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  • Writer's pictureFr. Gustavo

"The Power of Hope"

A caring hand holding a child's hand
Raise up little girl!

As your Vestry felt that we needed to update all the cemetery records, last Sunday, after worship, we went around the cemetery, checking headstones, markers, names, and locations. 

 

All the way down to the left corner end, against the boundary line, there is the grave of boy, aged 4.  Carved in the stone, there is a little lamb.  His parents called him, “Our Angel.” 

 

The headstone looks down towards the river, almost as if it were giving its back to the casual visitor.  I know that gravestones should look eastward, in the hope of the Resurrection.  But it occurred to me that somehow, the stone was facing away as if to hide from others the parent’s grief and their sadness at the loss of their beloved child.

 

As it has been said, there is nothing more unnatural than a parent having to bury his or her own child.  Life tells us that it must be the other way around.  Yet today the scriptures bring to us the story of a father facing the unthinkable – her own dear daughter was ill, very ill.

 

Even in the days of Jesus, when child mortality was sky high, the death of a child never lost its sting.  So, it is easy to understand the father’s urgency in trying to get Jesus to save his ailing daughter.

 

We know nothing about the faith of the man, other that he was one of the leaders of the local synagogue.  Now, as you know, at the time Jesus was a contentious figure.  Jesus had been kicked out of temples, and the religious leadership looked at Jesus with suspicion if not outright contempt. 

 

Yet, the man goes out looking for Jesus.  In other words, in hope the father bets the farm.

 

On the way to this man’s home, Jesus stops to heal a woman.  Can you imagine yourself waiting for an ambulance because someone needs a medic in a hurry, and seeing the rescue squad stopping on the way to take care a someone who had a minor fall?  Total and absolute distress!

 

Can you imagine what may have been going inside the man’s head and heart, and how he must have felt?  And then, to boot, perhaps those who would rather have a child die than to grant credibility to Jesus, tell the poor father – “Never mind!  Your daughter is already dead.  What Jesus could have done about it, anyway?”

 

Again, try to go through the man’s emotions.  “Why Jesus had to stop for that woman?  Had she not been sick for a long time?  Couldn’t she wait for a couple of hours?  Does God understand what am I going through?  Doesn’t God care about my plight?  Why doesn’t God seem to hurry in a time of need?  Is God happy when people die, even if they are little girls?”

 

The gospel doesn’t say if the man said something to Jesus.  But I can imagine the man’s face, and his suddenly hunching shoulders telling the whole story for all to see. 

 

He had thrown his luck with Jesus, all to no avail.  And, at the time where Jesus could have turned around, letting life take its own course Jesus, nevertheless, said, “Never mind the nay-sayers.  Trust me.  Let’s go.  I know what I am doing – even if you don’t.”

 

And, as we know, Jesus goes into the poor man’s home just to find wailing women, and the extended family grieving at the death of the child.  Jesus still presses on.

 

And you can imagine the people slowly stepping back to make way for Jesus.  “What is he going to do?  Is he going to defile himself getting into a place where there is a dead person?  What can he do?  The girl is already dead.”

 

Yet, without any other further word, Jesus calls the girl back to life and she is returned to the family.

 

Over two thousand years ago in the Holy Land, two unknown characters wrote, all by themselves and without being aware about it, the best ever written book about hope.  One was the sick woman, and the other the helpless father.

 

They never knew that they were writing the book about hope, and yet their actions tell us everything we need to know about hope.

 

As you may have heard me say, hope is not baptized optimism.  Optimism refuses to see the half-empty glass, while hope, fully realizes that God can fill the glass to overflowing – even if to begin with, there is no glass at all!

 

In other words, hope fully embraces the reality of suffering.  But rather than arguing about the causes or reasons of suffering, or looking for culprits, hope not only rejects despair and wishful thinking, but embraces God, the God of Hope.

 

Despair negates God.  Optimism glosses over the pain and suffering of the human condition.  Hope moves one closer to a God who not only understands suffering but lived through it to see another day.  Literally.

 

Fear moves us to wait for the worst.  Hope encourages us to believe that out of what it may be considered the end of times, life and love will still flourish.

 

A couple of weeks ago, Prof. Jürgen Moltmann died.  Moltmann was without a doubt one of the most influential theologians of the last one hundred years.  His major work was “Theology of Hope”, which he published in 1964.

 

Moltmann grew up in Germany the middle of the devastation caused by WW2.  After realizing the monstrosity of the concentration and extermination camps Moltmann “gave in to despair and lost any desire to look to the future.”  In other words, he gave up God.

 

According to Prof. Koskela, from the Seattle Pacific University, “Yet Moltmann was confronted by an unexpected source of hope when a chaplain gave him a Bible.  He was confused by a great deal of what he read, but he found himself transfixed as he came across the psalms of lament and the passion narrative of Jesus.

 

“As he read about the suffering of Jesus on the cross, Moltmann writes that he was encountering a God who could identify with his own suffering.  ‘I began to understand the assailed Christ because I felt that he understood me,’ he recounts.  ‘This was the divine brother in distress, who takes the prisoners with him on his way to resurrection.  

 

[Then] “‘I began to summon up the courage to live again, seized by a great hope.’ This hope not only enabled Moltmann to press forward, but it also shaped the way in which he would spend the rest of his life.”

 

If it were to be possible for the father of the little girl to have heard Moltmann words, he might have said, “I know what he meant.  I was there too.  The living Christ rescued me from death and despair.  But mind you, I had to go through the portals of death myself.  I had hope, but I had to go through the living hell of the loss of my child to get back to life again.”

 

“Yes, I met Jesus, the Living Christ.  But I did not met him back in the village. I really met him when He embraced me in my suffering and went along with me to face what I didn’t want to face on my own.”

 

I hope to God that we may never have to go through the experience of this man – nor of that of her little girl and her mother.  I cannot but think about the family whose little angel rests in our backyard.

 

But hope is more than a super-vitamin to be used in the direst of the circumstances.  The power of hope is that it can transform ordinary life, with its countless little deaths of illusions, wishes, ideals, and the dreams that come crashing to their end.

 

The power of hope lies not in the negation of the reality of pain and suffering, but in trusting that somehow good will rise over evil, life over death, and the doors that have been locked up for years, will open again. 

 

Optimism will say, “You were lucky”.  Hope will say, “I AM blessed, right now, even when Jesus appears to be dealing with something else mercy, grace, and love still will reach me, because ‘because the Kingdom of Death doesn't rule this world,’ but the Kingdom of God has reached unto me.”

 

Together with Jeremiah hope will move you to say, “This I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is God’s faithfulness.”

 

Fear will tell you that the worst lies ahead.  Hope will encourage you to press on, not necessarily because God may decide to press the “Undo” button and re-write history, but because God loves to make all things brand new, and in the meantime, Jesus will walk along with you.

 

As Moltmann would have said, don’t trust the present as a sample of what is yet to come, or what you can build with your own hands.  Rather look at the present as something that will be displaced, the future kingdom of love, grace, mercy, and joy which is already present.

 

Once, as Jesus was walking by the freshly planted fields, He invited his friends to look beyond the green tender stalks and to see a field white, ripe for the harvest.  Such is the power of hope.  It is yours for the taking.

 

And now,

May the Living Lord go with you,

May he go behind you, to encourage you,

beside you, to befriend you,

above you, to watch over you,

beneath you, to lift you from your sorrows,

within you, to give you the gifts of faith, hope, and love,

and always before you, to show you the way to life abundant.

Amen.

 

(Based on a benediction by Blair Monie).

 

Fr. Gustavo


 

 

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