“But we had hoped.”
These four words open many common expressions in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis, especially from members of the graduating class of 2020.
“But we had hoped to conclude our classes on campus.”
“But we had hoped to celebrate our accomplishments alongside family and friends.”
“But we had hoped to commence into a flourishing economy filled with meaningful opportunity.”
“But we had hoped to discern possibilities rather than pandemics.”
“But we had hoped to discuss new degrees rather than widespread disease.”
“But we had hoped to delight in what was earned rather than lament what was lost.”
“But we had hoped…”
When soon-to-be graduates expected to gather and celebrate, we are instead isolated and agitated, which tempts us to detach and commiserate. Instead of the hustle and bustle of seasonal and spiritual springtime on and around campus, and rather than customary transitions and traditions, students are now caught in a challenging cycle of uncertainty while stuck in various spaces and places around the country and world. This is not the academic grand finale that any of us, especially not the Class of 2020, had expected or desired. We feel disappointed, cheated and even helpless. We had hoped for something different.
We are not the first to suffer from the ailments associated with unrealized expectations. In the midst of all that was taking place around Jerusalem nearly two thousand years ago, a traveler named Cleopas “stood still, looking sad” on the road to Emmaus. As was recorded in the 24th Chapter of Luke’s Gospel, his life had taken a grief-stricken turn for the worse, and his bright future was suddenly filled with frustration and fear. Cleopas had hoped to be led into new frontiers, yet it appeared that such dreams were shattered. He was left to step into an unknown reality that he had not previously imagined. He had hoped for something different.
Cleopas and his travel companion on the road to Emmaus were not alone in their shock, loss, anger and fear. Like others who had expected Jesus to be with them “mighty in word and deed” for many years to come, all seemed to be lost when their anointed messiah was suddenly and violently removed from their presence. The dreams of those who believed were dashed, and the community of followers were left — both literally and metaphorically — wandering the road into a future that seemed empty of joy and filled with despair. Hopefulness had turned into brokenness.
For members of the Class of 2020, subjects of New Testament narratives, or others caught within the unexpected ebbs and flows of everyday life, many have expressed or contemplated a semblance of discontent and disbelief. Our existence is filled with painful twists and turns that lead onto the thoroughfare of distress, discontent and even disillusionment. We know that life is filled with frustrations, yet we also suffer quite seriously when we imagined something different. While people are diverse in various and vibrant ways, we all have experienced various degrees of disappointment and we all have felt the downpour of despair.
“But we had hoped our loved ones would not fall ill.”
“But we had hoped to return to work.”
“But we had hoped to welcome a new child into the world.”
“But we had hoped to make the payment.
“But we had hoped to resolve the conflict.
“But we had hoped to keep our promise.”
“But we had hoped…”
When dreams appear to shatter and resolutions fail to match reality, we experience an assortment of beliefs and emotions. Disappointment itself is like a virus that starts in our hearts and scars our existence, and when our hope is harmed it leaves a wound that can hinder the fullness of our lives. Yet perhaps most of all, when confronted with hardship we are left wondering — like Cleopas and others — if we are abandoned and alone in the midst of our struggles. Like those who found themselves trapped with despair between the first Good Friday and Easter Sunday, we too are tempted to feel deserted and disregarded during our own times of disappointment. We wonder:
“Does anyone care that my future is now so fragile?”
“Am I alone in my agony?”
“How could this possibly happen when I have done nothing to deserve it?”
“Is my life ruined?”
“Will anyone listen?”
“Is anyone paying attention?
While it may not seem possible within the melancholy of the moment, when hopefulness turns into brokenness we can trust that brokenness can turn into wholeness. History is filled with accounts of those who refuse to grant loss the final word. In the midst of their unexpected despair on the road to Emmaus, the travelers eventually experienced an even more unexpected spirit of resilience and redemption. Through their story we too can receive strength as we write our own next chapter. Instead of being drenched with disappointment Cleopas and his companion received the power of community and resurrected life that awaited them. Instead of surrendering to circumstance they honored their past without being hostage to it. They were aware of the present while not being trapped in it, and they journeyed into the future not as victims of history but authors of it. They were shown that the clouds of life can clear, the sun can rise, life can follow death, and with burning hearts they could change direction. The same can be true for us all, especially those of the graduating Class of 2020.
Whether it was thousands of years ago or in the midst of our current struggles, the good news is that hurt can give birth to hope. We can believe this to be true. When our local and global communities are increasingly connected yet isolated, diverse yet distant and filled with anticipation and optimism yet also panic and aggression, we need not despair. We too can journey in new ways when we receive the boldness and humility to accept our altered course. We can allow our once-buried imaginations to be brought back to life. Our wounds can serve as sources of strength, vulnerability can overcome violence and old ways of being can be overcome by new rays of light. On the road to Emmaus and many times since, our greatest triumphs often follow our greatest trials, and our hope ultimately does not disappoint.
Instead of dreaming for a better past, we are invited to become authors of a better future. So may God bless you, Class of 2020, with the compassion and courage to keep moving forward. Hope is more than wishful thinking. Hope is the impulse and initiative to move beyond our stillness and sadness, to embrace our burning hearts and take the next step. So may you find the ability to be kind and the capacity to make the wrongs of this world more fully right. May you maintain the determination to be loyal, the conviction to embody your beliefs, the grit to improve each day, the resilience to confront reality and the clarity of purpose to lead in service to our common good. May you always retain the strength to seek knowledge, the wisdom to include others and the integrity to keep your promises. And most of all, especially in times such as these, may you be sustained – today and always – with the audacity and humility to never lose hope.