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One wonders why they were leaving town.

To get on the road after the Agony in the Garden, when Jesus was in prison, and his followers had all fled? That would have been only logical: to begin walking as he was making his way up Calvary, hoping to arrive somewhere safe before Sabbath observances made travel impossible. Perfectly natural. Even to leave first thing Sunday morning, before word of a nail-pierced gardener had gotten out—what could have been more reasonable? Their master was dead, their friends targeted, and their lives were likely in danger.

But that’s not when Cleopas and his companion left. They stayed through the trial, the condemnation, the execution, and the burial. They could handle the grief, even the fear.

What they couldn’t handle, it seems, was hope.

“Some women from our group…came back and reported that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who announced that he was alive” (Luke 24:23).

He had promised to return. The angels had announced it. The empty tomb proclaimed it. But they could not believe it.

Certainly, it was too good to be true. People don’t just rise from the dead, particularly not from a death as gruesome as death by crucifixion. It had only been a group of hysterical women claiming to have seen angels, their testimony dismissed by the community as “delirious babbling” (Luke 24:11). And perhaps the tomb was empty, but people were spreading rumors that the Apostles had stolen the body (Mt 28:13). Cleopas wasn’t part of the inner circle; maybe this really was a hoax, an attempt to harness the movement Jesus had inspired and direct it toward their own ends.

Here’s what he knew: the dead stay dead. Jesus had raised a few, sure, but nobody had ever raised himself. The preaching had been electric and the miracles astonishing, but it was over. Now, it was time to go back to their ordinary life of sickness and oppression, of poverty and fear. Nothing good could come of a movement that had ended with its leader dead on a cross.

How often are we just like this pair? How often do we trust God when things are good, when our marriage is strong, and our kids are healthy, and the economy is solid, and our work is stable, but then immediately assume that he’s abandoned us when life begins to feel like Good Friday and Holy Saturday? It’s not that we don’t believe that God will bring good out of the evil in our lives. Not exactly. It’s more that we don’t want to demand it. We don’t think we have the right to expect God to care for us. So we don’t denounce the faith we once held; we just quietly leave it behind. We may even keep practicing it, but with an unspoken certainty that while God might bring us to heaven in the end, he will not be doing anything remarkable for us here.

We distance ourselves—from the Lord and from our friends who keep going on about resurrection, about healing and wholeness and new life. “Delirious babbling,” we think. We may still go to Mass most Sundays, but we live like the dead stay dead and the lost stay lost.

And so God comes to find us. He doesn’t just leave the tomb; he leaves the town. He meets us on the road and walks beside us, keeping pace with us while listening to our lamentation about his abandonment. When we write him off, he doesn’t return the favor; he comes close.

For Cleopas and his companion, it took the form of the world’s most revelatory Bible study, with Jesus breaking open the Scriptures and showing them all that the prophets had promised. And then, of course, he broke bread with them and gave them his body and blood in that first post-resurrection Mass. With that, their eyes were opened, and they realized who he was. They realized, too, that all their despair had been unfounded, their “reasonable” and “practical” denial of his power more prideful than prudent.

It might not happen that way for you. Dedication to reading Scripture and receiving communion might not work a miracle, might not give you a sudden revelation that God is working all things for good, even when it seems impossible.

But it might. What made the difference for Cleopas and his companion wasn’t that they kept checking the boxes and kept going through the motions. What made the difference was that they brought their brokenness to the Lord (however unknowingly). “We were hoping,” they lamented, looking downcast. They made no Pollyanna pretense at delight in the misery of their lot. There was no shallow insistence for Cleopas that “everything happens for a reason” that Instagram Christianity seems to require of its adherents. No, his was a raw grief, an honest inability to hope. It had been wonderful, and now it was irreparably wrecked. And so they were leaving.

But the resurrection changes everything. The Risen Christ had drawn near to them, and even before they recognized him, their hearts began to burn within them. When they brought him their pain, openly acknowledging their despair with no pretense of faith, he had begun to give them hope again. And then, after hours of this hard, slow work, he had made himself known to them.

The day was almost over, but the two turned on their heels at once, racing miles back to Jerusalem to tell the others. “We were wrong! It’s not over! He’s alive!” Once there, they discovered that everybody else already knew that they had missed Jesus because they’d left.

But their doubt hadn’t blocked the grace that was pouring from the hands and feet and side of Christ, now radiant and redeemed. Their doubt had caused them to turn from him, but he had gone looking for them, the Good Shepherd running after the lost sheep to bring them home.

He wants to do the same for you. If you’ve lost hope, he’s walking with you. He will listen to your lament and honor your pain. And he will bring resurrection. But God won’t force himself on us. Generally speaking, he won’t strip off the smiles plastered on our faces or break down the walls we’ve built to conceal the fact that we’re crumbling ruins. He’ll walk with us and wait for us to let him in, to share our doubts and fears and hopelessness. And during Easter especially, he wants to raise us to new life.