“Life has a way of robbing us of our dreams.The question is never whether that will happen to us, but how we will deal with it when it does happen.” Photo: Fernando Soares
Before there was Lady Gaga, there was Madonna. Some of us don’t know quite what to make of her. She can sing. She can act. Her performance in the Broadway play Evita was stirring. And yet, some who follow her career can’t help but feel that Madonna is a deeply troubled person.
In Truth or Dare, a documentary about her life during a major concert tour, she is seen visiting the grave of her mother, who died when Madonna was only five years old. In the film she says, “My mother’s death was just a big mystery to me when I was a child, and no one really explained it. She was really religious, so I never understood why she was taken away from us. It just seemed so unfair. I never thought that she had done something wrong, so oftentimes I’d wonder what I had done wrong.”
The death of her mother was a defining moment in Madonna’s life. Maybe you can appreciate what she experienced because you’ve been there. The truth is: we all go through tough times in life when our dreams are broken and our hopes are dashed.
Sometimes the “what was supposed to be” doesn’t happen. Some of us have marriages that were supposed to be good ones, jobs that were supposed to work out, relationships that were supposed to click, plans that were supposed to pan out and hopes that were supposed to be realized. Yet, when reality set in, “supposed to” didn’t happen. Life has a way of robbing us of our dreams, of throwing hopes back in our face. And the question is never whether that will happen to us, but how we will deal with it when it does happen.
Luke’s gospel, chapter 24, verses 13 to 35, illustrates this point. Two of Jesus’ disciples, after his death, are going from Jerusalem to Emmaus, a little village about seven miles from Jerusalem. It’s Easter Sunday afternoon. These disciples have heard the rumours that Jesus’ body is no longer in the tomb, but they can’t believe he has been raised from the dead. They assume the rumours are due to the hysteria of a few women.
What’s important here is not where they were going but what they were trying to escape from in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was where the dream had died. They had a dream about Jesus. He was their leader. They had believed in him. They’d trusted him. They’d put their faith in him. Then, on Good Friday, he had died. It wasn’t supposed to happen that way-but it did. And when he died, something inside them also died.
You may know what it’s like to live on the outside but to feel dead on the inside. We keep on keeping on, but life has been drained from us because the dream has died. So we live with memories rather than hopes. We have more picture albums than goals. Our conversations focus on the past rather than the future. We may feel that way because of the death of a relationship or because of having moved from one part of the country to another-for the disciples on the road to Emmaus, they had experienced the death of the potential Messiah. “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel,” they say.
Then a stranger joins them on their journey. We know the stranger is Jesus because the gospel tells us. But the gospel also says that, for some reason, the two disciples didn’t recognize him.
Isn’t it interesting that they didn’t recognize Jesus? I have seen people whose dreams have died, and most likely so have you. They stare vacantly at life. Their eyes are open, but they are not really open. They see, yet they don’t see. Somehow the dream has died in their lives.
The travellers ask the stranger to come with them to supper. The stranger takes the bread in his hands, gives thanks and breaks the bread. At that moment, the disciples recognize that the stranger among them is Jesus.
Suddenly the bread in his hands is a reminder to them that life is in his hands. The dream dies for us when life makes no sense, when there is nothing beyond ourselves-no one beyond ourselves-on whom we can call. We walk through life seeing but not seeing, staring but not understanding, looking but not really looking into the heart of life.
As Jesus breaks the bread and it is passed around and consumed, it dawns on them-life is in his hands.
Jesus is the one who lifts us up when we fall down. Jesus is one who keeps us going when we want to quit. Jesus is the one who saves us from our sins and even from our fears. Life is in his hands, and his life is now ours.
Paula Chican was a young mother who lived in Tempe, Arizona. Several years ago she was on board Northwest Airlines Flight 225, which crashed onto a highway just after taking off from the Detroit airport. One hundred and fifty-five people were killed. Only one person survived that crash, Paula’s four-year-old daughter, Cecelia.
News accounts say that rescuers, when they found Cecelia, did not believe she had been on the plane. Investigators at first assumed Cecelia had been a passenger in one of the cars on the highway. But when the passenger register for the flight was checked, there was Cecelia’s name.
Cecelia had survived because, even as the plane was falling, her mother Paula, unbuckled her own seat-belt, got down on her knees in front of her daughter, wrapped her arms and body around Cecelia, and would not let her go.
Cecelia survived because of her mother’s sacrificial love. Her mother died so that she might live. Cecelia now lives with a life that belongs to her mother. And I have no doubt that she is now living that life in a way that honours her mother’s sacrifice.
The two disciples on the road to Emmaus know they live with a life that belongs to Jesus. He died for them so that they might live for him-not in fear but with faith, not in cowardice but with courage. So what do they do? The gospel says, “They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem.”
Do you find that intriguing? The disciples go back to where the disappointment had happened, back to where the dream had become a nightmare. They had just come from there, empty, but now they go back. It’s still Jerusalem, but there is a difference.
What difference does it make that Jesus was raised from the dead? The disciples got up and returned to life in Jerusalem, but with a faith that has changed them, that sustains them and gives them the courage to face the future. They now live with Christ’s life in them, and that makes all the difference in how they face whatever comes their way.
Isn’t that what we need when life turns out so differently from what we might have hoped? To keep on trusting Jesus, even when we cannot discern his presence by the way things are turning out at the moment-to refuse to make despair an option-and to face tomorrow in the power of God’s love. The outcome of that kind of faith is the personal, powerful presence of the risen Christ in your life.
When Charles de Gaulle was president of France, he and his wife, Yvonne, had a daughter who had Down syndrome. Late in the afternoon, regardless of the affairs of state, Charles de Gaulle would always come home, and he and his wife would get on the floor and play with their daughter. Every night, as they went to bed, Yvonne would say to Charles, “I so much wish that she was like the others.”
One day the daughter died.
The day of the funeral, everybody had left the graveside except for Yvonne. She sat alone, weeping. Finally, Charles went to her and put his hand on her arm and said, “Yvonne, did you hear what the priest said today? ‘She is now like the others.’ “
This is the kind of world in which you and I live. It’s a world where sometimes dreams get broken and life breaks your heart. Suddenly there come in our lives those things that were never supposed to happen.
The disciples got up and went back to Jerusalem. Things on the outside were the same, yet something was incredibly different.
You and I can leave this place today and live in the peace and presence and power of the risen Christ. Because Jesus lives, so do we, and all whom we love.
The Rev. Dr. Gary Nicolosi is the rector at St. James Westminster Anglican Church in London, Ont.