By Matthew L. Becker
“Christ Jesus 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.” – First Peter 1:20-21
Hope is in the air these days. How many times have we not heard people say just this past week, “I hope….” “I hope I can be spared this terrible covid-19 virus….” “I hope if I get the virus, it won’t be too bad.” “I hope scientists can quickly find a vaccine.” “I sure hope the hospitals across our country will be able to handle this surge in covid cases….” “I hope the economy soon gets back to normal.” “I hope we can get back to worshiping together as a congregation.” “I hope.” “I hope.” “I hope….”
Hope is in the air these days. Maybe some of you saw the news report about the covid patient who was on death’s doorstep, whose faith and hope were a beacon to his family and friends, and to those who were caring for him. This person’s resilience in the face of suffering gave his family hope. He lifted their spirits. His example gave others courage to face their own setbacks. When things were especially dire, he was still a beacon of hope. And now he is out of the hospital, back with his family, yet facing a long road of recovery.
While this miraculous healing rightly gave his family and friends hope, this man will still have to die someday. His life will come to the same end as all human life. While he provided earthly hope to so many, he can’t do anything about death itself, neither his death nor that of any others.
Those two disciples on the way to Emmaus also had hoped. They don’t recognize the risen Christ, and in response to his question about what they were discussing, they recount the crucifixion and then say, “We had hoped Jesus would be the one to redeem Israel.” They go on to share what the women have proclaimed. Clearly, they don’t know what to think or believe. They had hoped Jesus was the promised Messiah, but their hopes were dashed, or so it would seem. Their hopes seemed to have been in vain. “We had hoped….”
In view of our death, what is there really to hope for? That is a sentiment that many non-religious people have in our world today. We as Christian people would say to such a person: If we only hope for this world, our hope is not properly grounded or properly oriented. If we live and hope only for this world, our life and our faith and our hope are ultimately in vain.
A couple of days ago I came across an app for your phone. It is called “When Will I Die.” The app asks you some questions like how old are you, where do you live, do you smoke, how much alcohol do you drink, do you exercise, do you eat healthy. Questions like that. And then at the end, the app tells you approximately when you will die. Now I suppose some people don’t want to get that figure, but I was curious, so I completed the app’s questions. (I did try to be as truthful as possible!) At the end of the process, the app told me that I will die when I’m 95 years old. Getting that answer made me feel pretty good. 38 more years to go! But then I realized that the app doesn’t account for this new covid virus—or for any other type of such mortal illness. Nor does it account for accidents. It’s really just guesswork, if you ask me. As with life insurance, it is merely a matter of health factors and actuary tables.
This covid crisis has reminded us that death can come at any time for anyone. It will come. This past week it came for one of our sisters in Christ. It’s possible that you could be joining her sooner than you think. Next month? Next year? Or maybe it will be 14000 days from now, if you go by what that app told me. Or you may even live to be 150 years old, as some scientists are predicting for a few babies who are born this year. Just a few weeks ago, one of my family members learned he has advanced pancreatic cancer. The doctors have indicated that this person has only so much longer to live in this world. That kind of prognosis certainly sharpens one’s focus, as well as the focus and behavior of one’s family members. We will be praying for my relative in our prayers today.
Yes, every day is a day to count one’s blessings. Every day is a day to be grateful to God! Every day of life is a precious blessing. But if we live only for this world, our hope is not properly focused! For those who bear the name of Christ, who believe that God raised Jesus from the dead, “hope” has a very specific content and a very specific basis and orientation. Christian hope is grounded in God. It is aimed toward eternity with God. God has created us for eternity. God has redeemed us in Christ to live with him forever. That’s why Jesus came into our world, to become as we are, even to the point of sharing in our suffering and death. Christ Jesus suffered God’s judgment against us and our sins so that through his death and resurrection we might become as he is.
Those of you who have lived longer than 30000 days will remember George Burns and Gracie Allen, one of the great comedy teams of all time. They were of course also husband and wife. Shortly before she died, Gracie gave George an envelope. She said to him, “Do not open this envelope until the day of my funeral.” So George Burns kept the envelope sealed until after Gracie’s funeral service. When he opened the envelope there was just this simple sentence on an otherwise blank piece of paper, “Never put a period where God has put a comma.” (Gracie Allen was a baptized Christian, who attend Mass on a regular basis, and always made the sign of the cross before going on stage with her husband.) Never put a period where God has merely put a comma. Death is like a comma, a speed bump, a terminus to our life on earth. For us who are baptized into Christ, death is the gateway to eternal life with God. That is a life that begins now and will be transformed in our resurrection in a way we can only imagine.
We live in hope. Our faith and hope are in God. While we are already forgiven and redeemed here on earth, we are still far from where God wants us to be. We must press onward toward the goal, the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. We live between two poles of our salvation in Christ: our death to sin and our resurrection to eternal life. We live with the assurance of Christmas and Good Friday, on the one hand, and the promise of Easter, on the other.
Our hope is firmly rooted in our baptism into Christ. There is nothing tentative about our Christian hope. It is as sure as the death of Christ on the cross. He died for your sins—once and for all time. This is the encouragement that Scripture provides you—reminding you what God has done for you, for you (!), in sending his Son into the world. Not to condemn you, finally, but that through him you might be saved and become the child of God that God wants you ultimately to be.
Our hope is also oriented toward our Lord’s resurrection. What happened to Jesus will happen to you. God the Holy Spirit will see to it! We abound in hope now by the power of the Holy Spirit. You can’t get more certain than that—Holy Spirit power! Our hope is sure, as sure as God’s promise is sure.
Good people, please know that each of you remains in my daily prayers. I pray that your faith and hope in God are renewed in the power of the Spirit. I pray that the Spirit of Christ lift your spirit to strengthen your hope in him. God in Christ is with you! He will be with you every step of the way, every day of your life, until he brings you into that perfect, eternal communion with him in heaven. In his name. Amen.