Thursday, May 28, 2009
hope and easter sunday
Hope and Easter Sunday
a message by Troy Cady
I’ve come to the conclusion that, of all the things I’ve taught about in the past, hope has been the most difficult topic.
I’ve realized that it is easier to talk about love and faith than it is to talk about hope. In the Scriptures there are some convenient definitions of both love and faith. We are familiar with texts like:
“Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not envy. It does not boast. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
Defining faith, the Scriptures say: “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”
But there is no single text like these regarding hope. You’ll even notice that both love and faith use hope in defining themselves, but you do not find the reverse.
The two biggest questions we frequently ask regarding the broad, sweeping drama presented in Scripture are these two questions: “Will they believe?” and “Will they love?” We tend not to ask “Will they hope?” though, in fact, faith and love are not possible without the foundation of hope.
We tend not to inquire about the dramatic question of hope because hope is more like the back-drop to the play in which we find ourselves. Hope does not stand downstage seeking the spotlight, but it does set the scene. It is, of course, foundational, though we don’t think about it all that much, because without the scene there would be no place in which to play. Like a backdrop, hope goes unnoticed, but without hope there is, in fact, no play. Without hope, the curtain is closed--or never opened in the first place. We are here today because of hope, whether hope takes a bow or not.
I have discovered that hope is an idea that is easier for me to think about in poetic terms. I can only think of hope (and challenges to hope) in terms of snapshots, brief images like in this poem:
the new year,
limpid and limping,
straggled in disheveled,
only intermittent firecrackers
cast surreptitiously from the balcony
i saw the odd roman candle lit
on the smoky street,
(the city clouded in smog,
the ground more brown than green)
but only as if from a passing side view
and then friends came and went,
the girls recovered from sickness,
the little finn returned to her homeland
after solving one last puzzle
and my Friend,
suddenly passing by january six,
like an epiphany,
and beforeyouknowit we see,
and she sees,
like an epiphany
the coughing is gone now
to swallow the air
all signs may point otherwise
but this is a year of hope
i can feel it
light a candle
I could try to explain the poem of hope to you, but, in some way, hope can’t be explained. It is best felt in song, story, drama and art--and any attempt to define it, robs it of its innocence.
It is hard to write about hope. This is not because I do not have hope.
It is because I find that trying to write about hope is like trying to tether the wind or collect sunshine. It can’t really be done. So, writing about hope feels like building a windmill. You know that, in a comparatively small way, you’ll derive some energy from the wind but the wind is so much larger and more enduring than any attempt on my part to harness the wind’s power. Writing about hope may give us some sense of hope’s power, an awe and respect for it, but it can never be controlled or manipulated.
In an attempt to understand hope more completely, I have, within the past few years studied a German theologian that spear-headed a movement dedicated to articulating a theology of hope, but, to be honest, I am no nearer to understanding hope than I was when I was 6. Hope has been the most difficult thing for me to grasp thus far.
I do know one thing, though. The best story of hope is the story of Jesus and the people of God as followers of Jesus. In the story of Jesus we have seen that there is hope in the communion meal we share together. We have seen that we are God’s hope in the world as he asks us to love one another. We have seen that there is hope in love and that in hope there is love. We have seen that one hope we all need is the hope forgiveness provides. And we have seen that we have hope ultimately because God became fully human so that humans could become more like God. We have seen hope in the events of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. But, without today, Easter Sunday, none of those would be sufficient to impart to us an irrepressible hope.
Speaking of the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead, the writer of Scripture says:
“Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man…Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed…For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality…’Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ …thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers [and sisters], stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (excerpts from I Corinthians 15)
In 2003, I reflected on this passage and, in preparing for this teaching, I had a look at what I wrote 6 years ago. I’d like to reiterate that to you now by way of closing our thoughts this weekend on the theme of hope as a way of showing how hope forms the dominant message of Easter. Look for hope in these words, as if it is a hidden, golden thread. Here’s what I wrote:
Those words of Scripture say a lot. But I‘m the kind of person who likes to boil it down to its basic bottom line. And here‘s what I came up with: “Things don’t have to stay dead anymore.” I’ll admit, it does seem a bit simplistic, but I think it’s true. So, if you remember nothing else from this reflection today, remember this grammatically awkward statement: “It’s not too late. Things don’t have to stay dead anymore.”
