Written a while ago…hopefully still relevant!
Hope is a much discussed, and often misunderstood concept. Some say hope is precious, some say hope is dangerous. Yet surely, a hope that is professed by the ultimate ‘hope-giver’ could not be dangerous. Surely this sort of hope should be sustaining and life-giving.
When Kate and Gerry McCann’s daughter Madeline went missing in Portugal on a family holiday, they said they would never give up hoping that their daughter would be found alive. Years later, their statement has not changed, despite many believing it is foolish to hope for her return; it seems that this hope-however vague and distant it may seem at times, sustains them in their fight to find her, and in their day-to-day lives caring for Madeline’s younger siblings.
The McCann’s have often stated that the reason they remain hopeful is because of their strong catholic faith. Yet it is often true that Christian faith can be called blind, that we are ‘duped’ into pressing on in a difficult situation purely because of an eschatological hope. During the holocaust many of the prisoners were taunted with the familiar phrase ‘where is your God now?’. These starving and tortured people stuck to the hope of heaven, even when they were in the depths of hell on earth.
Yet it is perversely true to say that hope often springs from waves of despair. Hope sprang, quite literally through waves of despair for the Israelites escaping Pharoah’s forces. They were hemmed in, between soldiers baying for blood and the Red Sea with waves ready to swallow them. Yet it was here, in the midst of hopelessness that God showed that he was still there, his hand was still protecting them and as he parted the waves for them, and showed them hope.
In life these days we seem to be faced with the waters of despair on a daily basis, if not personally, then each time we turn on the news we are assaulted with images of the starving, whose lives have been sentenced with AIDS, stolen by suicide bombers and destroyed by knife crime. Hanging on to hope, in a climate such as this is a tough call. Yet it is what the Church, the body of Christ, are called to do. To show in our everyday lives the hope that comes from the spilled blood of Christ.
I am drawn back, time and time, again to the images of Jesus on the cross. Here we see the ultimate image of despair-everything Jesus’ followers had hoped for seems to have been snatched from their grasp. Jesus himself, abandoned by those who professed never-ending love and commitment, must have been in the depths of despair. We see this clearly in Gethsemane; Jesus sweated blood at the knowledge of what he would have to endure, even though he knew the hope it would bring to the world. From this poignant picture, shines the beauty of his human holiness.
We know that despite the utter desolation of the crucifixion, comfort is brought, like a mother mopping a child’s grazed knee, by the Father. He turned the image of the brutal crucifixion into a sign of hope, which still speaks of God’s glory and benevolence.
The crucifix is a sign to every one of beauty, even those who do not believe its truth and hope for themselves, have necklaces adorned with it. For the believer the cross is the ultimate sign of God reaching out to his creation. Jesus’ arms stretched wide saying ‘come’.
The cross shows that even in Jesus’ depths he was welcoming us home. He promised the criminal beside him a home in paradise, and he does the same for us. No matter how many times we turn away, his arms are always open.
False hope is by no means an absent phenomena in todays’ world. We are offered ‘get rich quick’ schemes, notions and potions that will wipe away our tears and fears in an instant. Sometimes, even the church can be guilty of instilling false hopes in those desperate for some release. It is a common misconception that with a relationship with God comes automatic exemption from life’s aches and pains. Biblically, however we are told a different story, the epistles in the New Testament frequently tell us to rejoice in our sufferings, and persevere when the going gets tough.
Phrases such as this, I think can be somewhat ‘over-quoted’. We can bombarded with an image that Christians should never feel sad. We see that the Bible has a whole book of Lamentations. These writings come out of a place of profound pain and suffering for Israel, but from the tears that were cried, came waters of hope for the nations. The grief-letting that takes place is not only healthy, but the writer even found the strength to proclaim ‘22 Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail 23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.’
Hope can spring from the praises we bring from the depths of our hopelessness. The psalmist says that a broken heart and contrite spirit are brought as offerings, we need not paper the cracks when it comes to God. Draw courage and hope from the cries of Jesus at the cross ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?’. If Jesus, the Son of Man can bring his pain and disappointment with God to his throne, then surely, we, who have not seen him face to face can do the same.
I have often found it unfathomable to think that when we bring our praises to God, he gives us a hope more precious and life-saving than despair deems possible.
I am going to finish with the example I began with, Kate and Gerry McCann, seem to portray a clear example of hope in action. Their unwavering hope does not come without its moments of despair I’m sure; but it does sustain them through the intolerable and it does exactly the same for us.
When everything in our world seems bleak and despairing, it is my prayer that we will choose to hang onto the hope which holds on. Hope is seen in the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross. Even more importantly, hope is seen most stunningly through Mary Magadelene’s tears, when she saw the full beauty of the Risen Lord Jesus.