic, his goals have been to ensure that the folk at New Hanover see the deep connection that they have to God and the community, even though the community can’t meet in person. This connection is not just one of continued fellowship, but of God’s presence in the community. God stands with us, no matter what path we are on. In this way, God acts like the father and mother who refuse to abandon their child, no matter how wayward that child, or how difficult the situation. Psalm 23 captures this perfectly: “The Lord is my shepherd.” Eric is a graduate of the University of Missouri, initially earning a degree in biology, and then his medical degree from that university’s Medical School. After practicing medicine for many years, he earned a Masters in Divinity and a Masters in Theology from Union Theological Seminary, here in Richmond. Since that time, he has authored two books, frequently delivers papers at the Society for Biblical Literature, and is an adjunct professor at Randolph-Macon College. But the work he enjoys the most is teaching at New Hanover. Whether in casual discussion during the coffee hour, or a structured Sunday School class, or a Wednesday night special event, this is where he finds authentic people engaged in living out their life with God. Eric lives in Mechanicsville, VA, with his wife (Felecia). He enjoys doing fine cabinetry work and hiking. He has two children, Michael and Daniel, who both live in the DC area. His family is especially fond of playing board games, through which they have whittled away many a winter’s evening.