“The Constant Disturbance in Human Society”

hope1 One aspect of Easter I enjoy is the relationships, spending time with those around you.  A couple years ago, Kate and I were invited to Easter brunch to someone’s house.  We celebrated in worship with Mosaic that morning and then headed over to brunch.  It appeared that we were the only ones who had gone to church that morning, until I spoke with a friend.  She talked of how great the Easter service was at her church.  There were tons of kids running around in white suspendered shorts and cute hats, there was a beautiful brass accompanied choir, and she said the sermon was really great because there was no mention of Jesus at all. On Easter Sunday, the best day perhaps to talk about Jesus, this church paid no mention of Christ.  And that was why she believed the Easter message was so great.

This got me thinking, there has to be some contradiction between her perception of who Jesus is and her lived reality.  Is it heretical to ask on Easter Sunday if the things we claim to believe really match the reality of what we live out each week? Does the Easter story have a place in our lived reality? Or should it remain either abstract or comfortably forgotten about?

 

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The Easter story, as told in Mark 16:1-8, goes like this:

“When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb? But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed…”

Why were they amazed? Well, they were prepared for death, but found life in the tomb; reality did not match their belief.  And the angel says:

“Don’t be alarmed…You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you…’”

The angel said, “Don’t be amazed, your perceived reality is not reality. There is a contradiction between the reality of hope and your belief.  You are looking for Jesus who was crucified; He was dead, but He has risen.  He’s not here, He was, just look at where He was. It says:

Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”

They were in initial disbelief and fled. There was a contradiction between their belief and reality.

Can you relate? You may believe the good news of Easter, that because of the resurrection we have hope, that Jesus is our hope. But do these beliefs match our lived reality?  Or do we feel like we’re living in contradiction, where hope is abstract and doesn’t match what we live?

 

The Trouble

despairAnd that’s just the trouble, sometimes reality seems to contradict belief or the promises of the faith.  In other words, the trouble is that things often seem and feel hopeless.  Our reality does not seem to match the hope of Easter.

In February, Mosaic and The Table shared Beautify and Blessing Sunday.  One of the projects was to help out a woman named D.  D. has had a lot of recent death in her life, and has inherited many of the possessions of the deceased.  She is underprivileged and unemployed, and is going through cancer treatments, which suck her energy.  As a result of these things D. is mostly alone.  Her house is cluttered and she doesn’t have the energy to clean or clear out her place.  The public housing authority in charge of her apartment had scheduled her eviction, because of the untidy, unhealthy, and cluttered nature of her home. She would be on the street, without support, and without hope. Loneliness, isolation, no hope of restoration, can you relate, at some level? Simply put, D.  And yet, these promises of deliverance hang in the air, promises of God’s provision, and care, and comfort. Does that sound familiar? The realities of life seem to contradict the Easter beliefs we profess.

Our Easter beliefs become stagnate, or at best a far off whisper of hope. And so we become excited when Jesus is left out of Easter gatherings, because the Easter promises are sterile in our perceived realities.  Things seem hopeless, because hope is not a part of our reality, and we become like D., lying alone in a cluttered apartment, awaiting eviction.  We can empathize with the women in Mark’s gospel, when the hope of Christ is abstract.

 

The Point

Sierra Exif JPEGSo what are our options? What is the role of hope in our faith, and the role of it all in our realities? We could deny reality, and keep our beliefs, but this would make our faith inauthentic and lead to legalism and compartmentalism.  We could ditch our belief in the Easter promises, and rest on our perceptions, but that would lead to despair and hopelessness and dependence upon things that will never deliver.  What I’ve been contemplating lately is a third, muddy, middle path.  What I’ve been contemplating is a muddied entrance into those perceived contradictions – not a denial of reality, not a ditching of our belief, but an embrace of both, even when it doesn’t make sense. It’s a reevaluation on the role of hope.

Think of that possibility. What if your realities were saturated in hope? What if your faith in the promises of Easter took their lead from hope? What if we did not accept the paradigms we have of reality, but rather, as Kierkegaard says, lived into “a passion for what is possible”?[1]

Life without hope is hopeless, and Christian faith without hope is stagnant.  John Calvin says that faith must have hope for eternity as its constant companion. Belief in the promises of God must also possess an expectation that God will deliver on His promises.[2]

So what are these promises of God? Calvin says:

“Faith believes that eternal life has been given to us. Hope expects that it will one day be revealed. Faith is the foundation on which hope rests. Hope nourishes and sustains faith. For as no man can expect anything from God without previously believing his promises, so, on the other hand, the weakness of our faith, which might grow weary and fall away, must be supported and cherished by patient hope and expectation. For this reason Paul justly says, ‘We are saved by hope’.”[3]

Hope rests firmly on the person and the work of Christ Himself. It rests on the reality for us in the resurrection of Easter morning.

So what do WE do about living in contradiction? This could be just another abstraction of faith.  Where is hope in the midst of our reality? Where is hope for D., alone in her cluttered apartment? Where is hope in the midst of our own lives?  Romans 8 says:

Our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us… [and] in hope 21 that creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God… [b/c] in this hope we were saved.”

