Hope Matters

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Above all, Easter people are ambassadors of hope

“We are an Easter People and Alleluia is our song!’” —Pope John Paul II, 1986 AD

The person of Resurrection Sunday is Jesus. Resurrection Sunday, at its very soul, is more than a symbol of hope, it is hope. Jesus is hope. As disciples, we are Easter people – Jesus’ people – and ours is a profound gospel hope.

Hope Matters. Hope is as basic a human need as air, food, shelter and love. Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl said that death camp prisoners who lost hope soon perished. In our current context, both the Canadian Centre for Suicide Prevention and the Canadian Mental Health Association are ringing alarm bells about the mental well-being of citizens, especially those most vulnerable and marginalized our society. Depression is prevalent. In some fashion the pandemic is driving one in twenty Canadians to depression and others to thoughts of suicide. There appears to be a plethora of reasons for this, however, a common denominator seems to be the absence of hope. In Darkness Visible, William Stryon describes how the real problem for people who become depressed is that their “faith in deliverance” from this condition is often non-existent.

“The pain [of depression] is unrelenting, and what makes the condition intolerable is the foreknowledge that no remedy will come – not in a day, an hour, or a minute. If there is mild relief, one knows that it is only temporary; more pain will follow. It is hopelessness even more than pain that crushes the soul.”

There is no shortage of counsel for those seeking hope, but is it genuinely helpful, or even true? Take for example the following: “Hope is a waking dream” (Aristotle); “Where there is no hope it is incumbent on us to invent it” (Albert Camus);” “When you feel the hope is gone, look inside you and be strong and you’ll finally see the truth – that hero lives in you” (Mariah Carey); “The birds of hope are everywhere, listen to them sing” (Terri Guillemets); “While there’s life, there’s hope” (Marcus Tullius Cicero, Stephen Hawking). What captured my attention was a December National Post article by John Ivison, A message of hope for my children. Ivison’s thesis was that a combination of evolutionary anthropology, the fundamental inherent goodness of humankind and the knowledge that there will be a tomorrow translates into a message of hope for his children. Boiled down, hope is a dream, invented, inside us or mysteriously connected to a future fortune stroke of serendipity. I feel arguing the merits of any of the above convictions (Camus to Ivison) in this article will not be fruitful. I would rather have you think about them in comparison to the hope of which Easter speaks.

I have discovered that grasping Scripture’s revelation of the word ‘hope’ is similar to grabbing a wet bar of soap, it’s real and solid, but the moment you tighten your grip is the moment it slips away. The Christian hope is both confident expectation and the reason for it. It is a gift of God. Hope expressed throughout the New Testament is of the past, here-and-now, and approaching. In all cases it is anchored to the promises of God revealed in the person and work of Christ Jesus. It is entered into by faith and sustained by the Holy Spirit. It is both tangible and intangible, seen and unseen, possible and impossible. We feel it deep inside, know it to be true and share it through our testimony and the witness of our lives.

Simply put, Easter is hope. The Jesus of Easter is hope. This Easter hope, fulfilled over a millennium of prophecy, revealed itself in a literal person in a literal historical event that was eye-witnessed and recorded. Over time it was then believed upon and proclaimed by billions of people from all corners of the world, from all races, backgrounds and contexts. This hope has and continues to transform people, communities and countries. It is a hope that has not changed over the centuries but changes everything it touches. A hope that is for every day, for the daily grind, for all relationships and cosmic questions. It informs, brings meaning to, and produces resolve for people in the worst of the worst of circumstances. It is a hope whose origin is divine and eternal; thus, it is not part of our DNA, nor is it a fleeting dream, a serendipitous happenstance or as a result of some mystical incantations. The Easter hope is rich in historic contemplation. Consider the following:

“Easter tears asunder our accursed spiritual shroud so that we might see with born-again eyes the supernatural means with which to depart from old patterns to new paths, from darkness to light, from cursed to crowned. It is the epicenter of the Christian hope, the epic good news story, the evidence of God’s divine love, and the end of sin and death’s power over the human soul. In life’s cruelest of crucibles, Easter is the disciple’s new covenant ebenezer, Bethlehem star and steadfast anchor.”[1]

Science, philosophy, policy, diplomacy, economics, government, law, and even religion, offer shades and degrees of hope for humankind, but I would reason that Jesus (Easter) is the unmatched hope for the world.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade…” 1 Peter 1:3-4a

“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.” 1 Peter 1:18-21

Hope matters whether or not one is a disciple of Jesus. Those who lose hope, find ways to exit this gift of life given to us by God. As Easter people, we have the hope that matters and is sure: “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Hebrews 6:19a). In response, look back and thank JESUS. Look ahead and trust JESUS. Look around and serve JESUS. Look up and expect JESUS. AMEN!

[1] Pilgrimage Journals is the unpublished work of Philip Gunther.

Postscriptum (PS): Reality check. Just like the absence of hope makes one incredibly vulnerable to dire mental and physical consequences (depression and suicide are mentioned), the presence of hope, even with Jesus as one’s hope – does not automatically remove these challenges to one’s well-being. We all know faithful disciples (even pastors) who battle with mental health issues. There are theological tensions here about Jesus as the hope (and Healer) for what ails us and what that ‘hope’ (that healing) look like in real life. Depression is a complex ailment that has no silver bullet. However, in my view, hope in Jesus is an unmatched help that keeps one in the fight.

Consider a quest to refresh your understanding of the New Testament’s revelation of hope in Christ. To this end, read the following: Romans 5:1-2;8:23-24; 15:12; Ephesians 4:4; Colossians 1:27; 1 Thessalonians 1-3; 1 Timothy 1:1; 4:10; Titus 3:7; Hebrews 3:1-6; 6:19; 7:19; 10:23. Ask yourself, how is hope described? How is it relevant to 2021? How is it applicable to my context?

For those less inclined to engage in the above quest, below is an overview of why Easter spells hope (For your reflection):

Christ is the first to be raised from the dead and He will bring with Him, raise from the dead, all those who believe on His name (1 Corinthians 15:20).

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