How is your hope treating you this summer?
In New York there used to be this annual BBQ in Prospect Park that was put on by a group of young black professionals and attended by over 1000 people. I lived for this event. I waited months in anticipation, fretting over outfits and hairstyles to perfect “my look” so I could show up in the freshest style for a casual afternoon in the park. The trick was to appear that you’d just thrown something together while also inferring that Beyonce’s glam squad had touched you up just before you ambled over with your picnic blanket.
My heart still races a bit when I think back on the amount of hope and expectation I had each summer waiting for these BBQs. I’m a part of a predominantly white faith community so the opportunity to be around other African Americans en masse met my very real need for cultural connection. And more than that these opportunities somehow affirmed that I was beautiful as a young black woman, washing away the particular kind of loneliness and relational insecurity that can come from being a minority in the church.
So each summer I’d get excited, working up some hope of finding the one, the myth…the young black professional male (who was educated, had a job, loved Jesus and appreciated short ribs in equal measure). I always had a great time at the BBQ. I mean, you try being depressed while you’re double-fisting a slice of watermelon in one hand and a grilled chicken leg in the other. #notpossible But as the day would draw to a close, disappointment eventually set in on the long walk home, as I wallowed in sadness over my hopes being dashed having failed to make a connection. The weight of disappointment was crushing.
I’m currently reading Rumors of God, a book by two Aussies Darren Whitehead and Jon Tyson who are pastors at major churches near the cultural epicenters of Chicago and New York City, respectively. In the book the writers beautifully unpack the moment in scripture along the road back to Emmaus when we encounter the story of the resurrected Jesus as he meets two of his disciples leaving Jerusalem following the Crucifixion.
His identity hidden from them, the disciples lament to Jesus, “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” But with his death, all of the excitement that this was the the Messiah has vanished so they leave the promise of Jerusalem and head back to Emmaus.
I’ve made that walk.
Now hear me out…I don’t mean to cheapen the Gospel by equating my departure from a BBQ without giving a dude my phone number to the despair those disciples must have felt having just watched the Messiah who was to bring the kingdom of God to earth crucified on a cross. But I know what it’s like to live in the letdown. I know what it’s like to walk without hope.
But the good news is that God shows up in those moments. As Whitehead and Tyson point out, it’s on that walk away from the fulfillment of their hope that Jesus comes alongside them to love, restore and reignite their hope in place of the disillusionment that was beginning to take root.
So again I ask, how’s your hope treating you this summer? Are you on the long walk toward Emmaus, wallowing in the disappointment of expectations for relationship gone unfulfilled? Are you in need of Jesus to walk alongside you and remind you of his promise?