In other words, there is hope within reality.  And, yes, we groan now in our suffering, but we also groan for our adoption out of this suffering and into this glory. This recognizes that not all things are right.  It recognizes that there are perceived contradictions. It recognizes that the perfect Easter promises are given to those in imperfect situations. Calvin, again, says:

“To us is given the promise of eternal life – but to us, the dead. A blessed resurrection is proclaimed to us – [in the] meantime we are surrounded by decay. We called righteous – and yet sin lives in us. We hear [indescribable] blessedness – but [in the] meantime we are here oppressed by infinite misery. We are promised abundance of all good things – yet we are rich only in hunger and thirst. [But he asserts,] What would become of us if we did not take our stand on hope, and if our heart did not hasten beyond this world through the midst of the darkness upon the path illumined by the word and Spirit of God?”[4]

In other words, faith makes its stand on hope, and does not depart from reality.[5]  Jürgen Moltmann says, “It is only in following the Christ who was raised from suffering, from a god-forsaken death and from the grave that it gains an open prospect in which there is nothing more to oppress us, a view of the realm of freedom and of joy.”[6] When we stand on the hope of the resurrected Christ, nothing can oppress us; nothing can drag us away into the bellows of despair.

 

The Difference

hope3Yes, there are contradictions, but “Faith takes up this contradiction and becomes itself a contradiction to the world of death.”[7]  If hope becomes the lens with which we view our realities and saturates our faith, then it could be argued that it is in fact our mission to stand on contradiction.  Moltmann says, “Hope’s statement of promise, however, must stand in contradiction to the reality which can at present be experienced… [These promises] do not seek to make a mental picture of existing reality, but to lead existing reality towards the promised and hoped for transformation.”[8]  Our lives of contradiction lead us toward something better, holding and proclaiming the promises of Easter in the face of challenging realities is an act of defiance against despair, and a movement toward transformation.

Hope is a revolutionary act.  The hope of Jesus is a comfort in struggles of life, but it is also a divine protest against suffering.[9]  With resurrection hope, Jesus is not only the enemy of death, but also the enemy of the world that puts up with death.  Hope calls us to action.  Having a hope-filled faith does not mean passive, blissful euphoria.  When our faith develops into hope, it doesn’t cause rest but unrest, not patience but impatience.  It does not calm the unquiet heart, but is itself this unquiet.  Those who hope in Christ can no longer put up with reality as it is, but begin to contradict it.[10]  This means we are not satisfied with perceived realities, because we have hope. Having a hope-filled faith is revolutionary in the true sense of the word.  Moltmann says, “This hope makes the Christian church a constant disturbance in human society… It makes the church the source of continual new impulses of freedom and humanity in the light of the promised future that is to come.”[11]  It’s the hope of Christ realized today.

Our realities are real, and so is the resurrection hope of Easter. It is tangible and visible today. D. was a woman isolated. She was literally alone, unsupported, unhealthy and facing eviction.  She prayed one night for God to help her.  Who else could hear her cry, her groaning for redemption? No one was there. What she didn’t know, is that the God of hope was already moving. Long story short, God connected her with our family of churches, and last month a crew of us went and began clearing out her home and cleaning.  Hope was on the move, but the situation was beyond a day’s work.  So the God of hope laid it on the hearts of two folks from The Table to go beyond the call.  Every day for a couple weeks they were with D., cleaning and clearing out her clutter, hauling out over fifty boxes from her small apartment.  Hope was on the move.  And as the day of eviction approached, which would put D. literally on the streets, the public housing authorities gave her one final inspection, and the God of hope delivered.  Because of the improved condition of her apartment, they decided to allow her to stay in her home.  D., the isolated one, was never alone. The God of hope knew her and saw her when she lay all alone in her cluttered apartment. The God of hope looked defiantly at perceived hopelessness and delivered her from the street, blessing her with security, community, and greater health.  A few days later, we pulled out the fifty-plus boxes of her possessions and sold over $800 worth on her behalf, money which went toward helping her health costs.

So does the Easter story have a place in our lived reality? Or is it abstract? Is there a place for hope in the midst of our lives?  Or is easier just not to talk about Jesus on Easter? The good news is that because of the resurrection, we have hope.  Jesus is our hope.  Yes there are perceived contradictions between faith and life, but let us stand on hope, because hope is real. Hope is tangible; Hope is for today. So as you face the realities of your life, do not deny them.  Do not ditch your faith, but take a defiant stand with Christ; stand on the hope of Christ, and allow the Easter promises to saturate your realities.


[1] Jürgen Moltmann. Theology of Hope. p. 20.

[2] John Calvin. Institutes of the Christian Religion (III.2.42).

[3] Ibid.

[4] John Calvin’s commentary on Hebrews 11:1, as quoted by Jürgen Moltmann. Theology of Hope. p. 19.

[5] Moltmann. Theology of Hope. p. 19.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid. p. 21

[8] Ibid. p. 18

[9] Ibid., p. 21

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid., p. 22

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