Fr Billy Swan
Dear friends. I invite you to think of a time when you experienced a great disappointment or failure. It may have been a failed exam, a match you lost, a job you applied for and didn’t get, a business venture that wasn’t successful or a relationship that didn’t go as you hoped. From our experience of disappointment, how did we cope and what did we learn? How do we make sense of things when it all goes wrong and to whom do we turn?
The Gospel story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus begins with failure and disappointment but doesn’t end there. It tells of two of Jesus’ disciples who were walking away from Jerusalem after his death. They were sad and downcast because they put their faith in a man who had died a shameful death. For them, it had all ended in failure and disappointment. But then Jesus himself began to walk with them though they did not recognise him. He began to listen to them as they shared their disappointment as they walked along. Notice how he walks with them even though they walk in the wrong direction away from Jerusalem. But then he began to speak with them, teach them and explain that just as success isn’t final so failure is not fatal. And as he did so, the hearts of the disciples began to lift from being heavy with sorrow to burning with new hope. He helped them see that their first hopes and dreams were not misplaced after all and that because of his resurrection, all failure and disappointment were turned into triumph and joy.
Here is the task of the Church today – to preach the Gospel and witness to it in a way that sets hearts on fire. Like the Master, we must speak to the heart. When Jesus explained the Scriptures to the disciples on the road, he was not a Scripture professor but a lover interpreting a love letter. And the disciples got it because their hearts were seeking it. Their hearts began to burn because what they hoped for turned out to be true. Their hearts were right because they were in love with the right thing.
Disappointment and failure really hurt. When they strike it seems like the end of the world or the end of us. But think about it. We may learn nothing from our successes except to think too much of ourselves as pride takes hold. It is from failure that all growth comes, provided we can recognise it, admit it, learn from it and then try again. Patrick Kavanagh once asked in a poem called ‘From Failure Up’: ‘O God, can a person find you when he lies with his face downwards and his nose in the rubble that was his achievement?’ And this is where faith comes in. Because it is often precisely when we experience disappointment and failure that we find God, perhaps for the first time.
So never despair. Let failure be your teacher, not your undertaker. The question is not if we will experience failure and disappointment but when and how we cope with it. After the cross and resurrection, we know that with the Lord, failure always gives way to something new. And this something makes us new as well - less focused on our own hopes for ourselves and more on God’s hopes for us.
This happens in a special way at the Eucharist. At the Eucharist, there is an electric current that flows through what happens. We mightn’t always feel it, but it is there. There is a power greater than any of us that changes failure into hope, sadness into joy and doubt into faith. This is all possible because of Jesus Christ who endured the greatest failure of all on the cross but changed that failure into the greatest hope and victory the world has ever known. He is close to those struggling with failure and shares that new hope with us. Today as we hear his Word and break bread may our hearts burn with new hope, new joy and a new love for God and his people.