I turn on the news. There’s a war on. Iraq is a dead place. A bomb here. A bullet there. Call me an idealist, but the message of the resurrection says “It’s not too late. Things don’t have to stay dead anymore.” Real victory can be won through Jesus Christ our Lord.
But sadly, I don’t even have to turn on the news. I simply look around at the world and I can see that it’s still a dead place. Drugs, crime, prostitution, environmental disaster, racism, theft, murder, rape, deception, adultery. A bomb here. A bullet there. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the world is a dead place. But the message of the resurrection is a message of life. It says: “It’s not too late. Things don’t have to stay dead anymore.” We can shed the clothing of mortality thanks to the immortality of Jesus Christ. Because of the resurrection power made available to us personally through faith in Christ, we can loosen the knots of vice and embrace the ultimate modern-day virtue: life.
But sadly, I look into my heart. I have to be honest: regrettably, there are times when even I as a minister don’t feel much of anything. I’m embarrassed to say that a heart can also be a place of death. It takes the form of jealousy, self-centeredness, pride, hate and lust, among other things. A bomb here. A bullet there. Know what I mean? Yes, I am embarrassed to say: a heart can be a place of death. What’s the point of denying it? We can all relate to that, I think.
And that’s why I picked this text today. Because this text tells us that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is not just something that affects Jesus: it’s something that affects me, too, if I place my faith in Jesus. Crudely put, this text tells me: “It’s not too late. Things don’t have to stay dead in that heart anymore.” I will say again, that is stating it a bit crudely, but that doesn’t stop it from being any less true, does it? Of course not. “Things don’t have to stay dead in that heart anymore.” Really. Christ can infuse our hearts with His life. His death, burial and resurrection prove that.
On Friday He died, taking all our sin upon Himself. On Saturday, He buried our sins with Him in the grave, never to be exhumed, never to be dug up again by those creepy gravediggers. Then, the Bible tells us Jesus marched into Hades. A lot of people were waiting there for Him. I wonder if He told them, “Don’t worry it’s not too late.” He declared them free as He took the keys of death. He knew “I don’t have to stay dead anymore.” And so…On Sunday, He emerged from the grave. Alive. Jesus wasn’t swallowed by death. It was the other way around. He swallowed death. “Where, O death is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?”
Yes, through believing in Him, things don’t have to stay dead in our hearts anymore. Through faith in Him, Jesus can infuse our hearts with His life. And that’s how He can infuse the world with life: one heart at a time. Things in the world around us really don’t have to stay dead anymore.
That’s why Paul concludes this section on the resurrection by saying “Stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
He says that because the “work” we are to give ourselves fully to is “the Lord’s”. And “the Lord’s work” is a work of resurrection. It’s a work of infusing dead hearts with Christ’s living power. A work of exchanging mortality for immortality, of trading the perishable for the imperishable. And it begins in you. And me.
So, we wake up on Monday morning: and everything goes fine. But, we wake up on Tuesday morning, and the day is a disaster. There’s a hurtful word spoken, a life-quenching thought sent out. You end the day feeling the shrapnel of relational land-mines. Shards of glass, splinters of wood, slivers of metal prick your heart, deep cuts in your soul. But, you realize: “Things don’t have to stay dead anymore.” You decide to give it a try. You figure, “Jesus wrapped our mortal flesh around Himself when He became a baby, so why can‘t I wrap His immortality around my spirit? Bury my old self in Him and become a newborn baby, just like He did.” So, you take your heart, cut and bleeding, and hand it to Him--that‘s what it means to place your faith in Him. He takes your heart, and folds it carefully into His body. In other words, He swallows death--that‘s what it means to be saved by Him. Inside His body now, you feel your heart begin to beat again, this time steady and strong--that‘s what it means to have new life in Him. It’s happened: you’re a newborn baby, with a new day awaiting you, a whole new life ahead of you. You lay there inside His body: Warm, loving, comforting: His skin is a blanket. You rest there. And then realize, “I have the strength to face another day. I’m not dead. Things don’t have to stay dead. I can live.” That’s power for living. That’s Resurrection power.
“Lord, begin and complete your resurrection work in my heart. I don’t want to stay dead anymore.”
That, in a word, is hope. Amen.